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the

Grand Opera House of the South

a “Beautiful Little Playhouse”

Photo by Danielle Ducrest

By Danielle Ducrest

Photo by Edward Leger

perform at the opera house. Huey Long made it a stop on his campaign trail. Other notable guests include Clark Gable, Enrico Caruso and William Jennings Bryan.

The three-story brick building in downtown Crowley may be over 115 years old, but many locals remember it as the location of Dixie True Value Hardware, which occupied the ground floor from 1946 to 2010. The hardware store’s customers typically had no idea that anything special could be found just above their heads. That changed when the Grand Opera House of the South, as it is now called, held its grand opening in 2008, unveiling an opera house from another era. The building originally belonged to David E. Lyons, who was the deputy sheriff and a livery stable owner when he purchased the property in 1898. The ground floor opened in 1900 with a saloon, café, barber shop, bakery, pool hall and music store occupying the space all at once. Over the years, a bus station, a John Deere parts dealership and even a mortuary could be found on the ground floor. The building’s jewel was the second-story opera house, which opened on Nov. 23, 1901. Lyons’ vision was to create a place for railway travelers to stop halfway between New Orleans and Houston. The opera house hosted vaudeville and minstrel shows early on and silent movies and talkies in later years. Whenever Babe Ruth was in Crowley, he would 32 October 2015

Lyons was a “very generous man,” says Executive Director Kimberley G. Gattle. If visitors couldn’t afford tickets, Lyons often bartered with them. Gattle’s great-grandfather took care of Mr. Lyons’ cattle, and in return, Lyons gave him tickets for the Saturday night or matinée show. The opera house closed in 1939, and Lyons died in 1940. Other businesses moved out of the ground floor, allowing Dixie Hardware to expand. They removed the grand staircase and used the upper floors for storage, but the opera house remained. Gattle’s family acquired the building in 1999 to restore the opera house. They donated the building to a nonprofit organization, which has owned the building ever since. Today, Le Grand Hall, a separate business that rents the ground floor, occupies an open, echoing and inviting space. A beautifully carved wooden staircase leads up to the opera house. In its original heyday, the floor of the opera house purportedly had 800 18-inch-wide seats, but these seats have been replaced by 309 20- to 22-inch seats. Other than a few more details that conform to modern building codes, the opera house has been restored as closely as possible to its original design. Many fixtures needed to be replaced or repaired during the renovations overseen by architect Donald J. Breaux. A local artisan, Richard delaHoussaye, created exact replicas of the broken sconces of light fixtures. The longer, carved balusters on the staircase, created by Highland Cabinets, are inspired by the shorter balusters of the original grand staircase. Each box seat has pale blue, white and gold wall panels and panels of bas relief angels on the ceiling. The angel medallions, hand-painted by local Overture Magazine

Overture October 2015  

Acadiana's Publication of the Arts

Overture October 2015  

Acadiana's Publication of the Arts

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