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Kansas Opera Houses Actors & Community Events 1855-1925

Jane Glotfelty Rhoads Kansas Opera Houses | i


Kansas Opera Houses, Actors, and Community Events 1855-1925 Copyright Š 2008 by Jane Glotfelty Rhoads, Wichita, Kansas 67214 This publication may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in whole or in part, in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise without prior permission of the copyright holder. Unless otherwise noted, illustrations are from the author’s private collection and photographs are by John Rhoads. International Standard Book Number: 978-0-9822050-4-4 Library of Congress Control Number: 2008910931 Designed by Jim L. Friesen Printed in the U.S.A by Mennonite Press, Inc., Newton, Kansas

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Dedicated to John Rhoads, whose encouragement and expertise helped to make this book possible.

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CONTENTS

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List of Illustrations.....................................................................................................................................................................vi Chapter 1

The Curtain Rises: Early Theatre in Kansas.................................................................................................1

Chapter 2 “The Finest Opera House West of the Missouri”: Origins and................................................................7 Development of Kansas Opera Houses Chapter 3

It Happened at the Opera House: Community Uses.............................................................................. 19

Chapter 4

The Stage is Set: Opera House Scenery...................................................................................................... 26

Chapter 5

From Melodrama to Shakespeare................................................................................................................ 35

Chapter 6

Now Appearing: Performing in Kansas..................................................................................................... 45

Chapter 7

Home Grown Talent: Kansas Performers.................................................................................................. 55

Chapter 8

Life as a Performer.......................................................................................................................................... 63

Chapter 9 Ringing Down the Curtain: Fire and Other Natural Disasters............................................................ 69 Chapter 10 Final Curtain and Encore.............................................................................................................................. 75 Kansas Communities: Alphabetical listing of 479 Kansas communities with.......................................................... 85 information concerning their opera houses. Notes......................................................................................................................................................................................... 147 Bibliography............................................................................................................................................................................ 154.

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ILLUSTRATIONS

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Cowboy entertainment..............................................................................................................................................................1 Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad advertisement ...................................................................................................2 Cowboy variety theatre..............................................................................................................................................................4 Ragsdale Opera House, Newton.............................................................................................................................................6 Nuzum/Kelley Opera House, White Cloud..................................................................................................................... 10 Dearborn Hall/Opera House exterior, Barnes.................................................................................................................. 11 Dearborn Hall/Opera House interior, Barnes.................................................................................................................. 11 Crawford’s Grand Opera House exterior, Wichita........................................................................................................... 12 Crawford’s Grand Opera House interior, Wichita........................................................................................................... 12 Bohemian National Hall exterior, Jennings/Oberlin....................................................................................................... 13 Bohemian National Hall interior, Jennings/Oberlin....................................................................................................... 13 Stafford Opera House Company Stock Certificate.......................................................................................................... 14 Weide Opera House, Stafford............................................................................................................................................... 14 Bowersock Opera House exterior, Lawrence..................................................................................................................... 15 The Forum interior, Wichita................................................................................................................................................. 15 Opera House/Palace Theatre, Kinsley................................................................................................................................. 16 Band, Colby.............................................................................................................................................................................. 18 High School Commencement, Gove.................................................................................................................................. 20 Children’s program, Garnett................................................................................................................................................. 21 Dramatic production, Stafford.............................................................................................................................................. 23 Prague Cathedral curtain, Cuba........................................................................................................................................... 26

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“Drouthy Kansas” curtain, Lawrence.................................................................................................................................. 27 Grand Drape curtain, Gypsum............................................................................................................................................. 28 Advertising curtain, Oketo.................................................................................................................................................... 29 Woodland scene curtain, Iola................................................................................................................................................ 30 Great Western sales room, Kansas City, Missouri............................................................................................................ 31 Grand Drape curtain, Concordia......................................................................................................................................... 32 “Heart of Chicago” poster..................................................................................................................................................... 34 “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” poster................................................................................................................................................... 38 Booth and Barrett program................................................................................................................................................... 41 Blind Boone.............................................................................................................................................................................. 42 Haverlaff ’s Minstrels............................................................................................................................................................... 43 Eddie Foy................................................................................................................................................................................... 45 Louie Lord advertisement...................................................................................................................................................... 49 Harry and Bess Houdini......................................................................................................................................................... 50 The Three Keatons................................................................................................................................................................... 51 Fred and Ed Stone.................................................................................................................................................................... 54 Milburn Stone.......................................................................................................................................................................... 56 North Brothers Stock Company advertisement................................................................................................................ 58 Musical Reeds advertisement................................................................................................................................................ 61 Call sheet................................................................................................................................................................................... 62 Advertising post card.............................................................................................................................................................. 64 Advertising post card.............................................................................................................................................................. 66 Elks Theatre/Orpheum Theatre, Parsons........................................................................................................................... 68

