Grand Opera House

N. Clark Street / Chicago, Il

from Wikipedia and Chicagology

The Chicago Opera House, was a theater complex in Chicago, Illinois, designed by the architectural firm of Cobb and Frost.
The Chicago Opera House building took the cue provided by the Metropolitan Opera of New York as a mixed-used building:
it housed both a theater and unrelated offices, used to subsidize the cost of the theater building. The theater itself was
located in the middle of the complex and office structures flanked each side. The entire complex was known as the
"Chicago Opera House Block," and was located at the Southwest corner of West Washington Avenue and North Clark Street.

The Chicago Opera House was opened to the public on August 18, 1885. The first performance in the new theater was of Hamlet
starring Thomas W. Keene. From 1887 to 1890, the Chicago Opera House served as the official observation location for
recording the climate of the city of Chicago by the National Weather Service.

The theater suffered a fire in December 1888, which mainly damaged portions of the roof. However, the roof was repaired,
and most of the exterior of the building remained undamaged. During its existence, the Chicago Opera House was the site
of the premiere of several successful musicals such as Sinbad and The Arabian Nights.

The last performance at the building was the stage play The Escape by Paul Armstrong (later made into a film, now lost,
by D.W. Griffith in 1914). Demolition on The Chicago Opera House began May 5, 1913.

Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1880 / Changes in the Building

This structure, formerly known as Hamlin’s Theatre, will be thrown open to the public about Sept. 6. The changes made for
its owner, Mr. William Border, under the supervision of Architect Adler, have been so radical as to almost produce an
entirely new building. New walls have been strengthened by enormous buttresses, the entire ceiling and roof, and almost
all the interior partitions, as well as most of the floors and all the stairs, have been taken out and replaced by new
work, all of the most rich and solid description.

Until now all has been chaos and confusion within the walls of the theatre; and even yet the efforts of the reporter
in quest of information are attended with a degree of difficulty. The first improvement is noticed even before entering,
in the removal of the old, ugly iron step and the leveling and widening of the sidewalk arising therefrom. The main
entrance hall has been entirely replastered, and is now being provided with a new door of encaustic tiles and a
wainscot of polished marble of various colors.

The foyer, elevated a few steps above the vestibule, is almost completed. The grand staircase, its main feature,
is a most elaborate and elegant structure. The alcove, though not quite completed, and still devoid of the fireplace
which is to adorn it, promises to have a charming effect. The mirrors, which are to cover the entire north wall of
the foyer, will not be placed in position till the latter part of the week. They will be so located as to reflect
the entire foyer and the grand staircase.

The auditorium has been enlarged by the removal of partitions which formerly inclosed it and by the demolition of a
number of sleeping rooms, also by the addition of a second gallery, so that it is now one of the largest in the city.
The pillars, beams, arches, and trusses which now furnish the support formerly given by the partitions, as also the
buttresses with which the walls have been strengthened, have all been made features in the decoration of the building,
and produce many original and effective combinations of many original and effective combinations of forms and color.
The most noteworthy feature of the theatre will probably be in the treatment of the proscenium boxes, which are
altogether novel and unique. They are almost completed, wanting only their final coloring and the mirrors,
which are to fill the east wall of each. Though still somewhat obscured by scaffolding, the harmony of the
architectural composition formed by the boxes and the proscenium arch, and their connection with the sounding-
board above them, blending with and supporting the domical ceiling, is already apparent. There is an abundance
of stairways to the galleries—six in all—and a corresponding number of exit doors.

A visit to the cellar showed the boiler-room in a court entirely outside the building, a huge fan, and a
labyrinth of air-ducts intended to convey fresh air to every part of the auditorium.

Grand Opera House / Grand Opening Programme / September 6, 1880

Grand Opera House stage view showing the curtain painted by Walter Burridge in 1882.

Programs available from this theatre:

  • The Melting Pot (1908)

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