Amargosa Opera House
It is amazing for me to observe only one person’s passions incredible results. Here is the short history of this place. And beive me there is much more.
In the spring of 1967, when Marta Becket found herself peering into the the old theater that would become the Amargosa Opera House, it was obviously abandoned…. and had been for some time. During the years 1923-1925, the Pacific Coast Borax Company constructed a company town consisting of a U-shaped complex of Mexican Colonial style buildings of adobe to house the company offices, store, dormitory, a twenty three room hotel, dining room, lobby, and employees’ headquarters. A recreation hall was built at the northeast end of the complex and was used as a community center for dances, church services, movies, funerals, and town meetings. At the time it was known as Corkhill Hall. The architect who designed the town was Alexander Hamilton McCulloch.
In July of 1968, Marta began what would become years of painstaking work, painting an entire audience on the walls, filled with characters who might have attended an opera back in the 16th century. From the King and Queen, to royalty, nobility, bullfighters, monks and nuns, the walls came to life. Inside the double doors she painted a lady dancing to an accompaniment provided by a musician playing an antique musical instrument.
More characters from out of the past spilled onto the walls from her imagination, from ladies of the night to gypsies; from revelers to a group of royal children tended by a governess who is being courted by a gentleman seated in the balcony above. American Indians discovered by the Spanish in the early 16th century grace the walls at the bottom, performing various feats of skill and chance for the entertainment of the King and Queen. Upon these walls Marta has created a world of the past. To complete her world she painted a marble statue in the center of the West wall. He is holding a scroll which is written in Latin: It took four years to complete the murals. During this time the audiences grew. 105 garden chairs were acquired through the donations of trading stamps from patrons.
A nine foot concert grand piano arrived as a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Ellsworth Johnson of Spokane, Washington. More stories were written about the Opera House in the desert. Even with all that been accomplished by 1972, Marta was still renting the theater. She had just given four years of her life to its walls, and there were many who scoffed at her as foolish. The murals could never be removed, sold, or bought. From the very first brush stroke, her world of the past was owned by someone who didn’t even know it was there. The critics could never understand that the experience of creating the mural was worth far more than anyone could ever offer her for it.
When the mural was completed, Marta looked up at the ceiling and saw that those four happy years could be extended, perhaps two or three years. For the following two summers, she stood every day on the scaffold painting a blue sky filled with dancing cherubs, billowing clouds, the four winds in each corner, and a central dome with sixteen ladies playing antique musical instruments. She completed the ceiling by painting seven doves flying overhead for peace. With help and legal advice from friends, and through the Trust for Public Land based in San Francisco, the Amargosa Opera House, Inc. bought the town of Death Valley Junction. On December 10th, 1981, the town of Death Valley Junction was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In the spring of 1983, the Opera House bought 120 theater seats from the Boulder City Theater in Boulder City, Nevada, to replace the old garden chairs, which had worn out by this time. In April of 1984, the Amargosa Opera House paid off a mortgage on Death Valley Junction of $26,500.00. Inspired by this real life drama of keeping the villain from the door, Marta created a melodrama entitled THE SECOND MORTGAGE, which premiered November 23rd, 1983. The Amargosa Opera House has exposed thousands to a first time experience of live theater and they have learned they can have a good time recognizing themselves on stage through comedy as well as classical dance and pantomime.