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Twilight Theatre, Greensburg............................................................................................................................................... 72 Twilight Theatre, Greensburg............................................................................................................................................... 73 Brown Grand Theatre, Concordia....................................................................................................................................... 74 Rogers’ Columbian Theatre, Wamego................................................................................................................................. 76 Opera House, Waterville........................................................................................................................................................ 77 Opera House, Wilson............................................................................................................................................................. 78 Grand Opera House, McPherson......................................................................................................................................... 80 Opera House/Colonial Theatre, Junction City................................................................................................................ 81 Winship Opera House, Phillipsburg................................................................................................................................... 82 Orpheum Theatre, Wichita................................................................................................................................................... 83 Santa Fe Directory................................................................................................................................................................... 84

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Chapter 1

THE CURTAIN RISES: Early Theatre in Kansas

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1874 cowboy enterainment as depicted by Henry Worrall. Courtesy of the Kansas State Historical Society.

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teamboats plied the river, towns sprang up, and into this new territory came actors and actresses eager to perform. Because the Missouri River linked pre-Civil War Kansas settlements such as Leavenworth and Atchison to established cities like St. Joseph, St. Louis, Cincinnati and New Orleans it was only natural that in addition to goods and settlers, actors also arrived by river boat. Leavenworth, situated on the Missouri River, was the site of the first public space specifically fitted up for theatrical productions. This facility, constructed in 1857, just 16 years after the Kansas Territory was officially opened for settlement, was located on the second floor of a commercial building. Several other opera houses or halls, as they were called in the 1850s and 1860s, were also constructed in Leavenworth prior to the Civil War as were performance spaces in Topeka, Lawrence, Junction City, and Olathe. It is not surprising that the oldest remaining opera house in the state is located in White Cloud, a Missouri River town.

The Curtain Rises | 1


A drawing depicts the beautiful interior of Newton’s 1884 Ragsdale Opera House.

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Chapter 2

“THE FINEST OPERA HOUSE WEST OF THE MISSOURI” Origins and Development of Kansas Opera Houses

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o matter the size, early Kansas residents took enormous pride in their community’s opera house or hall. The local news paper invariable bragged that theirs was the “finest west of the Missouri.” Settlers arrived in Kansas knowing what opera houses looked like and as these new residents set about duplicating their previous environments, opera houses were included. It was only natural that as town companies were formed and communities developed residents would desire to appear “civilized” and “cultured,” not only for themselves, but also to attract new residents. Across the state opera houses or halls, as they were sometimes called, were constructed by local communities, by civic-minded organizations and ethnic groups, or in the majority of cases, by local businessmen.

Builders of Kansas Opera Houses

Town and City Halls The first builders of meeting halls in Kansas were the communities themselves. While these early structures were not designed specifically for entertainment, performances did occur in them. Leavenworth’s Public Hall was built in 1855, just one year after Kansas was opened for settlement. Another early public space was Fort Scott’s 1863 City Hall. At least 61 performance spaces in Kansas bore the name of either City or Town Hall. Because early Kansans did not have the luxury of single-purpose facilities, meeting rooms and performance spaces were often part of a building that housed other community offices such as the sheriff ’s office, fire department or court house. Eventually, the city hall concept evolved into the construction of large municipal auditoriums such as the 1906 facility in St. John, Salina’s 1907 Auditorium, Hutchinson’s 1911 Convention Hall, and Wichita’s Forum constructed in the same year. Another name for early public meeting spaces was “Union Hall.” This is not surprising given Kansas’ tumultuous entrance into the Union. The name designation indicated on which side the residents’ sympathies lay. Union Halls were located in such eastern Kansas communities as Topeka, Osage City and Burlingame.1 Grand Army of the Republic The Grand Army of the Republic or G.A.R., a patriotic fraternal organization composed of Union veterans of the Civil War, constructed many halls across Kansas. These halls ranged from simple wooden structures to the beautiful three-story opera house in Garnett. Between 1883 and 1889 G.A.R. Halls were constructed in at least sixteen communities.2

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The Colby band, pictured here, was an example of the many community events that occurred at local opera houses. Courtesy of the Kansas Historical Society.

