1519 Stone Street,
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Gehling and Smith began brewing operations on south Stone Street in Falls City in 1871. Michael Gehling made his fortune in brewing and had a successful bakery in town, as well. He gave back in 1892 with the construction of his downtown opera house. Designed by Falls City architect M.N. Blair, it was a multi-purpose building with a furniture gallery on the first floor and a 701-seat opera house on the second floor. One hundred temporary seats could be added for big events. The venue launched February 24, 1893 with a live play.
John Paul Gehling ran the theatre in its formative years. There were too many notable events to list but the theatre had famous boxer John L. Sullivan on its stage on January 18, 1895 in the play, “A True American.” It played the Edison film “The Whole Dam Family” in 1905 as one of the first motion pictures shown in town. And on Valentine’s Day in 1916 and the two days following, people came from all over the area to see “The Birth of a Nation” with a fully symphony.
By the mid-1920s, the Gehling Theatre’s popularity had been overtaken by the town’s two successful, full-time movie houses. Will Schenkelb took over operations of the Gehling in 1925 with films and road shows. But when sound came to the local movie houses and the Great Depression struck, the Gehling appears to have ceased operations in 1930. The second floor theatre was sealed off. A long running hardware store opened on the main floor.
In 1988, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. When applying for the designation, the theater was found in original condition with its silent-era projectors in place and posters on the walls. The hardware store was still in business in the 2020s with the theater/opera house above in downtown Falls River.
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