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Party commemorates blaze at Aspen’s Wheeler Opera House

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesThe Wheeler Opera House's Fire Sale Party, set for Nov. 21, will feature a discount on tickets to select Wheeler shows in Aspen, including one in February by singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin.

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesThe Wheeler Opera House's Fire Sale Party, set for Nov. 21, will feature a discount on tickets to select Wheeler shows in Aspen, including one in February by singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin.

ASPEN – A hundred years ago, with Aspen’s mining industry having collapsed and its population mostly having fled, even the grandest of the town’s landmarks were practically disposable. On Nov. 21, 1912, a fire, almost certainly started intentionally, destroyed the Wheeler Opera House. A headline in The Aspen Democrat Times read, in part, “the Prettiest Little Structure of Its Kind Between Pueblo and Salt Lake City is Sacrificed to the Venom of a Degenerate Unfit to Remain Upon Earth.” (The full headline ran 38 words; long headlines, like bicycles with those enormous wheels, were in vogue in the 1910s.)

A century later, the Wheeler – which was patched up for the 1949 Goethe Bicentennial that marked modern Aspen’s rebirth and was given a major renovation in the mid-’80s – is more highly valued, hosting nearly 300 events a year. Home to festivals, film series, comedy acts, concerts and, in summer, the Aspen Music Festival’s opera program, the Wheeler has featured appearances by George Carlin, Wynton Marsalis, Frank McCourt, Ben Harper, Anjelica Huston, Vince Gill and the Monty Python troupe. A big part of the Wheeler’s charm is its sense of history, preserved in the Victorian decor and traditions like community-oriented Wintersköl events and school plays.

The Wheeler is honoring that history – including the more ignoble aspects – with its Fire Sale Party. A commemoration of the 1912 fire, the event will invite visitors to eat and drink in the building’s second-floor lobby. The party is set for Nov. 21, the centennial anniversary of the fire, and the doors will be open for 19 minutes, 12 seconds, beginning at noon.

A major attraction of the party is discounted tickets to select upcoming Wheeler shows. Those in attendance will be able to buy tickets for $10 off the regular price; the offer will not be given for online purchases.

“The fire should have been the end of the story,” Gram Slaton, the Wheeler’s executive director, said in a written statement. “Instead, it was the start of a long love affair between the building and the town.”

The discount applies to the following shows:

• Best of the Fest (Dec. 27), a showcase of stand-up comedians who stood out at last winter’s Aspen Laff Festival at the Wheeler.

• Joe Lovano (Feb. 1), a top jazz saxophonist whose current Us Five quintet features bassist Esperanza Spalding.

• Preservation Hall Jazz Band (Feb. 10), the long-running house band at the iconic Preservation Hall in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

• Shawn Colvin (Feb. 15), an Austin, Texas-based singer-songwriter who has made several appearances at the Wheeler.

• Jerry Jeff Walker (Feb. 16), a Texas troubadour (and part-time Aspenite) who will be backed by a band.

• Kris Allen (Feb. 20), the winner on the eighth season of “American Idol.”

• The Temptations (March 3), the legendary Motown act whose hits include “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).”

• Satisfaction (March 8), a Rolling Stones tribute band.

stewart@aspentimes.com

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