The Elgin Opera House — a Gem in the Wilderness

travel-writers-conf-212The tiny town of Elgin, Oregon has an unlikely centerpiece: the beautifully restored classical Elgin Opera House. A rural town born of the timber industry, at the bend of the highway leading from La Grande to Joseph, Elgin is tucked in the scenic Indian Valley between the Eagle Cap wilderness and the lovely Blue Mountains. 

travel-writers-conf-222Built in 1911, this colonial revival brick theater was uniquely ahead of its time, designed and built for the dual purpose of housing city government offices and a theater.

travel-writers-conf-228Exterior architectural features include a decorative metal cornice and pilasters flanking the entrance, and the vintage restored interior boasts a soaring ceiling, great acoustics, plush draperies, box seats, an orchestra pit, elaborate backdrops and rococo decor. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

travel-writers-conf-223Honoring tradition, performers have signed the backstage brick walls for over a century. The former jail in the basement serves as costume storage, where barred doors protect suits, gowns and wigs.

travel-writers-conf-238After decades as Elgin’s central civic gathering place, it drifted into disrepair. Local forces converged to restore the building in the 1980s, and today the Elgin Opera House brings repeat visitors from as far as Hawaii, California and Idaho to enjoy professionally staged musicals ranging from Oklahoma to Grease to Footloose. This winter, shows include A Christmas Story–the Musical in December and Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat in February.

travel-writers-conf-241A four hour drive from Portland brings you to this charming town, where you can follow a night at the theater with fly fishing on the Grande Ronde River, a journey on the Eagle Cap Excursion Train, or a pedal-powered wilderness ride with the Joseph Branch Railriders–or just relax into the quiet pace of an Oregon back road weekend. You may also eat at the cutest Subway franchise this side of the Mississippi.

travel-writers-conf-217For a real taste of the vibrant Elgin arts community, plan a trip this month. On October 21 and 22, the Elgin Opera House presents cowboy poetry, followed by dinner and a dance at the Stampede Hall.