The Bozeman City Hall and Opera House stood for seventy-five years on the corner of Main Street and Rouse Avenue in downtown Bozeman, Montana.
Completed in 1890, it was a massive structure of ornate brick, stone, and cast iron. Architect Byron Vreeland spent three weeks designing the French Renaissance style building in 1887. The Avant-Courier described it as having a “handsome bell tower, bristling spires, entablatures, Gothic windows, tryglyphs, spandrels, facades, friezes, and cornices, handsomely combined,”.
The building contained the city hall, police station, jail, fire department, and the opera house. The fire engines were kept in one section of the lower floor with firemen’s quarters above. A brass fireman’s pole connected the two. The other half of the first floor consisted of offices for city administrators, the jail cells, and janitor’s quarters. The second floor housed the police headquarters, a large courtroom, and a 900 seat auditorium, The Bozeman Opera House.
Architect Byron Vreeland died in 1889 at the age of 44, a year before the building was completed.
The first performance by an out-of-town group took place on October 13, 1890.
The seats were removable, and on January 16, 1891, a promenade concert by the opera house orchestra was followed by dancing on the parquet floor.
In 1899 the opera house purchased a moving picture machine, and on July 3 showed the Sharkey-McCoy fight, plus scenes from the Spanish-American War.
The opera house was popular, hosting many renowned travelling shows. But competition from the movie houses called electric theatres plus the advent of World War I left it vacant more and more often.
By 1927 the building was deemed structurally unsound for public use, and it was no longer regularly maintained. In August, 1959, an earthquake cracked the walls. The building was demolished in 1964 with the help of a federal urban renewal grant.
Robert Pirsig must have asked his student to write about one brick of the building shortly before it was torn down.