Nevada Theatre – Nevada City, California - Atlas Obscura
Free iron-on Atlas Obscura badge when you preorder our new kids’ book. Shop now.

Nevada City, California

Nevada Theatre

California's oldest existing theater building hosted an impressive cast of celebrities, including hosting Mark Twain's first lecture. 

Mark Twain, Lotta Crabtree, Jack London…Mötley Crüe?

The Nevada Theatre in historic downtown Nevada City has seen an impressive cast of characters in its time, and for California, its time has been substantial. For close to 150 years, the stage of the Golden State’s oldest theatre has been graced with immeasurable talent, and presented some of the earliest silent films to hit the silver screen. 

Opened in 1865, the theatre was erected to house the Nevada Theatre Association after their former residence, the Bailey House Hotel was lost in a fire. Mark Twain would take the stage as a lecturer during some of his earliest talks in 1866, well before publishing any major works.Only recently changing his name from Samuel Clemens, Twain was still a green journalist, best known for travel articles in the Sacramento and San Francisco areas. After considerable success in regard to his published correspondence from the Sandwich Islands, (Hawaii) Twain became a hot item on the lecture circuit in San Francisco, and tours of the Gold Country were scheduled, the Nevada Theatre becoming a frequent stop. His appearances were cleverly advertised, promising performances of a series of “wonderful feats of SLEIGHT OF HAND, if desired to do so.” These enticing additions to his lectures included throwing back shots of whiskey and skipping out on hotel bills, and often the ads would state “The doors will open at 7 o’clock, and the trouble will begin at 8.”

Local sweetheart Lotta Crabtree was also a regular. Trained and mentored by the feisty Lola Montez, Ms. Crabtree was an actress, entertainer and comedian that was known as “The Nation’s Darling”. While she eventually rose to a level of fame that took her out of the Nevada City area and into the rest of the world, her beginnings were here in the Gold Country, and the Nevada Theatre was a part of her up and coming. 

While clearly a late 19th century hotspot, the theatre has enjoyed waves of acclaim in modern times as well, its 200 seats filling for metal icons Mötley Crüe and legendary Texas punk band MDC, not to mention countless modern local performers that went on to national fame including Utah Phillips, and Joanna Newsom.

Added to the National Registry of Historical Places in 1973, the theatre closed briefly in 1957, but an outpouring of public donations from the community reopened its doors by 1968 and the show has gone on ever since.