top of page

Dossier:Brighton's Opera House, a Ghost of the Past

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Sleuthing Brighton Colorado, with a full Investigative Report by the Brighton History Detective®(aka Robin Kring)

Case Number: 00005, Identify Mural Subject

Mural Location: “Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza” by Hans Joseph Geist

Subject Identified Opera House, Built by Carmichael

OPERA HOUSE (Est. 1888), Built on this Site by Carmichael, was once called “one of the finest in the state outside of Denver.” The magnificent two-story building, was for many years the largest structure in Brighton, located on the southwest corner of Division (now Main St.) and Bridge St. The Opera House (sometimes referred to as the Brighton Opera House or Carmichael’s Opera House, and later as the Wire Building) occupied the entire block between Division and 1st St. It is now the site of Founders Plaza at 5 S. Main St. The views from a top tower, that jutted from the roof of the second story, captured a sight of Carmichael’s “splendid valley” as far as the eye could see in every direction. An 1890 Rocky Mountain News article reported, “There is no part of the state, which has been more prosperous, and the appearance is rather that of a New York or Pennsylvania valley, cultivated for centuries, than that of a region that was merely brown and barren a few years ago.”

Theatre Seated 1,100 People

The Opera House was the city’s social and business center. The second floor housed a large theatre that seated 1,100 people. At the back of the stage hung a large curtain, painted with an image of Venice, Italy with a border of local merchant advertisements on each side. In the rear of the theatre hung a large balcony. The theatre was on the circuit for a number of theatrical companies, including the World’s Fair Minstrels. Evening bills bore announcements of “Tony the Convict” production and such acts as: a, Salondo the Fire King, The Pearse Bros., The World’s Greatest Ethiopian Jugglers, and Bert Wilson the Flying Trapes (trapeze) Performer. The theatre was also used for musical events, large meetings, balls, and dances. The Company A, 1st Regiment, named “Harvey Light Guards” (a company primarily used for the protection of public lands and rights) also drilled here, in addition to Armington Hall (located on the northeast corner of Division and Strong).

Lyceum Room

The theatre floor contained a section that could be converted into the Lyceum Room, a smaller hall seating 500 people, used for public lectures, political gatherings, and smaller meetings. The first high school class was held in this room, before its permanent building was built. Many of Brighton’s churches met here, before they had permanent buildings. The lodge rooms in the Brighton Opera House were home to a number of fraternal societies, including the Masons, Eastern Star, Woodmen of the World, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and the Pythian Sisters.

Ground-Level Businesses and Offices

On the ground level of the Opera House, were several of businesses and organization offices (with individual street entrances). These included the town’s first Post Office (which had previously operated out of Hughes Station), the town’s first bank, the Bank of Brighton (started by Carmichael and Lovelace), Brighton’s first movie theater, and Brighton’s first Library. Other varying businesses and offices occupied this ground level, including: law offices, doctor’s offices, beauty parlors, a dress shop, a grocery, and drug stores (including one owned by Carmichael). Carmichael even installed Brighton’s first telephone in the building (with a connection to his home at 34 South Fifth Avenue).

After its completion in 1888, J.A. Wire based his livery and feed stable outside the building along Bridge St. (and later on the east side). Wire later bought the building from Carmichael, renaming it the Wire Building. Wire’s widow, Lillian, sold it to Frederick Erlenborn in 1946. Erlenborn constructed a series of apartments, on two stories, along the north side of the building (parallel to Bridge St.). The front of each apartment opened to what was left of the dance floor, which was damaged as the result of a 1937 fire. Each inside apartment door was framed with façade to resemble a cottage.

Fire Destroys Former Opera House

The former Opera House met its final fate on the morning of July 25, 1955 when it caught fire in a towering blaze. The smoke was said to be seen as far as 20 miles away. The fire started at 7:30 a.m. in the apartment closet of Helen Prather (who believed it may have been caused by a short in the closet light). Fireman from Brighton, Fort Lupton, and surrounding Adams County fought the fire. All fourteen residents and two guests, from six months old to 87 years, survived the fire, with three being treated for smoke inhalation. Thirteen businesses and twelve second- and third-story apartments were destroyed by fire. In all, fire damage was so great that the American Red Cross declared it a disaster.

New Buildings and a Plaza Take its Place

In 1959, J.C. Penney and Woolworths joined together to build a department store on the former site. These buildings were later occupied by the Brighton Flea Market and Pat’s Furniture. In 2020, the city razed the buildings and built a new community space, Founders Plaza, named for founders Daniel F. Carmichael and Dewey W. Strong, whose properties had originally converged on the site.

©2019-2023 Robin Kring, including excerpts from Strolling through Elmwood and A Postcard History of Brighton

Discover More About the Artist and the Detective

Learn more about the Artist, Hans Joseph Geist, behind the Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural, in the Brighton History Detective® dossier, The Case of the New Mural and its Artist (Hans Joseph Geist). See more of Hans art at: Art by Hans Geist on Facebook.

Find more Investigative Case Reports, by Brighton History Detective®, each revealing the identity of one of the 20 intriguing Brighton characters and places, painted on the mural. Investigate the sleuthing and writing stories of yesteryear, mystery, and intrigue on the Clear Creek Publishing Authors Blog site, including: New Fiction, Victoriana, Event Planning Extraordinaire, Colorado History, and Cemetery Chats.

The Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural is located on the southwest corner of Main St. and Bridge St., in Brighton, Colorado. The mural is a project of the Brighton Cultural Arts Commission, whose mission is to increase arts and culture awareness and promote cultural and scientific opportunities in our community. It has been made possible with funding from the SCFD and Brighton Lodging Tax Grants.

®Brighton History Detective is a registered trademark of Clear Creek Publishing.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page