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Chapter 3

IT HAPPENED AT THE OPERA HOUSE: Community Uses

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o celebrate their high school graduation the senior class of Garnett decorated the opera house stage with their class motto and with paper streamers in the class colors. In Severance the teachers and school board members were seated on the stage along with the graduating seniors who each delivered an oration that had taken weeks to prepare and to learn. As a Severance native observed, “These events were carried on with much ado and the theatre would be packed. Folks came and sat on the straight hard chairs to listen and admire their young people.”1 While visiting actors and actresses might bring excitement, amusement, and a hint of glamour to the stages of early Kansas opera houses, by far the most memorable events featured the local citizens themselves. Community functions that ranged from dinners to funerals, from graduation ceremonies to church services all took place at the opera house. The facility provided seating for large numbers or a space large enough to host banquets or to play a basketball game. But, the best remembered community events were the graduation exercises. In a time when advanced education was costly and rare, commencement was a rite of passage and a stamp of accomplishment. High school graduations weren’t the only ones celebrated at the opera house, eighth grade ceremonies also occurred there. A Kiowa resident graphically described the fear he felt as he commenced from eighth grade. The school principal was from Ohio and he was full of eastern ideas. The general idea was that we were to prepare what was called an oration, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, and go out on the opera house stage under our own power--no one was allowed to hold us up--then before an audience of relatives and friends, tell them how we proposed to scale the mountain heights and cross the burning sands to victory. That night the opera house was packed. Everyone was there; even the saloons closed. There were four girls and four boys in the class. We were told to follow the professor single file out on the stage, then execute a left turn, face the audience and nonchalantly and gracefully seat ourselves. We followed the professor all right. We executed the left turn, gazed out on the sea of faces and then the class of 1891 collapsed. After that it was everybody for himself. Just before the time for my little offering of oratory, the boy next to me pressed a piece of paper into my clammy hand. As I read it with glazed eyes, I saw it was a farewell message from the professor. It said, ‘Stand up straight and don’t let your knees wobble.’ How I got to the front of the stage without a pair of crutches I never knew. It seemed to me I was gazing into the eyes of a thousand Eddie Cantors. My mouth was parched; there was a ringing in my ears; I saw spots before my eyes; my knees wobbled; I heard a voice a thousand miles away that I never would have believed was mine. That night when I got home, I found I was carrying a roll of parchment that said I finished the 8th grade. I thought the 8th grade had about finished me.”2

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Audiences were entertained by thrilling special effects in plays such as Lincoln J. Carter’s “Heart of Chicago.”

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Chapter 5

FROM MELODRAMA TO SHAKESPEARE

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damsel in distress, a villain twirling his mustache, these are images that come to mind when we think about late 19th and early 20th century theatre. “Melodrama” is the type of play associated with that period, but in reality an astonishingly large number of acting companies presented a wide variety of entertainments to Kansans of that period. In fact, it is likely that 19th century Midwesterners were better versed in Shakespeare than are the current residents of the state. And, while scenic effects lacked 21st century technology, train wrecks, tornadoes and mine explosions thrilled turn-of-the-century audiences. Early residents of the state were also delighted by the music and skits of Minstrel Shows, as well as by performances by nationally recognized opera companies. And, patriotic dramas that were staged by the residents themselves celebrated the brave soldiers of the Civil War.

