The Wheeler Opera House, named for benefactor Jerome Byron Wheeler, was completed and opened to the public in 1889. Its construction reflected the growth and cultural development of Aspen during the last decades of the 19th century, growth that was largely based on a burgeoning silver mining trade. From its inception, the Opera House was a multi-use building, encompassing not only the third floor theatre, but also commercial storefronts, bank, office, and storage space. The building suffered two fires in 1912, and the theatre sat vacant for a number of years, finally undergoing a complete restoration in 1984. Today, the Wheeler Opera House is considered to be "the crown jewel of Aspen," and is one of the best known performance venues in the country.
Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects, LLC (FMG) was retained by the Wheeler Opera House to evaluate possible expansion. FMG reviewed existing documentation, the building and site conditions, and met with representative members of the community and the City to discuss a possible project. The goal of these services was to identify opportunities and challenges associated with possible expansion and to develop recommendations for next steps.
Subsequently, FMG was commissioned to prepare a concept design for a new addition. This project takes as a point of departure the landscape of the Roaring Fork Valley and the Richardsonian Romanesque Wheeler Opera House. Constructed of a rusticated Colorado sandstone, the new building will evoke the geology of the Valley. A deep, eroded, stone-clad volume will allow lobbies, stairs, support spaces and the new 250-seat theatre to be visible through a transparent, cascading façade. The project is being designed to the highest environmental standards, and includes rainwater harvesting, a green roof, and geothermal HVAC. The intent is to achieve a carbon neutral environment that includes both the original building and the new addition.