Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - opera houses; built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Brocchini and Associates, Architects (firm); Winne, William H., Building Contractor (firm); Ronald G. Brocchini (architect); William H. Winne (building contractor)

Dates: constructed 1895-1896

2 stories

340 2nd Street
Downtown, Woodland, CA 95695

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Building History

This opera house replaced a previous one, built in 1885, that burned seven years later. This second house shared some of the foundations of the first, and took about four years to complete. An historic guidebook put together by the City of Woodland Historic Commission said of the Opera House #2: “After some uncertainty and anxiety about the fate of the building, a local syndicate was formed to fund the reconstruction of the Opera House. David N. Hershey purchased the site and the syndicate comprised of Richard H. Bearner, Louis Dietz, Marshall Diggs, Adam M. Elston, Dr. George H. Jackson, Peter Krellenburg & Son, Edward E. Leake, John Leithold and J. McGriff backed the project. Using some of the partially standing walls from the burned structure, the Opera House was rebuilt between 1895-96 by local contractor William H. Winne at a cost of $8,990. The Opera House was the cultural hub of the region and by 1913 over 300 touring companies had appeared on stage.” (See “5. Woodland Opera House State Park,” Explore Historic Woodland: A Walking Tour Guide to 8 Classic Neighborhoods, Downtown & Dead Cat Alley, [Woodland, CA: Historical Preservation Commission, 2007], p. 169.)

The facility accommodated a large number of acts, from legitimate theatre (over 300 companies had performed here by 1913), to musical groups such as the Sousa Band, led by former Marine Band leader, John Phillip Sousa (1854-1932), and vaudeville troupes.

The noted Polish-born actress Helena Modjeska (1840-1909), who traveled the world doing leading roles as Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet or Marguerite Gautier in Dumas's Camille, appeared here. Madame Modjeska emigrated from Poland to the US in 07/1876, and, shortly thereafter, settled in CA. She passed away in Newport Beach, CA, but her son, Ralph Modjeski (1861-1940), would became one of the most important bridge engineers of his generation, responsible for several important spans in Portland and San Francisco. Competition from movie theatres and a liability lawsuit forced the closing of the Woodland Opera House in 1971. The Yolo County Historical Society bought the famed performance hall at that time, to preserve it from demolition. The society did the necessary historical research to have it included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971and an inventory of Yolo County Historical Sites in 1972. It was declared a California Registered Historical Landmark and a State Historical Park in 1976. The society maintained the building in mothballs until 1981, when they sold it to the State of CA, who had the finances to begin a restoration.

Prior to its purchase in 1971, the Historic American Building Survey documented the opera house in drawings and photos in 1966.

Building Notes

In 2014, the brick-faced Woodland Opera House was one of four remaining fully operational opera houses, built in the nineteenth century in the State of CA.

Tel: 530.666.9617 (2014).

A number of records, including that of the National Register of Historic Places, for the Woodland Opera House indicated it to have been built by "David M. Hershey." It appears that the financier of the building was the Maryland-born farmer, David Newcomer Hershey (1818-1903). Hershey owned significant agricultural land holdings in Yolo County and, by 1870, had accumulated significant wealth, $99,000 worth of real estate and a personal fortune of $44,350. Ten years later, Hershey owned 2,194 acres of Yolo County land on which he raised cattle and 6,100 bushels of wheat. The value of his 375-head herd was alone worth $20,500 in 1880. The 1900 US Census records that Hershey had been married for 27 years and had had seven children, six of whom survived; the household also included David's sister, Catherine (1826-1901). The estate could afford to keep on four farm laborers and a Chinese servant as a laundryman. Hershey was undoubtedly one the wealthiest farmers in the Woodland vicinity, and, through the establishment of this multi-purpose opera house, sought to give his community a stable and uplifting cultural amenity.


The State of CA supervised a restoration of the theatre that occurred between 1981-1989. Brocchini and Associates of Oakland, CA, directed the building's restoration.

According to the "History" page of the Woodland Opera House web site the restoration cost more than $2 million. It said: "During the restoration, the building was made structurally safe and "earthquake proofed". Central heat and air-conditioning, a sprinkler and alarm system and handicap access were added. An annex was built to house the mechanical equipment necessary for the above and for administrative office space, a gift counter, the Mid-Level Lounge and rooftop exterior deck. In 1990 with the help of Woodland Rotary Club, the south side grassy 'Rotary Court' was added to compliment the City's Heritage Plaza. The interior of the Opera House has been painstakingly restored to the grandeur it enjoyed at the turn if the century. Careful attention was paid to reproduction of the wallpaper friezes, paint colors and carpeting. The main floor carpet was manufactured in England and shipped to the Opera House for installation. Comfortable main floor theater seating was built on the East Coast for installation and the historic pew-like benches in the balcony area were repaired or carefully replaced." (See "History," accessed 01/07/2014.) The building reopened in 01/1989.

California Historical Landmark: ID n/a

King County Landmark: ID n/a

Yolo County Historic Site: ID n/a

PCAD id: 18954