Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A closing note on the Opera House (3rd installment)

Learning that we had an Opera House/theatre of a grand scale (lauded as the finest in the West) truly sparked my interest. Reading the research on it was enjoyable. It truly reinforced the fact that New Albany “had it going on” in that time period.

It was a time of incredible growth, expansion, and optimism. New Albany was the wealthiest city in Indiana. It was also the home of the wealthiest person in the state – Washington C. Depauw. The money was here. They wanted an Opera House. It was built.

As promised, here’s a bit more info on the interior taken from the New Albany Ledger, November 23, 1866

“The hall is on the second floor and is reached by a broad flight of steps of easy ascent. At the foot of the stairs on the north side is the ticket office, a neat and nicely organized room. Immediately at the head of the stairs is the entrance to the dress circle and parquette: while a flight of broad stairs on the right and left lead respectively to the family circle and gallery.”

I’m not as familiar with theater terms as I should be:
Parquette – main floor orchestra boxes (175 seats)
Dress Circle – 1st tier above the orchestra boxes (640 seats)
Family Circle – (2nd tier) section of seats normally less expensive than others (800 seats)
Gallery – (3rd tier) the cheapest seats (885 seats)

The dress circle and parquette are most elegantly and elaborately finished. They are supplied with spring cushion seats, covered in red damask, with green damask and stuffed backs. The seats in the dress circle are of the same kind of material. The parquette or orchestra boxes are separated from the dress circle by a beautiful iron railing in semi-circle form. The brackets that ornament the gas burners form a really magnificent ornament to the front and sides of the circle. A larger number of brackets add to the elegance of other parts of the house. The house was lighted by 150 gas burners.”

The family circle seats were the same as the parquette and dress circle. The 3rd tier is described as having comfortable seats. I was also not shocked to see that seating, as well as entry, was segregated - a sad but true statement of reality for that time.

The first floor was originally constructed for commercial purposes. There were 5 rooms rented – with the corner of Spring and Pearl used as the Post Office.

The Opera House decline appears to have begun in 1915, when it ceased to function as a theater. It seems sad to think of poultry shows, dog and pony shows, and other animal exhibits being held there, but that was the case. It also served stints as a billiard hall, bowling alley, roller skating rink, and movie theater. The fire that gutted the building took place on March 28, 1939.


ceece said...

what a shame. That could have been "New Albany's Palace Theatre"

Thanks for the info.

bluegill said...

Nice work, Ted.

The conspiracy theorist in me often wonders about fires when they seem to happen at opportune times.

Your comments about the animals reminded me of the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. It's been a well-cared for, high dollar hotel for a long time but, early in its history, it was most famous as the site of cattle auctions. Buyers would stand on the second floor balcony while bovine auction lots were herded through the lobby.