Oakley Valley Arts Council has been awarded a $12,000.00 matching grant from Idaho Heritage Trust for Howells Opera House preservation of the ceiling, which includes removing the roof, rafters, and splitting trusses and then replacing with new. The original embossed tin ceiling will then be reattached.
Oakley’s Opera House started with a dream by Judge B.P. Howells. Judge Howells was mainly a self-educated man who came to the Oakley Valley with some of the first settlers in 1879. Judge Howells and his family, along with the rest of the community, looked forward to having entertainment, but the actors did not have a proper place to perform.
In 1904, Judge Howells contracted two masons, George Croft and William Dummer, and two carpenters, Cyrus Cavanass and Elmer Mecham, to build his theater. The theater was finally finished in 1907 at the cost of $22,000. Judge Howells owned one of the most luxurious theaters between Salt Lake and Boise.
In the last 1920’s the Howells family sold the Opera House to the LDS Church. It became known as the Cassia Stake Playhouse (later the Oakley Playhouse). Rising costs and general deterioration forced the church to consider demolishing the structure in the 1970’s. Oakley residents had seen at least one of their cherished old buildings destroyed, and they didn’t want that to happen to this historic public building. A group of residents formed the Oakley Valley Arts Theater, and later they were able to purchase the playhouse from the LDS Church and begin its restoration. They reorganized as Oakley Valley Arts Council and became a non-profit 501c organization that has continually promoted the arts as they strive to preserve their historic Opera House. Howells Opera House is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Founded in 1989, the Idaho Heritage Trust began as a lasting legacy of the Centennial Celebration of 1990. They have funded more than 600 projects totaling over $4.9 million in grants and technical architectural, engineering and conservation advice and they have provided grants and technical assistance in every country in Idaho. The Idaho Heritage Trust has awarded more than 66% of grants to communities 5,000 or less.
Idaho’s Bicentennial in 2090 will be the pinnacle milestone for the Idaho Heritage Trust. A century of preservation will take center stage for a new generation to visit in celebration. For the generations of tomorrow… funds generated by the red, white and blue license plate support historic preservation throughout Idaho. Fifty cents from each standard Idaho plate goes into an endowment fund. The earnings from the fun in partnership with money from the local community support historic buildings, sites and artifact collections throughout Idaho. The Board of Trustees of the Idaho Heritage Trust, our grantees and the supporters want to thank the Idaho State Legislature for continued support of the Idaho Heritage Trust endowment. The Idaho Legislature leadership demonstrates the importance of preserving the pages of history for the generations of tomorrow. These buildings, artifacts and sites embody the everyday lives, triumphs and tragedies of our people. They have borne witness to our lives and through these shared memories we can better see our way forward.
For more information on Howells Opera House, visit oakleyvalleyarts.org or visit Facebook under Oakley Valley Arts. We continue to accept donations for this expensive endeavor to restore and preserve Howells Opera House.
Oakley Valley Arts Council, PO Box 176, Oakley, ID 83346