Types of Companies

Resident Stock Companies The development of theatre in Kansas coincided with the growth of the state. Even before statehood, Leavenworth, located on the Missouri River, was the site of the state’s first theatrical activity. Actors reached Leavenworth via the Missouri River from such locations as St. Louis and New Orleans, and by March 1858 there was a permanent theatre in Leavenworth, the Varieties Theatre, which later became the Union Theatre. During the early days of theatrical activity in the state it was the common practice for a theatre to have a resident company of actors who presented a variety of plays. Because overland transportation was difficult and the river was often blocked by ice during the winter, a resident company was a practical way to provide continuous entertainment. Between 1858 to 1867 Leavenworth had several resident companies.1 Following the Civil War and the explosion of activity in the railroad industry, the need for resident theatre companies diminished and the era of the traveling theatre company began. Traveling Theatrical Companies It is impossible to estimate the number of theatrical companies who appeared in Kansas from the late 1860s to the advent of World War I, but the number was considerable. For instance Emporia, located in the middle of the state, being of a fairly substantial size and blessed with a number of rail lines and an impressive opera house, bustled with theatrical activity. Approximately 590 acting companies appeared in Emporia between 1882 and 1913 when the Whitley Opera House was destroyed by fire. Between 1878 and 1925 Concordia, located in north central Kansas and smaller in size than Emporia was visited by 183 companies. While these two communities are relatively close together, 173 miles apart, only 43 companies appeared in both locations. Garden City, located in western Kansas, was visited by 244 companies between 1886 and 1921. Twentyfour of these companies also appeared in Wichita, a much larger community. Wichita, while not incorporated until 1871, saw the appearance of 605 acting companies between 1872 and 1920. This is not surprising because by 1890 Wichita’s was the second largest city in the state and by 1920 it was the largest.

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Chapter 6

NOW APPEARING:

Famous Performers and Their Kansas Appearances

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hat was it like performing in Kansas during the early days of the state? The remembrances of several frontier performers answer this question.

Eddie Foy A very colorful chapter in the state’s history revolved around the Texas cattle trade and the glory days of the Kansas cow towns. While short lived, this period was certainly colorful and brought not only cowboys to the state, but also performers to entertain the cowboys. Eddie Foy was one such entertainer. Thanks to Foy’s recollection of his 1878 appearance in Dodge City, we have a vivid account of entertainment in a Kansas cow town. Foy described his and his partner Jim Thompson’s arrival by rail. “One of the most vivid yet remaining of my first impressions of Dodge City is that of dust; heat, wind and flat prairie too, but above all dust!” As they approached the town they passed huge piles of bones beside the track. This sight caused Jim Thompson to suggest that perhaps they were killing people in Dodge more rapidly than they could bury them. Later Thompson and Foy learned that these were buffalo bones awaiting shipment to manufactures of fertilizer. Foy and Thompson opened at Springer’s dance hall and saloon on the night of their arrival and felt that they were fairly well received. “I didn’t hesitate to josh the town a bit in my original parodies and patter. Had I known the West better then, I might have been more careful, but even as it was I suffered no ill consequences.” Years later a Dodge City historian wrote this account of Foy’s first appearance in Dodge. Eddie Foy, one of the greatest comedians of our day, made his debut or about his first appearance at Dodge City. He dressed pretty loud and had a kind of Fifth Avenue swaggering strut, and made some distasteful jokes about the cowboys. This led to their capturing Foy by roping, fixing him up in a picturesque way, ducking him in a friendly way in a horse trough, riding him around on horseback and taking other playful familiarities with him, just to show their friendship for him.

As a young performer Eddie Foy, pictured here in “Up and Down Broadway,” was a favorite of the Dodge City cowboys.

