Evenings of History Explores Seamy Side of Ouray
by Watch Staff
Jun 16, 2013 | 1185 views | 0 0 comments | 48 48 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HIGH TIMES – The Gold Belt Theatre was part of the “small empire” of vice developed by the brothers Vanoli in late Victorian Ouray. The Ouray County Historical Society Evenings of History presentation next Tuesday (June 18) will look at artifacts from the Vanoli Block, and what it all means. (Courtesy photo)
HIGH TIMES – The Gold Belt Theatre was part of the “small empire” of vice developed by the brothers Vanoli in late Victorian Ouray. The Ouray County Historical Society Evenings of History presentation next Tuesday (June 18) will look at artifacts from the Vanoli Block, and what it all means. (Courtesy photo)
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OURAY – The Ouray County Historical Society kicks off the 2013 Evenings of History series with a presentation on Ouray’s infamous Vanoli Block, in the heart of the historic red light district.

Mary Van Buren, professor of anthropology at Colorado State University, will speak on “What the Ouray Vanoli Site Can Tell Us About the Old West” on Tuesday, June 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ouray Community Center.

Dr. Van Buren will discuss insights that artifacts from the Vanoli Site, in conjunction with historical documents, provide into the experiences of prostitutes, dance hall girls, and their largely male clientele in late Victorian Ouray.

The Vanoli collection consists of more than 100,000 artifacts recovered during excavations conducted in Ouray by Steven Baker, a historical archaeologist and president of Centuries Research, Inc., during the 1970s and 80s. In 2012, these artifacts were lent to the Department of Anthropology at Colorado State University, where they are being analyzed by a team of students under Dr. Van Buren’s direction.

The Vanoli Block, between Main and Second Streets and Eighth and Ninth Avenues, was the heart of Ouray’s red light district from 1881 through the early 1920s. It was named for John and Dominick Vanoli, who developed the dance hall, saloon, Gold Belt Theatre and “boarding house” that comprised their small empire. A Chinese laundry on the same block was said to provide opium for some of the prostitutes. Despite protests from the city’s respectable citizens, the Vanoli Block provided bawdy entertainment to miners and others for many years.

“The big-hearted prostitute, raucous dance hall, and violent saloon are icons of the American West – staple images that appear in the media and fuel popular imagination of the frontier experience,” said Dr. Van Buren. “While drawing on some aspects of reality, these images are comprised of stereotypes generated by movies, novels, and even popular histories about the Old West.”

Social historians and archaeologists have begun to offer a more realistic picture of those people and institutions, as well as their economic and social roles in Western mining towns, she said.

Dr. Van Buren’s research interests include prehistoric and historic archaeology, complex societies and Spanish colonialism. She currently is investigating the social and technological organization of Inca and Spanish colonial silver mining in southern Bolivia with the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Science Foundation. 

Evenings of History are multimedia presentations on various aspects of Ouray County area history. Admission is $5 for non-OCHS members, and free to members. The Vanoli Site lecture is sponsored by George and Glenda Moore.

For more information, call the Ouray County Historical Museum at 970/325-4576 or visit www.ouraycountyhistoricalsociety.org.   Museum hours are Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and Sun., noon-4:30 p.m. 

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