LS: History Here and Now Column November 14, 2008
Avalon opened in 1923 with operatic flourish
Grand Junction, Colo., Jan. 5, 1923 — When the blue velvet curtains of the Avalon Theatre are parted for the first time tonight, they will open a new world to Grand Junction people. They will not reveal a stage that is complete in every detail as yet, and they will face an auditorium that is entirely complete. The traditions and memories that will be the important possessions of the house in years to come are all to be formulated.
Although the Avalon was not yet finished on opening day, that fact didn’t stop the buzz around the city about the famous opera singer, Lucy Gates, who was to give the first performance at the new theatre.
According to newspaper reports, the most frequently asked question when friends greeted each other on the street was, “Are you going to go to the opening of the Avalon?”
Opening night, as the curtains of blue velvet appliqued with the big gold A’s were opened, it is doubtful that
the attention of the audience was on the decor.
Rather, all eyes most likely were on Gates. In her dedication speech that evening she said: “You have a beautiful building here, and I am sure that the artists who come after me will enjoy appearing here as much as I shall. It means so much to a community to have a theatre of this size and so comfortable and convenient as this one. The building shows that there is someone — I suppose that it is Mr. Walker — who has a fine vision of a great future for the city, and I am sure those hopes will be realized.”
Lucy Gates interrupted her program after the first number to give the assurance that, from the standpoint of the singer, the acoustics of the new house were perfect. Then she continued on with her performance.
Rumor had it that Gates committed suicide in her dressing room after her performance that night at the Avalon. Good story, but Miss Gates died in 1951.
Before being leased to J.H. Cooper in 1933, the Avalon was host to many local performances. Grand Junction High School held many musical programs there. Fashion Bar, a local women’s clothing store, held fashion shows there with local young women doing the modeling. And, in the mid- and
late-1930s, when Mesa College was located in the old Lowell School at Fifth Street and Rood Avenue, it served as an auditorium for commencements, operettas and other college events.
The Avalon was sold to the Cooper Foundation in 1946. In 1947 the name was changed to the Cooper, and a blond brick facade was put in place.
In December 1989 the Cooper closed. By the next year, a group had formed to bring back the Avalon.
This additional paragraph from the Jan. 5, 1923, Daily Sentinel accurately predicted the future of the Avalon.
“No building in American endures forever and with the passing of generations the Avalon will be rebuilt into some other building, or else remodeled to fit new needs and new conditions. When that time comes there will be some one to recall that the Avalon was opened Jan. 5, 1923, with a famous singer, Lucy Gates, as the attraction. It will be descendants of those whom make up the audience tonight who will recall that their relatives made up a part of the brilliant audience on this memorable opening night.”
The Avalon is still the beautiful Grande Dame of Main Street.
Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the Avalon Theatre, the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.