Grand Opera House

South West corner of Central Square,
Youngstown, OH 44502

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Grand Opera House

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The Grand Opera House was Youngstowns' first true theater opened in 1872. Between 1872 and 1907 it served as a live theater, but in 1907, in partnership with partners, Sam Warner added movies to the bill. Until it closed in around May 1918, it vied with the Park Theatre.

In its lifetime a number of local men who would go on to become involved with Warner Brothers got their start at the Grand Opera House.

The Grand Opera House was built by P. Ross Berry.

Contributed by wolfgirl500

Recent comments (view all 25 comments)

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on October 29, 2011 at 9:20 am

It was standard practice for theatres to have “standee” areas at the rear of the auditorium. These areas could often accommodate 100 to 175+ people. In a sellout situation a sign in the boxoffice would read “SRO” Standing Room Only. In the days of more relaxed fire codes, managers wishing to maximize ticket sales would even put chairs in aisles next to existing rows of seats. Large seating capacities were important to show producers and as a result it was also not uncommon for manager/owners to exaggerate seating capacities to include all possible spots to park people. This practice continues to this day with film companies. Anyway, with the evidence provided herein, I think it’s reasonable to assume the Grand Opera House had a capacity of 1400 with standee, and other arrangements, making it possible for 1550 to 2000 people to be accommodated in various degrees of comfort.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm

wolfgirl500: Of the theaters you listed, the only one I’ve been able to find any details about is the Rex, which is mentioned in a footnote in Richard Abel’s book “Americanizing the Movies and "Movie-Mad” Audiences, 1910-1914.“ (This book has numerous references to Youngstown, but I don’t have a copy and the Google Books scan has only limited preview available.) The note says that Harry Warner built the Rex in partnership with local grocer David Robbins. This happened after the Warners returned to Youngstown from Pittsburgh.

Abel’s book also cites the “Correspondence: Youngstown, O.” section of The Moving Picture World, pages 650-51 of the issue of November 25, 1911, which Abel says has an extensive summary of vaudeville and movie theaters in Youngstown. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find that issue of MPW on the Internet, so I don’t know if any of the theaters you listed are mentioned in it.

There is one passing mention of the Bijou in the book “Haunted Hollywood: Tinseltown Terrors, Filmdom Phantoms, and Movieland Mayhem,” by Tom Ogden. It says that the Bijou was the second movie house opened by the Warner brothers, not long after they opened their first house in New Castle. This was before they went to Pittsburgh, so it must have been in 1907.

Also, it has occurred to me that the increased seating capacity of the Grand Opera House in 1898, noted by Ron Salters, might have been the result of whatever alterations were made to the theater by Lempert & Son. That project might also have resulted in the change of color of the facade, as shown in the vintage postcard you posted.

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 6:48 pm

There were two Bijou theaters in downtown Youngstown, one on central square next to the First National Bank, and the other shown in Sanborn Fire Insurance maps that was located on the far end of East Federal. Obviously the two couldn’t have been open at the same time, and the Bijou next to the bank seems to have been the earlier Bijou, so if anyone can supply the date when Warner was involved with a Bijou theater, it would be helpful. Perhalps Mr. Oberlenter could help solve this mystery.

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on October 30, 2011 at 6:14 am

In a search through the Vindicator for 1918 the Grand Opera House ads appear through April of that year then nothing so it appears that by May, 1918 it was closed. The interesting thing is that in all the 1918 ads it was reverting to its original purpose by presenting road show plays that would run for a week, and two shows featuring Blackstone and Thurston, two famous magicians. Obviously with so many other first run houses downtown it couldn’t any longer compete with them in showing movies. I still have to find an article about it being torn down as that might furnish us with more information about its history. Unfortunately the Vindicator does not index its articles, so that means going through every paper for 1924 page at a time.

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on October 30, 2011 at 10:21 am

Bijou (little jewel) was a very popular nickelodeon name. In 1907, following the success of their first theatre in nearby New Castle, PA, Harry and Albert Warner returned to Youngstown to expand their “chain” to 2 storefront venues. The Y'town Bijou was based on the New Catle model. At that time, both cities were about the same size and were industrial rivals. The Bijou was indeed next to the First National Bank in a building that housed a cigar store and other small retailers. A simple 2-sided sign hung above the entrance with only the theatre name. It’s safe to assume, based on the New Castle model, that it had a single hand cranked projector and less than 100 seats and a screen about 7 to 10 feet in width. Programs changed daily. Indications are that the Bijou was in business for about 3 years, afterwich the Warner’s moved to Pittsburgh to open up the Allegheny film distribution office. Jack Warner wasn’t an active member of the business until they opened a second “branch” in Norfolk a couple years later. The Bijou on the other end of Federal Street would have opened after the Warner Bijou closed. I don’t have much info about it except that it was a copycat name with no Warner involvement.

