Nevada Theatre (No. 863 California Historical Landmark)
California Historical Landmarks Program
Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:
1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region
2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California
3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder.
California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks. The Chamber of Commerce then created a committee of prestigious historians, including DeWitt Hutchings and Lawrence Hill, to evaluate potential landmark sites.
In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.
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One of California’s oldest existing theater buildings opened for the first time in September 1865. During the early year of the Nevada Theatre, Mark Twain, Jack London, Emma Nevada and Lotta Crabtreewere regular performers.
Today, the 200-seat Nevada Theatre is used year round for stage plays, variety shows, poetry readings, film showings, graduations and community meetings in Nevada City. Six different theatrical companies use the space.
Residents of Nevada City decided to form the Nevada Theatre Association in 1863 to purchase the remains of the burned out 3-story Bailey House Hotel. The group planned to salvage some of the usable bricks and raise money to build a new theater. Their success came quickly. By 1865 visitors were enjoying the first of thousands of performances at the new Nevada Theatre. By 1909, fortunes changed for the theater. The movie industry was becoming more popular and the owners decided it was time to update the theater to meet the community’s interest in a movie house.
The building was reconfigured to show movies and continued as a movie theater until it closed in 1958. The building owners blamed the development of television and a sluggish economy on reduced box office revenue. When the theatre closed, it was called Cedar Theater.
Once again, a community group formed to save the theater. The nonprofit group, now called The Nevada Theatre Commission, took over the theater and has maintained it ever since. The theatre has undergone several stages of upgrades and remodeling during its long life.
The Nevada Theatre is located 401 Broad Street in Nevada City.
Nevada means “snow-covered” in Spanish. During winter months, Nevada County’s eastern border is wholly engulfed in the snows of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. In the 1840s and 1850s many emigrants arrived in California via the Overland Emigrant Trail which threaded through the infamous Donner Pass.
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