Nevada City’s devastating fire of 1863 gutted the Bailey House Hotel, located on the corner of Broad and Bridge Streets. In an effort to provide the community with a theater that wouldn’t “burn to the ground”, the Nevada Theatre Association formed and purchased the ruined hotel. Salvaging many of the bricks from the Bailey House, construction began. Funds raised from a community effort enabled the theater to open in the fall of 1865 with a gala ball and midnight supper. The opening night performance was a two-act comedy called “The Dutch Governor”. This was the beginning of thousands of performances held at the theater. Known to have graced its stage were Mark Twain and Emma Nevada.
In 1909, The Nevada Theatre was remodeled for use as a movie house. This became its primary use until the late 1950s. Passing through several owners, it once belonged to United Artists and was called the Cedar Theater (photo circa 1957). It was closed in 1958 due to a sluggish economy and the advent of television.
In 1963, The Nevada County Liberal Arts Commission formed. As in 1865, funds were raised from the community to purchase the building and make necessary repairs and renovations. The Liberal Arts Commission, now named The Nevada Theatre Commission, has maintained the landmark structure since. The Commission is a non-profit organization whose elected Board of Directors acts as steward of this historic building.
Now in its third century, the Nevada Theatre is a main stage for LeGacy Productions, The Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, Sierra Stages, Paul Emery Presents, Ewing Ventures, and The Nevada Theatre Film Series. The theater has been a venue for both professional and amateur theatrical productions, variety shows, minstrels, musical acts, poetry readings, weddings, high school graduations, business meetings and films.
Fundraising efforts and generous community contributions have played a vital role in maintenance and upgrading. Recent projects have included a handicapped accessible restroom, a new roof, a new electrical system, a new sound and light booth, major repair on the exterior brick and mortar, the installation of a fire alarm system, replacing the 1930s-era boiler with modern heating/air-conditioning, and the installation of fire sprinklers throughout the building.