Preservationist, Historian and Community Ambassador are all titles that describe the effervescent Eric Lee Chinn. Whether it’s giving VIP tours of the 27 historic properties that CCO owns or managing his duties at the Central City Opera House and Teller House, Eric always strives to create a “time travel experience” for artists and guests as Central City Opera’s Director of Historic Properties.
What do you do in your role at Central City Opera?
I oversee 27 historic buildings owned and operated by Central City Opera (CCO) in Central City, CO. The portfolio consists of five commercial buildings, including the Central City Opera House and the Teller House, and 22 residential buildings, all of which are contributing structures to the Central City/Black Hawk National Historic Landmark District. I am responsible for working with our wonderful maintenance manager, Sam Carrington, on the maintenance and upkeep of the properties including interior and exterior repairs, landscape maintenance, snow removal, annual fire and safety inspections, preventative maintenance, and managing rehabilitation projects funded by the State Historical Fund and other contributors.
I also coordinate with restauranteurs for summer and the off-season operation of restaurants in the Teller House. I maintain the Teller House furnishings, art and antiquities and provide coordination and support for CCO events. I maintain a working partnership with the CCO Guild and volunteers and coordinate with the Gilpin Historical Society for tours of the Teller House and Opera House and events such as the annual Creepy Crawl. In addition, I work with Peak-to-Peak Theater Company for use of the Williams Stables black-box theater in the off-season and I field requests for facility rentals when we have an event.
I am also caretaker for the 100+ tropical plants that fill three of the 4 levels of the Teller House atrium.
Tell us a bit about your life, education and career before Central City Opera (CCO).
I was born and raised on the Western Slope of Colorado in Montrose where I attended Montrose High School. My grandparents on both sides owned Victorian era houses and I was obsessed with all of the historic architectural details in comparison to modern homes. I have always had a passion for theater and music. In Montrose I was an actor, singer, dancer & set designer for the Magic Circle Theater. I attended Denver University and The University of Northern Colorado where I earned B.A.’s in Musical Theater, Acting and Theater, and Directing. At UNC summer stock “Little Theater of the Rockies” I was a production assistant, actor, singer and dancer.
Before I came to Central City Opera, I worked for 11 years in Boulder, CO, for Hudson Real Estate where I managed 300 condominiums.
Eric with Meg Ozaki Graves and Wanda Larson at the 2021 Cemetery Crawl in Central City
Eric at Pat Pearce’s Christmas Party in 2019
How did you make your way into the field of opera? Why does the artform appeal to you?
I purchased an 1889 Victorian house in Central City in 2017. I used it as a weekend get-away and had visited and loved Central City for 20 years. I joined the Gilpin County Historical Society and became more aware of the Opera Association and the individuals that worked there. I asked a lot of questions and became absolutely fascinated with all that was Central City Opera and their historical properties. I researched the organization, put together a cover letter & resume and meditated about when to submit it. I waited until April of 2018, sent my application letter to Pat Pearce and my first day with CCO was May 31, 2018.
Tell us about your world outside your position at CCO.
Belvidere Theatre Foundation, board member, 2021-present
St. James United Methodist Church, member, 2020-present
Peak-to-Peak Theatre Company, board member, 2019-present
Gilpin County Historical Society, board member, 2016-present
Eric lighting the magical diamond-dust mirror at the bottom of the Teller House Grand staircase
What does Central City Opera mean to you?
Central City Opera is a rare specimen hidden away in an amazing mining town in the mountains of Colorado. With Central City and Black Hawk designated as Historical Districts, it’s easy to imagine that you have traveled back in time. The real estate that CCO owns includes houses that are 122 to 162 years old so the time travel experience continues everywhere you go. I’m absolutely in my element here. I am a preservationist for all that is Central City Opera. I really enjoy the architecture and its history.
One summer, more than 10 years ago, I was exploring in the Opera Garden and saw all of the metal plaques commemorating productions of “The Ballad of Baby Doe.” I did extensive research on Baby Doe and wrote a full length musical about her life called “Claim Jumper.”
The exceptional entertainment that CCO produces is world renowned because of the extraordinary talents of Pelham “Pat” Pearce Jr., John Baril and Karen Federing. Karen and her production team of professionals make sure the show goes on “without a hitch.” Pat and John have exquisite taste in the sound quality of opera and classical music and their connection to world-class opera singers and musical theater artists allows CCO to bring some of the most recognizable names in opera to the Central City Opera House for our summer festivals.
I want to sincerely thank Cathy Groene of the Central City Opera Guild for her exceptional volunteer work for 8 years. She and her team of devoted & talented volunteers have contributed months of their life to our beloved opera company. I also want to thank Sam Carrington for being the best co-worker I’ve ever had. I could not possibly do this job without you, Sam. Thank you for your more than 10 years with CCO. Special thanks goes to Laura Szucs, head of our housekeeping team, for her work and devotion to our Historic Properties for more than 10 years.
This year will mark the 150th birthday of the Teller House and the 90th anniversary of our fabulous Central City Opera House Association. I have met so many creative and wonderful people during this process. My life has been forever changed. Central City and Central City Opera have become my world. Come and visit Central City and its Opera House for yourself! “Toi toi toi!”