Originally opened in 1889 during Aspen’s mining boom, and surviving a 1912 fire and several remodels, the Wheeler Opera House renovation was a dream project for CCA. Our team was selected to complete a $4.2 million restoration of the first and second floor lobbies and backstage area. After seeking input from various stakeholders including community members, the Wheeler staff, and Board of Directors, it became a spatial reimagining that combined the historic character with modern efficiencies of today. “We wanted to revitalize the Wheeler as a community gathering space, one that enhances the social fabric of Aspen,” Charles was quoted in an Aspen Sojourner feature article on the renovation.
Since building plans only dated back to 1981, there was a discovery period as the team worked into the bones of the building. To create a more spacious and engaging box-office & lobby, the massive wall between the main staircase and the ticket counter was replaced with two columns with lush circular benches for patrons to enjoy. The box offices were relocated to the east wall, and now include digital signage which eliminates paper waste. Wallpaper replaced brick, as a nod to the historical appropriateness of the space, according to the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission who was actively involved in the restoration.
The redesigned second floor fosters a sense of community gathering, with a much improved patron flow. Removing the heavy drapery, the views are captured and light permeates the new bar area with oversized photos of Aspen. A retractable stage was added to the bar area for smaller performances, and the restrooms were remodeled for increased traffic, and now include marble floors, textured wallpaper. A new coat-check station takes the place of the dated coatrack – a small change that has made a tremendous difference in how the space functions.
“The renovation has given the opera house the status it deserves” stated Gena Buhler, the Wheeler Opera House Executive Director, to the Aspen Sojourner. “The minute people walk in the door, they say, ‘Wow.’” Photos by Daniel Bayer