BTW, I’m curious about the Princess Burlesque in Y'town. Do any of you have any info?

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on October 30, 2011 at 11:14 am

Here’s what I know about the Princess.

It was situated across the street from the Park Theatre on South Champion Street and started out as a vaudeville house later adding movies. it was a small house, about 1300 seats and had a balcony.

By the 1930’s it started burlesque along with movies.

It was also known as the Esquire Theatre and later when it was doing strictly burlesque, it was known as The Grand, and as The Grand it survived until the late 1940’s when it was demolished and burlesque was moved over to the Park Theatre.

I do have a painting of the front of the Princess/Esquire on my webshots site, but don’t know if there are any actual photos available.

Throughout its life which dated back to the 1907 period it never was a part of any significant theatrical circuit but saw an article that claimed that Red Skelton in his younger years played there at least once.

One noteable thing about the Princess in its early years was that it ran large ads in the Vindicator which means that it was well promoted but just couldn’t compete with the Park which was bring in major shows and performers.

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on October 30, 2011 at 11:31 am

Thanks Wolfgirl. As usual your a “bijou” in this department :–)

BTW, any of you buffs out there may be interested in our brand new website, www.cinema-consultant.com . Comments and referrals are always appreciated!

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on November 1, 2011 at 9:18 am

Received the following e-mail from the Mahoning Valley Historical Society regarding the Grand Opera House:

Thank you for your query concerning the Grand Opera House here in Youngstown.

The Opera House was organized in July 1872 and the grand opening was held 20-27 February 1874. We have an original program card from the February 23rd performance of “Richelieu.” P. Ross Berry is credited with being the masonry contractor. Vindicator articles include: February 20, 1874 page 5 col. 2; Feb. 27, 1874 page 5 col. 3.

There is a description of the original layout in the History of Trumbull and Mahoning Counties published by H. Z. Williams, 1882, Volume 1 page 378 supposedly written by John Edwards.

The Heller Brothers handled renovations. There are a number of articles regarding the renovations: July 25, 1897 page 2; August 29, 1897 page 2 and Oct. 10, 1897 page 8 all in the Vindicator. The layout of the Opera House after renovations was published in the 1897 Youngstown City Directory.

There were performances up into 1918 but I could not find a “last performance” date. Likewise I could not find a definite demolition date, although it was sometime between 1918-1924. Mahoning National Bank built their new building in 1924 and First Baptist Church held their cornerstone laying in March 1925 so the Opera House was gone by then.

There was mention of an article in April 29, 1928 Vindicator about Chubb Sullivan and Josephine Gassman claiming original flooring and partitions from the stage, dressing rooms and boxes to be incorporated into a new home they were having constructed. (we don’t have the clipping, just a typed transcript of part of the article).

We do have descriptions of the painted curtain in use at the Opera House and many clippings for acts which appeared there.

Sincerely, Pamela L. Speis Archivist Mahoning Valley Historical Society 648 Wick Avenue Youngstown, OH 44502 telephone: 330-743-2589 e-mail: Web: www.mahoninghistory.org

NOTE: Heller Brothers was responsible for building many of Youngstown’s theaters.

As to the firm that drafted the prints, I still haven’t been able to find out anything.

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on November 1, 2011 at 4:40 pm

In 1897 according to the Vindicator the interior was gutted and completely remodeled by Heller Brothers:

“Every inch of the old interior will be torn out , and the new theater will be fitted up in the most approved manner. The plans contemplate a larger seating capacity on the first floor and also in the first balcony. Toilet and reception rooms for the ladies and toilet and smoking compartments for gentlemen will be features that patrons will surely appreciate. The stage will be better arranged, new open boxes will be added, a complete set of new scenery and stage equipments will be secured …”

Vindicator July 25, 1897 page 2.

The most complete description of the Grand Opera House after the remodeling: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YA1IAAAAIBAJ&sjid=34AMAAAAIBAJ&pg=1400%2C2212403 from the Vindicator for August 29, 1897.

October 10, 1897 Vindicator at page 8 another complete description complete with seating chart: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Zg1IAAAAIBAJ&sjid=34AMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6679%2C3178620 for the first floor.

My next project is to find out when it added movies.

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on November 1, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Mr. Oberleitner could you possably have more information on th Bijou that the Warners were connected with here in Youngstown. I do have an exterior picture of it but need more information, and perhaps you could add it to the theaters here in Youngstown. It would be greatly appreciated, and I thank you.

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