Now Appearing | 45


A Abilene 1870s Novelty Theatre NLS ? Opera House/Livery Stable Standing 1885 Music Hall NLS 1879 Bonebrake Opera House/ 1901 Seelye Theatre NLS 1900 City Auditorium NLS Abilene, “the first cow town” as it called itself, was the site of tremendous cattle trade activity for a five-year period between 1867 and 1872. Stretching from the Red River country in Texas to Abilene, Kansas, the Chisholm Trail brought cattle, commerce and cowboys to Abilene, and helped to facilitate the early expansion of the city. The first mention of a theatre in Abilene occurred in 1870. That theatre was the Novelty Theatre located on Texas Street between Cedar and Buckeye. An Abilene native remembered the theatre. The Novelty Theatre, which stood east of the Pearl Saloon, was usually crowded nightly. Its seating capacity was from 300 to 400 and some very good plays were put on the boards….Such plays were presented as would be creditable to our city today, and often were the better class of people seen before its stage. The drop curtain of that little theatre was by far the most artistic ever before an audience in this city and was painted by the stage manager of the theatre here in Abilene.1 This early performance space is no longer standing. Another early opera house was located in the 400 block of NW 2nd street. Its sign read “Opera House and Livery Stable.” This building is now located in Abilene’s cow town. In 1879 J. E. Bonebrake, a hardware merchant who later became president of a bank, built the opera house that was destined to stand the test of time, undergo several renovations, and be in continuous use for over 120 years. The cost of construction of the Bonebrake Opera House was $45,000. This second-floor theatre had a seating capacity of 800, a stage 24' x 48', 11 sets of scenery, and a piano. It was heated by steam and lighted by incandescent lights. In 1900 Dr. Seelye, well known for his patent medicines, purchased what was known as the Bonebrake Block. Seelye operated the second floor Opera House and located his medicine factory on the first floor where he produced such popular products as Wasatusa and Fro-Zona. Shortly after Seelye purchased the building, he remodeled it. It became a ground-floor theatre with a seating capacity of 800, a balcony, and four boxes located at two levels on both sides of the stage. The stage was large enough, 32' x 65' with a proscenium opening 32' x 21', to accommodate big city productions and there were large dressing rooms. Decorations in the auditorium were in antique ivory, green and gold. The first stage production to appear in the newly renovated theatre was “The Prince of the World,” a play that was produced by Hal Reid and featured a real lion.2 Writing about his early memories of Abilene, Deane W. Malott recalled that, “The theatre’s balcony had electric lights all around it, as did the arch that separated the stage from the auditorium, and there was a fire curtain covered with advertisements for local businesses.”3 During June of 1935 the theatre again underwent extensive renovations including changing the original façade of red brick and many windows to one that featured blond brick with no windows. The renovated theatre, known as the Plaza, continued in business as a movie theatre until 1999 when the roof and one of the side walls collapsed. The remaining structure was later razed. Other early entertainment venues in Abilene that are no longer standing included a 1885 Music Hall located above the D. G. Smith Drug store, an open air theatre at the corner of Fourth and Spruce operated by Dr. Seelye, and the combined Auditorium, City Hall and Fire Department. This building, opened in 1900, faced Quincy Street between 7th and 8th, and was razed in 1940. Ada 1916 Opera House UTD No information is available concerning the Ada Opera House. Adams ? ? NLS There is no evidence of an early 20th century performance space remaining in Adams.

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Agra 1882 Spangenburg Hall NLS 1894 Modern Woodmen of America Hall NLS 1906 Opera House NLS Agra was the site of several entertainment spaces. The first of these, a room over a drug store operated by Mr. Spangenburg, was in operation in 1882. This building was later moved to another location when the town moved following the arrival of the railroad in 1889. Samuel Merrifield and Mr. Glasco who formed a stock company in 1893 or 1894 to erect a two-story building were responsible for the second entertainment space. The Modern Woodmen of America used the upper story for their meeting room and the lower floor housed several businesses. A variety of types of entertainment occurred in these two structures. There were home talent plays, literary society programs, spelling bees, magic lantern shows, magicians and medicine shows. Revivals staged by the Salvation Army and Free Methodists also occurred in these halls. In 1906, William Wishman built a large barn-like structure that was called the Opera House. The facility was used for both school entertainments and funerals because it had the largest seating capacity in town. The facility was heated with pot bellied coal stoves that, unfortunately, were inadequate in cold weather. The auditorium had a beautiful maple floor and was used for roller-skating and dances. Silent pictures also made their debut in this theatre. None of these buildings is standing. 4 Alanthus 1916 The town of Alanthus no longer exists.

