The basement of the Columbus Hotel and Silver Nugget Restaurant has recently been transformed into a theatre that seats about 60 people. The new space has been dubbed the Cellar Theatre.
The theatre opened to the public over Labor Day weekend with adventure documentary films about the region produced by David Showalter of Cañon City, Colo.
“We had a good turn out,” said Craig MacCraiger, owner/operator of the Columbus Hotel and Silver Nugget Restaurant. “It was very well received.”
The Columbus Hotel and Silver Nugget restaurant have been going through a series of renovations over the past four years. A month ago, the only space left to complete was the basement. MacCraiger wasn’t sure what the space would become. He had tossed around a number of ideas including a spa, an antique shop and a medical center, but none came to fruition.
Then three weeks ago, Showalter sat down for a meal at the Silver Nugget. During a conversation with MacCraiger, Showalter revealed that he was a filmmaker and owner of the production company Mountain Memories Unlimited. He has filmed, directed and produced a number of documentaries about exploring the San Juan Mountains, central Colorado and the deserts of the Southwest. Showalter built a theatre in Cañon City where he showed his documentaries to sell-out crowds.
Showalter suggested to MacCraiger that the downstairs space of the Columbus Hotel could be used as a theatre. MacCraiger liked the idea, and plans began right then to finish the space and transform it into an intimate theatre where filmmakers could show their work to the public.
According to MacCraiger, when the Silver Nugget building was constructed in the 1800s, the train station was located at the bottom of 8th Avenue, making it the main drag in town. The basement historically served as a restaurant, easily accessible to folks arriving by train.
When train travel waned and cars became the only way to reach Ouray, current day Main Street became the center of town. In its historic state, the Columbus Hotel basement was no longer a functional location for a business.
MacCraiger and his wife Sarah moved in and began renovating the building four years ago. They wanted make the 2,000-square-foot basement a functional space, and after a lengthy approval process with the city, they were able to excavate around the building so that it was more accessible to present day Main Street. They refinished the two-foot thick stonewalls in the basement, re-routed some of the plumbing and wiring, put in a new ceiling, and cleaned up the original wood floors.
The Cellar Theatre will be showing Showalter’s films through the fall, including Over the San Juans, North by Northwest and History of Marble Colorado From 1884 to the Future. Showings are throughout the day from 12:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Special showings can also be arranged by appointment.
Showalter’s inspiration to become a filmmaker started in Ouray in 1982 when he saw the San Juan Odyssey by C.W. McCall. The slideshow synchronized to music showed stunning locations in the San Juans, but it didn’t reveal where the places were or how to find them. Showalter knew then that he had to find those places and document them. Showalter has been documenting Colorado 4-wheel drive trails, roads and mining operations for years. His documentaries capture the past, present and future of the western mountains. His Mountain Memories Unlimited DVDs cover a multitude of histories and scenic locations rarely visited, even by Colorado natives. His films are hailed as being “packed with adventure, history and wonderful scenes that many of us can only hope to see some day.”
MacCraiger said he hopes to keep the theatre open through the winter. “We would love to have shows featuring ice climbing, backcountry skiing, the hut systems, and other winter activities in the area,” said MacCraiger. “I know there are a lot of people around here who do that kind of stuff, but there’s not much information for visitors. I’d like to get it out there so we can bring more people to town in the winter.”
MacCraiger encourages people who interested in becoming involved in winter showings to contact him. Special summer showings can also be arranged over the next few months. Contact MacCraiger at 970/325-4551 or stop by the Silver Nugget Restaurant at 740 Main Street, Ouray.