Opera Hall
S. Washington St, Sonora 95370

This building, the Opera Hall, was finished in 1885, and had a grand opening that included a skating carnival and masquerade ball. It was intended to serve as a magnet for social activity in Sonora, including theatrical plays, concerts, and public meetings. It was, by the standards of its time, an elegant building. It had comfortable chairs instead of benches, and an artist had been hired to paint several sets of scenery.

The Opera Hall was built by two partners, one of whom was James Divoll, an engineer from Wisconsin who came to California in 1862. Divoll and his partner had owned the Bonanza Mine, a hugely lucrative pocket mine located north of Sonora.

The partners put much of this money into a flour mill, located on the site where the Opera Hall now sits. The design of the mill was a bit eccentric—it had a two-story building, with a wooden chute leading down from the second story. A customer could pull his wagon up to the mill and have bags of flour conveniently slide down the chute into the wagon. The second story had a skating rink and was also used for dances.

Divoll also built a reservoir on the hill behind the mill and ran the water through a waterwheel to power the mill.

Gold bullion from the Bonanza Mine was also sometimes stored at the mill, and the fact that this was known resulted in the end of the mill one night. The mill burned down, the unusually large amount of gold that was on hand that night was missing, and a night watchman—the brother of Divoll’s partner—had burned to death. It was believed that the fire had been set to cover up the crime. Divoll and his partner then decided to build the Opera Hall.

After twelve years of operation, the Opera Hall was converted successively to a carpenter shop, a garage, and a car dealership, finally being restored to its original design and purpose.

At the time that the Opera Hall was built, Washington Street was very wide. In the middle of the street there was a cast iron fountain that was used to water horses. There were also faucets with tin cups hanging on them for humans to use. This fountain is no longer in the middle of the street, but has been moved to a park across Washington Street from the Opera Hall and a bit north, at the southeast corner of Washington and Church Streets.