Anthropologist to lead historic opera house |

Anthropologist to lead historic opera house

Cory McConnell
Appeal Staff Writer

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Margo Memmott, the new executive director of Piper's Opera House in Virginia City, poses in the historic theater on Thursday.

In a town mired in history, where century-old facades and an Old West attitude are the backbone of a solid tourist trade, it seemed fitting when an anthropologist specializing in historic architecture took over leadership of Virginia City’s famed Piper’s Opera House on Monday.

Margo Memmott, 30, began her relationship with the historic mining town and its opera house in 2002, as a University of Nevada, Reno graduate student looking for a master’s thesis. She chose Piper’s Opera House number two, the most opulent of the three theaters. Like the first, the second burned to the ground in the late 19th Century.

The new Piper’s Opera House executive director learned as much as anyone about the old building while excavating and documenting its ruins to earn her master’s degree.

With restoration of the third and final opera house an ongoing task for the nonprofit corporation that runs it, Memmott was asked in 2002 to serve on its board of directors “and give restoration advice.”

“I love the opera house so much, I just couldn’t help (but agree),” Memmott said.

And when three-year Piper’s Opera House Executive Director Sam Folio announced July 15 he was leaving due to a medical condition, the search for a new leader was short, mostly because the organization doesn’t have the money for a large-scale hunt, according to Memmott.

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Since Memmott moved to Nevada six years ago, after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Utah State University, she’s done much volunteer work, teaching anthropology and history at schools and giving tours at Piper’s Opera House. But for once, her new post is more about the future than the past.

Though outside her formal expertise of things past, Memmott said the Piper’s Opera House Programs Inc. Board of Directors “felt I could do the job.”

Her first goal as the new executive director is to get the place more organized and establish priorities for taking the 120-year-old venue’s name recognition up a notch.

“Our marketing has been there, but not enough,” Memmott said. “I think if people are more aware of what’s going on here, they’ll come.”

– Contact reporter Cory McConnell at or 881-1217.

Center Stage

Piper’s Opera House is open for tours, 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily through the end of September.

“Cathouse Afternoon” is playing at 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through the end of August.

For further listings of events at Piper’s, call (775) 847-0433 or check out its Web site: