Grand Opera House

Central Square,
Youngstown, OH 44502

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wolfgirl500 on February 12, 2015 at 12:14 pm

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 2, 2011 at 3:48 am

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 2, 2011 at 2:40 am

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 7:18 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 9:31 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 9:14 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 8:21 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 4:14 pm

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 30, 2011 at 4:48 am

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 30, 2011 at 1:46 am

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 8:20 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 8:16 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 6:48 pm

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 5:35 pm

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 5:35 pm

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 4:31 pm

Mr. Vogel, could you please help me locate information on a number of Youngstown’s early theaters that do not have their own page here. I have found ads for many, but have drawn a blank on information. Alvin; Lyric; Bijou; Rex; Star; Dreamland; and Edison to name seven.

My webshots site has ads for these theaters, and most likely some of them were nicolodians while others were both live and movies.

Any help you can give would be hugely appreciated.

There was also a Palace theater prior to the Keath-Albee that was located on East Federal during the silent film era.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 3:50 pm

In his book “A Twentith Century History of Youngstown and Mahoning County, Ohio” at page 157, published in 1907. Thomas Sanderson clearly states that the Grand Opera House seated 1400 people, and since he was living at the time, and attended shows at the Grand Opera House, he was well aware of its seating capacity.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 2:36 pm

If you notice, the front of the theater underwent a change between when the photo was taken in 1889, and when the postcard was published.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Found a tinted postcard showing the theater and have added it to the photos section above.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I’ll check through my photofile to see if I have a color postcard showing the theater. I have over 1500 historic photos so it will take some time, but from what black and white photos I have on my web site it does appear to have been white.

As to the seating capacity, the Mahoning Valley Historic Society says 1400, not 900, and I don’t see how they could be wrong since they have an extensive collection of material on the theater as well as an extensive collection of material on P. Ross Berry.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on October 29, 2011 at 8:05 am

Plympton Ross Berry was presumably the principal architect of the Grand Opera House, as well as its builder, but this is one of the theaters with which the Rochester, New York firm of Leon H. Lempert & Son was involved, as it was listed in the advertisements that firm placed in various publications of the late 19th and early 20th century.

I’ve been unable to discover when Lempert & Sons worked on the Youngstown project, or what the extent of it was, but I think it must have been alterations of some sort. The theater was built in 1872, and I’ve found no references indicating that Leon Lempert senior was active as an architect that early, and Lempert junior was born sometime around 1868.

In fact, in the early 1870s the elder Lempert was the scenic artist and stage designer at the opera house in Rochester, and for a while became its manager. In 1878, he was busy cajoling Rochester’s well-to-do to replace their aging theater with something more modern, according to an interview he gave to a Rochester newspaper that year. He expressed some very definite opinions about how he thought theaters should be designed.

When the city’s Lyceum Theatre was finally built in 1887, Lempert oversaw its decoration, and additionally designed 36 complete sets of scenery for use in the house.

It’s possible that Lempert senior did not become directly involved in archtiecture until Leon Lempert junior became a licensed architect, and the firm of Lempert & Son was formed, sometime in the late 1880s or early 1890s (if anybody can come up with the founding date of the firm, please let me know. There’s very little about the Lemperts on the Internet, despite the large number of theaters attributed to their firm.)

Plympton Ross Berry appears to have had no formal architectural training, but there are many sources indicating that he did design the buildings that his company erected. Dreck Spurlock Wilson’s book “African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945” attributes twenty major projects in Youngstown and New Castle to Berry, the Grand Opera House among them.

From the photo, it looks to me that the Opera House had a cast iron front. Cast iron facades in ornate styles were still very popular during the 1870s, and modules in various historic styles were available from catalogs published by their manufacturers. After being installed, they were usually painted, sometimes in rich polychrome schemes.

The Renaissance-Baroque facade of the Grand Opera House looks like it was painted white or ivory, with trim that might have been gold or black or some vivid color. I’d love to see a color picture of it, if one exists. Perhaps there is a tinted postcard of it somewhere.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 5:04 am

And yes, it did have a balcony referred to as the “Dress Circle” After closing as a theater, the auditorium became the sancuary for the First Baptist Church until the building was purchased by the Mahoning National Bank which saved only the shell of the building in the late 1950’s.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 4:48 am

I have posted an ad from the Sam Warner era of the Grand Opera House.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 3:30 am

It also went by the name Youngstown Opera House.

wolfgirl500 on October 29, 2011 at 3:25 am

One in the same, but the most common name as shown in its ads was the Grand Opera House. From what I understand for its day, it was a fancy house. As to the date of its opening the 1872 is a matter of historic record via The Mahoning Valley Historical Society which has a large collection of material from this theater, and the P. Ross Berry who built the theater.

In his book “A Heritage To Share”, Howard Aley on page 95 gives this description based on Mahoning Valley Historical Society archives:

“The impressive structure had an iron front, 110 feet in length and was 78 feet in depth. The interior was 74 feet square with regular seating capacity of 1400, but on special occassions it held 2000. The thirty by fourty foot stage was served by two "commodious and neatly furnished dressing rooms.”

The ceiling was decorated with allegorical figures representing music, poetry, tragety, and painting, all artistically and tastefully done, and renewed from time to time to keep the attraction in excelent condition."

By the way a copy of the seating chart can be found in the picture section for this theater, so as you will see, the 900 seating capacity is not correct.