he neon marque on the Gem Theater historic building will glow again on Main Street in rural Pioche, Nevada. The theater (constructed in 1937) was built expressly for movies from Hollywood. This small, picturesque town clinging to the side of a mountain in Nevada’s high desert was once one of the toughest towns in the Old West. Even this rough-and-tumble mining and farming town needed entertainment.
The Gem Theater, originally located inside the building that is now Thompson’s Opera House, entertained audiences with thousands of movies beginning in the 1920s. When the block structure was built by Frank Thompson next door, use of the Opera House declined. It eventually closed in the 1940s, with the exception of a single-screen movie theater that continued to operate until spring 2002 when a windstorm blew the theater roof off and onto the adjacent Opera House. The building suffered significant damage. Despite a repair, it was shuttered.
Through dedicated efforts, the theater will be restored using a Preservation Treatment Plan for the building funded in part by a grant from the Johanna Favrot Fund for Historic Preservation of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The marquee will be repaired (including electric work) through donor contributions and an award from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development Program.
Now known as Nevada’s liveliest ghost town, Pioche is located 180 miles northeast of Las Vegas. Along with historic buildings (some standing since the 1870s), the town boasts a nine-hole golf course, hunting, fishing, annual events such as the Pioche Mardi Gras, and access to several scenic state parks in Nevada.