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Live out your dreams in the theatre

Our Story

If Walls Could Talk

Jackson Hole Wyoming

In the early 19th century, fur trappers eager to exploit one of the valley’s most valuable resources, beaver furs and other pelts, found their way into the remote valley of Jackson Hole.

 John Colter, hunter and guide for the Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806), is long thought to be the first Anglo-American to enter Jackson Hole. Mountain men like David Jackson (for whom the valley is named), Jedidiah Smith, Jim Bridger, and William Sublette would become synonymous with this rugged and isolated lifestyle. While often portrayed as romantic figures, glorified for their skills in surviving in harsh and unforgiving terrain, in reality this occupation was extremely hazardous, and scarcely ever yielded a decent living. Trappers working alone or with a small group of partners were subject to attacks by hostile Indians, grizzly bears and other wild animals, often in arduous and dangerous conditions.*

Black and white photo of JHP Building

First Settlers

In 1884 the first two homesteads in the area were filed at the south end of today's National Elk Refuge. 

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Over the next decade, the homesteader population rose from 23 to 639 by 1900. By 1920, these numbers would more than double to 1,381 residents. These numbers only account for those living legally on the land and those who participated in the government census.

Original Building of Jackson Hole Playhouse

Homesteading in Jackson Hole was a careful balance of surviving the harsh winters, short growing season and unexpected, violent weather patterns. 

Droughts, mid-summer hail storms and even the wildlife posed serious threats to the livelihoods of homesteaders who tried to raise cattle or hay. For many in Jackson Hole, 160 acres was simply not enough land to raise both cattle and the amount of hay needed to keep livestock and horses through the winter. Many were able to file for adjacent tracts through another Homestead Act, and others bought out neighbors who found the conditions too challenging. The many who persevered took great pride in their ranching operations, knowing they were solely responsible for their success. Some took creative routes to supplement their income, taking jobs with the Forest Service or the Reclamation Service reconstructing the Jackson Lake Dam. Women ran the local post office or taught at the small community schools to help make ends meet. Many ranchers found a new source of income in the increasing number of tourists traveling through the valley to see Yellowstone National Park. By offering a bed and food to the weary travelers, the ranchers began to rely less on cattle and haying operations.*

The Playhouse Story Begins

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In 1913 an old shed/garage was built that would become the housing spot for the Yellowstone Stage Company. Local cowboys and ranchers would hitch up a stagecoach to a team of 6 horses that would make the 60-mile trek to the entrance to the first National Park in the United States. 

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Black and white photo of the Jackson Hole Playhouse building

Charles "Pap" Deloney opened the first general store in the Valley

During the period it was operating, the store went through several incarnations, from a log structure to a brick building. One of the early DeLoney stores on north Glenwood is now occupied by the Historical Society museum. In 1906, the one-room store in their house expanded to a separate brick building. (You can still see some of the original brick just east of the Playhouse.)

By 1913 Charles' son Hyrum became a full partner, and the business expanded to include their garage, "Deloney Garage"

The Garage was initially built to house the Yellowstone Stage Company and cars over the winter. By 1919, a blacksmith repair shop was added.

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Horses in front of the playhouse

Stagecoaches were the way to travel in Yellowstone. It wasn’t until 1917 that the reign of the park’s primary transportation had shifted, and cars and buses took over the roads.

The galvanized steel sheet building, the new Deloney Garage, was constructed in 1916 by Charles Deloney The building measured 50 feet by 100 feet and had cement floors throughout. It housed a machine shop with an Oxy-Acetylene welding plant. Power to run the machine shop came from a four horse-power Chusman Engine, which in turn powered an Electic generator that furnished electricity for the garage, the store, and the houses of Charles Deloney and his son Hyrum W. Deloney and lit a street light in front of both the garage and the store. Out front was a pump at which filtered gasoline was available. 

 

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In 1923, Walt Spicer and the Curtis Brothers Open a Ford Agency

 The Curtis Brothers had previously operated a Ford Garage in conjunction with the Kelly Mercantile Company further up the valley. Spicer and Curtis was a family affair. Walt Spicer was married to Ruby Curtis. The brothers primarily involved in the operation of the garage were Lewis, Vernon and Ushel.  Over the years, the DeLoney garage later housed Chevrolet and Kaiser-Frazer dealerships, Rowles Motor Company, and Anderson-Penton Trucking Freight. 
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Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum Collection
Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum Collection, 11-digit catalog number
Original location of the Jackson Hole Playhouse
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ed vera cheney

Enter Ed & Vera Cheney

Vera Cheney was born October 17th 1910  near Columbia Square, New York City. She was born to Royal P. Hamerschlag, the owner and president of the Metropolitan Opera Company Programs, which later produced the now-famous Broadway Playbill.  Vera joined the Navy, then transferred and became one of the first women officers in SPARS, the women's branch of the Coast Guard, commanding a post at Laren station. After the war, Vera came West to the first Cheyenne Frontier Days, then to Jackson Hole for fishing and fun, fun that turned into romance after dancing all night with Ed Cheney. But romance had to wait Vera had a job with the United Nations Department of Economic Affairs. She flew off to Shanghai for a year. What an adventure, in a letter to Ed Cheney, Vera said I felt as if I were really in a Madame Butterfly World. Ed's reply across the seas and oceans was a proposal of marriage. Vera said she would marry Ed on the condition that there was an indoor toilet and electricity in their soon-to-be home. Ed and Vera were betrothed on January 10th, 1948, in a log cabin home on Wenzel Lane. Ed carried Vera over the threshold of their cabin where there was a toilet in the corner and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, neither of which were connected.

In 1949 Ed & Vera Cheney Purchased the Building

Vera, the world-traveled debutante, and entrepreneur, thought Jackson needed some culture and excitement. Vera's roots of theater and Opera that she had shared with her father in New York City were calling. Ed and Vera produced Jackson's first classical musical concert in 1949 with Grant Johansson at the piano all the way from New York City.

1953 Jackson's First Bowling Alley

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With its Cherrywood-raked flooring, the first proper bowling alley in Jackson Hole was opened in the Deloney building. However, with the success of the concert pianist and the draw for something a little more cultural, the building was about to change quickly. 

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It all began when Gambling stopped!

It was just after open gambling was banned in Jackson Hole that locals realized another draw was needed to keep visitors amused in the evenings. Bars had their shows, but nothing existed for the throngs of visitors who didn’t drink or for those who had children along who needed entertainment as well. So Vera and Ed Cheney and a friend named Paula Jeffrey decided to open a small theatre in place of their Bowling Alley

“The town for a couple of years was rather dull after gambling was banned. All there was for tourists with their families was boardwalk shopping.”

~Vera Cheney

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The 145-seat theater opened as Pink Garter Theater on June 20th, 1959, with the Jackson Hole Players in an old-style melodrama and gay 90’s revel, “Brother Against Brother.” Admission for the show was $1.85, and first-nighters were invited to an after-theatre party with the cast. “It went over with a bang,” Vera said. 

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“It went over with a bang!

It was the most successful thing Jackson ever had. We had original shows and royalty shows, but we never had to pay a royalty because nobody even knew Jackson was on the map!”

~Vera Cheney

But visitors knew Jackson was on the map, and the theatre continued to draw crowds. The Cheneys enlarged it first to 165 seats and then to 210 seats. But then, in 1968, the Cheneys and Paula Jeffrey parted company, and the existing theatre was renamed Jackson Hole Playhouse. 

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“So our theater is really the essence of theater in Jackson Hole.”~Vera Cheney

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Enter the Garnick Family

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The Many Faces of the Theatre

Coming Soon

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