A Treasure in Death Valley
Have you ever wanted to take a trip to somewhere so unique it’s unbelievable? Well, then hitch up your star and head for the Amargosa Opera House and Hotel in Death Valley Junction. It doesn't look like much from the outside....but don't be fooled. It's the inside that will amaze you! A treasure in the desert. You will not believe it until you see it for yourself. Fascinating, beautiful, beyond belief, a magnificient...historical jewel in the middle of nowhere. And I do mean in the middle of nowhere.
Then............................................... Now..Only the cars & clothes have changed.
We were on a road trip with a group of friends and staying a hotel in Furnace Creek. While most others in our groups went to see Scotty’s Castle, we opted for something different since we’d already been to Scotty’s. A sales clerk at the hotel’s gift shop told us about a unique treasure situated in the desert that she swore we’d love if we went there. The Amargosa Hotel and Opera House. So, directions in hand, we jumped in our cars and took off.
When we pulled into Death Valley Junction I was a little taken back. It looked old and desserted. The old gas station, it’s architecture straight out of the 30’s or 40’s, was closed.
The Opera House was closed. But the tiny coffee shop was open. So, we went inside and what a treat. I thought I’d stepped back in time.
And the staff was so friendly and gracious. And the young man who waited on us told us if we wanted to see the Opera House we needed to go talk to the caretaker, who was usually sitting on the porch of the hotel. And that’s exactly where he was. For $5 a person, he gave us a grand tour, and it was fascinating.
Marta Becket was a ballerina in New York. But she tired of the big city and decided to take her talents on the road. She and her husband traveled near and far, and then found themselves in Death Valley.
But let her tell you her story.
"Outside, in the world, people struck each other, yelled, honked horns," she says. "Inside, in the theater, they conversed by singing and dancing. I knew that was where I belonged."
Before long she was amazing her dance teachers with her talent. She also studied piano and art on a scholarship at the age of nine, developing as an artist and pianist.
As a young woman, she danced at Radio City Music Hall, and on Broadway. She appeared in "Showboat", "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", and "A Wonderful Town". But Marta wanted to dance her own dances, design her own costumes, and create her own show. Which is exactly what she did, and she took her solo show on the road.
Married in 1962, Marta and her husband found themselves in California, in the spring of 1967, after months of touring. They decided to spend a week's vacation camping in Death Valley, behind the visitor's center. One morning they awoke to a flat tire on their trailer. A park ranger directed them to Death Valley Junction to have the tire repaired.
While her husband attended to the tire, Marta began to explore the old adobe buildings. Walking down the long colonnade of what was known as the Amargosa Hotel, she was hypnotically drawn to the end, and around the corner where she discovered the largest building in the row. It was a theater! She could not believe her eyes.
At the back of the building, she found a hole in a door, where she could see inside. There she saw a small stage with faded calico curtains hanging from a track. Debris was strewn all over the warped floor boards, and several rows of wooden benches faced the stage. It was obvious the theater had been abandoned for quite some time. It seemed to be the only unused building in Death Valley Junction. "Peering through the tiny hole, I had the distinct feeling that I was looking at the other half of myself. The building seemed to be saying.....Take me.....do something with me...I offer you life"
The next day Marta and her husband located the town manager and agreed to rent the theater for $45.00 a month, and to assume responsibility for repairs. Originally called Corkhill Hall, she renamed the theater the Amargosa Opera House.
Marta gave her first performance in the theater on February 10th, 1968. On that rainy night, she danced for an audience of twelve adults, children and grandchildren. From that day on the doors of the Amargosa Opera House opened without fail at 7:45 pm and the curtain parted promptly at 8:15 pm every Friday, Saturday, and Monday night for many years.
The audiences consisted of locals and curious tourists, and sometimes no one came at all. Working in the Opera House cleaning up after a rainstorm, Marta had a flash of inspiration. She would paint an entire audience on the walls of the theater. It took four years to complete the murals on the walls. Then Marta started work on the ceiling, which took another two years and was completed in 1974.
(What the caretaker, and her old friend, told us during the tour was that Hollywood celebrities soon heard of Marta and began the trek to Death Valley Junction to see her performance. Notables such as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard became regulars in the audience, along with many, many other Hollywood and Broadway stars, producers, directors and writers.)
In January of 1983, Marta's husband left for other interests, but as fate would have it, at the same time another important person entered her life. Mr. Thomas J."Wilget" Willett stepped in as stage manager and M.C. and has been with her until his death in 2005. A natural comedian, he acted as a performing stage manager, playing parts, co-starring with Marta, and adding humor to the classical ambience of the performances.
"I am grateful to have found the place where I can fulfill my dreams and share them with the passing scene...for as long as I can." Marta officially retired in 2012, after her final show, "The Sitting Down Show." She continues to live in Death Valley Junction.
So, Happy Clutter friends, if you’re aching to do something different, take a trip out to the Amargosa Hotel and Opera House. Sip a soda in the coffee shop, stay a night at the hotel, (all those murals and little hand painted touches throughout the hotel, it's rooms, lobby, dining room and even the hallways and bathrooms, were all painted by Marta.)
and enjoy a tour, or even a performance in the Opera House.
It will be an experience you will never forget.