The Wright Opera House, a Legacy

Wright Opera House 1900

Most folks who live in Denton know this building, which is located on the northeast corner of the square, but they might not recognize it without the pink stucco on the exterior. Usually when we speak of it, we call it “Recycled Books” and it is a book lover’s Mecca. It began life as “The Wright Opera House,” which opened formally in 1900. Today, it adorns the Square as a garish, somewhat faded beauty … a pink princess … reminding us of our past in more ways than one.

recycled_books

I pulled out some notes I had made about the Opera House when doing research a year ago. I had noted that The Wright Opera House wasn’t the first opera house in Denton. As early as 1880 there had been an opera house on the west side of the square (approximately where the Fine Arts Theater now stands). However when William Crow Wright (a wealthy rancher, and a “mover-and-shaker” here in town) built the imposing edifice, it was the grandest building imaginable. It drew crowds all the way from Dallas to see the elaborate stage productions performed there — and, y’all, in those days, a trip from Dallas was a production in itself!

2nd_denton_courthouseBuilt from bricks that were recycled from the second courthouse in Denton (which was struck by lightning in September of 1894 and condemned), The Wright Opera House was a source of pride for the community. It housed opera, “light opera,” musical revues, vaudeville, and “home-talent” productions. However, its days were numbered.

The theater ended full time operation in 1913 due to the competition from the moving picture houses (that had top prices ranging from 10₵ to 20₵). In 1918, it became the Majestic Theater, but it couldn’t compete. Its last audience was an all male group who paid $2.00 each to witness a prize fight between a local post office employee and a semi-pro boxer from Dallas. In my notes, taken from ephemera at the Emily Fowler library, I didn’t record who won that fight … so I can’t tell you if the mailman went postal on the boxer.

Dang! Now, I’m not going to rest until I go back and find the answer!

As years progressed, several businesses have been located there including Kibler Office Supply and the Boston Store. Because the bricks used to build it were soft, and began to crumble, the exterior received a coat of stucco (along Locust street, you can see those original bricks where a patch of stucco fell away). Today, there are apartments located above that beloved bookstore. When I say “beloved,” I mean it. I’ve talked to people who travel from great distances just to browse at Recycled Books. Not only that, but there seem to be some “spirits” lingering there (especially in the apartments) … perhaps they loved it so much in life that they refuse to leave it, even in death {psst: come on a Ghosts of Denton tour, and I will tell you those stories}.

This week the building was put up for sale. Scott Campbell talked about that on his blog, Dentoning. Though the building might change hands, Recycled Books isn’t going away (whew), but I do so wish that the building was designated a historic landmark, so it would be protected for future generations to enjoy.

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