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Alden 1906 Alden Township Hall Standing The Alden Township Hall is still in use today. The second floor probably served as an all-purpose meeting room and community center. It was the location of regular meetings of such groups as the Literary Society, the Masons, the Eastern Star, the Home Demonstration Unity, the 4-H Club, and various civic groups. In addition, theatrical groups performed there. The high school class of 1910 produced the “Merchant of Venice” in the hall and when motion pictures became popular, the Township Hall served as a movie theatre presenting a film each Saturday. Another type of entertainment to appear at the hall was the medicine show, the last one appearing in the 1930s or early 1940s. The medicine show featured variety acts and a great deal of advertising for their product, a patent medicine designed to cure all ills. Between sales pitches music was provided by a three- or four-piece band and songs and comic routines were also presented. During the breaks the barker would extol the virtues of their products and of the company and would move through the audience selling candy, popcorn and patent medicine.5 Allen ? Allen Opera House NLS The Opera House in Allen was located on the second floor of the town’s first hardware store. This structure was destroyed by fire.6 Alma 1907 Falk’s Opera House NLS Falk’s Opera House, built some time before 1907, is no longer standing. It was a large frame building that contained a first floor theatre. Almena 1916 Opera House/Lyric Theatre Standing Morgan P. Smith built the Almena Opera House or Lyric Theater in 1916 at a cost of $6,000. From the beginning, Almena received good reports from managers of theatrical troupes that appeared there. One manager was especially grateful for the town’s support during the flu epidemic of 1918. “At least we are pleasantly situated here as everyone in town is pleasant to us, and are doing all they can to make our stay a pleasant one.” The theatre was in use until 1928 when a new, more modern brick building, known as the Rabourn Theater, was constructed. The Opera House has been renovated, the stage removed, and is currently used as the Almena City Hall and Library. Altamont 1889 City Hall NLS An 1889 theatrical guide listed the City Hall of Altamont as a having a


performance space. This hall, managed by J. C. Murphy, with a seating capacity of 500 is no longer standing. Alton 1889 Rosegrant Hall UTD Rosegrant Hall, listed in an 1889 theatrical directory, was reported to have a seating capacity of 300. The manager of the hall was William Rosegrant. There is no current information on Rosegrant Hall, but a one-story frame building identified as Hardman Hall is located on the main street of Alton. Altoona 1900 Opera House/Milton Theatre NLS Built prior to 1900, the Milton Theatre or Opera House, as it was commonly called, was in use until the 1930s. Graduation ceremonies and high school plays took place at the opera house. The auditorium, along with several offices, was located on the second floor of the Opera Block. Martin Furniture Company was on the first floor. The opera house in Altoona is no longer standing.7 Americus 1913 City Hall Standing/Stage In 1905, the women of Americus formed the Auditorium Club. The group circulated a petition in 1912 and obtained enough signatures to bring the proposition to build an auditorium to a vote. Their proposition was, “Shall the city of Americus, Lyon County, Kansas, issue bonds to the sum of $6,000 for the erection of a city hall and to purchase a site for the same.” The proposition passed by a close vote, 60 to 53. This is particularly significant because in 1912 the very women who proposed the building of a city hall could not vote. The city hall, built in 1913 by James Phelan, was quite popular for several years, but as time went by it was used less and less and finally stood idle for many years. In 1975, the building was sold for commercial purposes.8 Although the structure was altered with the office and rest room located at the front of the building under what used to be the balcony and large doors on either side of the auditorium; the stage remains. Andale ? Anti Horse Thief Society Hall NLS ? Kneppels Hall NLS The AHTA Hall, Anti Horse Thief Society Hall, was located on the east side of Main Street above Nick Hermes Hardware. Another hall, Kneppel’s Hall, was located on the west side of Main Street.9 Neither hall is standing. Anthony ? Union Hall UTD 1887 Opera House/Grand Opera House NLS The first recorded performance space in Anthony was the Union Hall. While its construction date is unknown, in 1889 the facility was managed by Gaines and Olmstead and had a seating capacity of 350. Nothing is known concerning the fate of this structure. Constructed in 1887, the opening of the Grand Opera House on December 18th was an event of tremendous significance to the community. The house, including the private boxes, was filled to capacity. “The rich colors of stage fittings, the highly decorated woodwork, the draperies of the private boxes, and the flood of light from the glittering gas fixtures added every necessary effect to the gala scene.” Not to be out done by the beauty of the facility, the opening play, “Caprice,” starred 22-yearold Minnie Maddern, an actress of national importance. A joint stock company consisting of prominent residents of Anthony owned the building that housed the Grand Opera House. It was located on the southwest corner of Anthony and Main, had a frontage of 75 feet, by a depth of 100 feet, and was nearly three stories in height with a basement under the entire building. Stores were housed on the first floor of the building. The opera house, located on the second floor of the building, had a seating capacity of 900, with a stage 25' x 63', one trap door in the center of the stage, and four sets of grooves. The theatre also contained four large dressing rooms. By 1907 the facility boasted furnaces and 110-volt electricity. Admission was 25, 50, and 75 cents and $1. For a number of years the theatre was an important part of the community. Civic and school functions were held there. Many outstanding dramatic performances occurred there including such plays as “Ten Nights in a Bar Room” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In 1915 the United States Marine band gave a concert, as did the Kansas City Little Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately, the decline of the Grand

