Grand Opera House

19 Central Square,
Youngstown, OH 44502

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wolfgirl500 on April 21, 2018 at 2:20 pm

The Opera House Grand Opening –October 10, 1897

CateMcC on September 3, 2015 at 4:47 pm

I have always been told that the building wasn’t demolished, it was revamped. I was raised at First Baptist and there were still “backstage” passageways behind the pulpit — we were roaming thru them one Sunday when we were supposed to be in church and we found this small door. When we opened it, we were quite surprised to find we were staring at the congregation from about halfway up the architecture behind the pulpit, LOL! The dressing rooms on the third and fourth floors were converted to Sunday school areas and the lower floor turned into a gymnasium/fellowship hall. The box office area became the church secretary’s office. There were many places and areas that made it pretty obvious that the building was a former theater/opera house. It was a wonderful building. When the church moved out, Mahoning Bank redid the facade and took the building over. I was working there at the time, they let us use the gym and opened up the vehicle ramp on the west side of the building so the repossessed vehicles could be stored on one of the lower levels. The access ramp was used to get props and such in and out of the opera house. We found the old bomb shelter and the access stairway to the roof which was accessible from the gym level which also had a stage (practice area maybe?) and a shower area. It was a great place to roam around. I am searching for the church history that was published in conjunction with one of the later anniversaries, I hope I still have it. When the church left downtown, it became Western Reserve Baptist at Western Reserve and Hitchcock and was dissolved some years ago.

wolfgirl500 on April 11, 2015 at 10:59 am

The exact address for the Grand Opera House was 19 Central Square in the heart of downtown Youngstown, Ohio.

wolfgirl500 on April 11, 2015 at 10:33 am

Warner Bros. BY BRETT ROSENSTEIN / / When people think of Warner Bros., the first words that often come to mind are “Hollywood”, “entertainment”, or maybe “Bugs Bunny”. However, a phrase that should come to mind is “Youngstown, Ohio”. The billion dollar media and entertainment empire actually originated in Youngstown. The Warner brothers (Harry, Sam, Albert, and Jack) moved with their parents to the northeastern Ohio city in 1896. The brothers grew up on the north side of the city and attended Rayen High School in addition to working in their father’s shoe repair and meat market businesses. In the early 1900′s, the Warner Brothers made their grand entrance into the entertainment industry by taking over the city’s Old Grand Opera House, which they used for vaudeville and photoplays. Soon after, Sam Warner purchased a movie projector for $150. He financed the projector by pawning his father’s gold watch and a family horse (with his parents’ consent). He also purchased a copy of the popular film, “The Great Train Robbery“. Sam and the rest of the Warner brothers rented out a storefront in nearby Niles and put on showings of the film. They were so successful, they began opening up theaters around the Mahoning Valley. The brothers left for New York and Hollywood to expand their foothold in the entertainment industry. However, they returned to Youngstown in 1931 to open the “Warner Theater” dedicated to the people of the city and to their brother Sam, who had died in 1927 and was a true visionary in the family business.

wolfgirl500 on March 16, 2015 at 7:05 pm

In September, 1918, George Oles turned the Grand Opera House into one of his grocery stores vowing in a newspaper ad that he would be there for 40 years, but true to form, the theater turned grocery store was torn down, and the First Baptist Temple would build an additionto their church in the 1920’s.

wolfgirl500 on March 16, 2015 at 6:07 pm

I was just informed that the information that the Library previously sent me was incomplete and that the Grand Opera House was in fact demolished and its space was taken up as part of the First Baptist Temple which later was incorporated into the Huntington Bank Building. Sorry for any confusion.

wolfgirl500 on March 12, 2015 at 3:48 pm

Now that we’ve gone full circle about the Princess/Grand/Esquire, can we please get back to discussing the Grand Opera House?

wolfgirl500 on March 12, 2015 at 3:46 pm

milanp, to be exact, the Esquire was demolished March 29, 1954 — ref: Youngstown Vindicator, March 29, 1954 pg. 6, col. 1.

wolfgirl500 on March 12, 2015 at 2:11 pm

By May 14, 1950 the Esquire was ordered closed and the building was condemned as a fire hazard. There is a photo of the demolition in the photo page of the Esquire Theater.

milanp on March 12, 2015 at 12:57 pm

The Esquire was still operating as an arthouse (!) in the spring of 1950. Not sure how much longer it stayed in business, though.

wolfgirl500 on February 12, 2015 at 4:14 am

Of all the theaters in Youngstown, the Grand Opera House was the only one that depended solely on newspaper ads to tell what was showing.

wolfgirl500 on November 1, 2011 at 8:48 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.

wolfgirl500 on November 1, 2011 at 7:40 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: from the Vindicator for August 29, 1897.

October 10, 1897 Vindicator at page 8 another complete description complete with seating chart: for the first floor.

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

wolfgirl500 on November 1, 2011 at 12:18 pm

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:

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.

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on October 30, 2011 at 2:31 pm

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, . Comments and referrals are always appreciated!

wolfgirl500 on October 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm

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 1:21 pm

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 on October 30, 2011 at 9:14 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.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 9:48 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.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 29, 2011 at 6:46 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.

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on October 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm

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.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Ron: In pouring over the Youngstown Vindicator for 1918, the year the Library said the theater closed, the Grand Opera House had reverted to presenting live stage plays and a couple of magic shows with Blackstone and Thurston, and after April 1918 found no further ads for it.

I just wonder if at some point the original seats were removed and new one installed which might account for numbers differences?

My next project will be to search through the 1925 Vindicator to see if a story exists about when exactly it was torn down.

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on October 29, 2011 at 10:48 am

With regard to the seating capacity, I looked at the Julius Cahn guide for 1898 on line and there is a change from the 1897 edition. Instead of 900 seats, he listed the capacity as 1,543. The proscenium opening was given as 38 feet square, and the stage depth as 36 feet. Eugene Rook was still listed as Mgr

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 9:35 am

A third source confirms the 1400 seat arrangement, namely the Youngstown Public Library. Here is the message they sent to me:

Source: ‘Grand Opera House enjoyed 44-year run before being upstaged by newer theaters’. Valley Voice 6/17-23/2005 page 27. “The theater seated 1,400, but on speacial occasions, it could hold 2,000.” “The opera house closed in 1918,” The building was torn down in 1925. As you can see, we found the year of closing as a theater; we were unable to locate an exact month or day.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 9:35 am

A third source confirms the 1400 seat arrangement, namely the Youngstown Public Library. Here is the message they sent to me:

Source: ‘Grand Opera House enjoyed 44-year run before being upstaged by newer theaters’. Valley Voice 6/17-23/2005 page 27. “The theater seated 1,400, but on speacial occasions, it could hold 2,000.” “The opera house closed in 1918,” The building was torn down in 1925. As you can see, we found the year of closing as a theater; we were unable to locate an exact month or day.