Opera House mirrored that of opera houses across the country. As the cost of travel rose and movies and radio gained in popularity, it became more and more difficult to attract quality road shows. On January 1, 1928, a member of the Republican-Bulletin staff was walking down Main Street when he noticed smoke issuing from under the roof of the opera house building, and immediately turned in an alarm. The blaze was difficult to handle because of its location and the wind and smoke, but after two hours it was under control. While the building was not totally destroyed, a great deal of damage occurred. The opera house was seldom used after the fire and in 1933 the owner sold the building to the city. It was razed and a new municipal auditorium erected.10 Appomattox ? Opera House/Gillispie’s Opera House NLS The town of Appomattox, located in Grant County, no longer exists. However, in the town’s early days dancing at what was known as the Opera House, a large hall located over Mr. Gillispie’s store, was a popular form of entertainment.11 Arcadia 1885 Grant’s Hall UTD 1889 Arcadia Opera House/ 1896 Richard’s Opera House NLS ? Possibility of another opera house UTD ? Eagle Theatre/Movie Theatre/ Opera House Standing Arcadia was the home of one hall and two or possibly three opera houses. The first reference to a performance space in Arcadia occurred in 1885, Grant’s Hall. Then, an 1889 theatrical guide listed the Arcadia Opera House managed by A. W. Richards. The guide indicated that this facility contained 650 chairs and benches, had a stage 14' x 32' with five sets of scenery, two dressing rooms and no piano. The license to perform was $1.25. Beginning in 1896 and extending to 1910, the Richard’s Opera House, under the management of A. W. Richards, appeared in theatrical guides. The Scenic Artist was L. R. Clare from Kansas City. Seating was 400, the stage dimensions were 12' x 31' with an 18' x 12' proscenium opening. This opera house was listed as a groundfloor theatre. However, a resident of Arcadia reported that the opera house had been located above a blacksmith’s shop and was no longer standing. Another resident of Arcadia reported that a one-story brick building still standing downtown, had been a movie theatre, but also presented live entertainment. Argentine 1912 Nokes Opera House NLS This theatre will be discussed in the section on Kansas City opera houses. Argonia 1885 Hall NLS In 1885 Argonia, the first town in the United States to elect a woman mayor, had a hall with a seating capacity of 300. While this hall no longer remains, there is a record of the town’s first Christmas celebration. Argonia celebrated her first Christmas, December 25, 1883, by giving a program accompanied by a tree and a light house. The town was new and small, but very enthusiastic. The location of the amateur entertainment was held in the new building owned by Mr. And Mrs. John Goss …. Mr. L. A. Salter was chosen chairman of the program; Mr. Hickok, of the committee on tree decoration and presents; F. E. Mummy had charge of the music, with Mrs. Baughman at the organ, Joe Arnold an auctioneer, and the owner of the only fur coat in town was chosen to act as Santa Claus.12 Arkansas City 1884 Highland Hall/Highland Opera House NLS 1888 Fifth Avenue Opera House NLS Arkansas City, or Ark City as it is known to Kansans, was the home of two opera houses, neither of which is standing. The first opera house, the Highland Opera House, was located at 110 - 114 South Summit, the current location of the Buford Theatre. In 1885, H. P. Farrar managed the Highland Opera House which had a seating capacity of 700 and boasted 15 scenes. This theatre is no longer standing.13 The lavish Fifth Avenue Opera House was opened on October 17, 1888, by the famous actress Lillie Langtry performing her signature role in “As In A Looking

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To see more from Kansas Opera Houses,   contact the author:    Jane Rhoads  Jane.rhoads@yahoo.com  316.264.6026 

Kansas Opera Houses: Actors & Community Events 1855 - 1925 by Jane Glotfelty Rhoads  

In addition to being a Notable Kansas Book, the book was also selected as one of the 150 best books about Kansas as part of the 150th year c...

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