St. Louis Theatre
FIRST THEATRE IN ST.LOUIS MISSOURI
The "St. Louis Theatre" was at Third and Olive Streets and was the very first theatre in the history of St. Louis Missouri opening up on July 3, 1837.
Sol Smith (1801-1869 Solomon Smith was co-manager of the St. Louis Theatre, the first real theatre west of the Mississippi. He thought that St. Louisans were conservative in their musical and theatrical tastes.
Noah Miller Ludlow (1795-1886) one of the managers of the St. Louis Theatre, Ludlow helped establish drama in the western city.
Professional drama had come to St. Louis in a regular basis in 1835, when N.M. Ludlow and Sol Smith, who operated theaters in New Orleans and Mobile during the winter, opened a summer theatre in St. Louis. With the assistance of Charles Keemle of the Republican and Merriwether L. Clark who raised seventy-eight thousand dollars in subscriptions., they incorporated the St. Louis Theatre Company in 1837 and completed a Greek-temple theatre at Third and Olive. The theatre met criticism from Rev. John A. Clark who complained that construction crews had to work on Sunday to meet the deadline. "I fear religion is a a very low ebb in St. Louis," he sighed. The managers, Noah M. Ludlow and Solomon F. Smith, were pleased with the new building, even if it had been difficult to curb the enthusiastic (and expensive) ideas of the architect, Meriwether Lewis Clark.
This impressive building was 73 by 160 feet and seated fifteen hundred people in a parquet and three galleries. The interior was spacious and imposing. Above the parquet rose a first tier or "dress circle," and above that three other tiers of seats, for a capacity of about 1,650 people. The floor could be removed for animal shows, the stage was 73 by 55 feet, and admission was $1.50 for boxes, $1.00 for the parquet, and $.50 for other seats. The ladies' retiring room had a refreshment stand, and the men's room was fitted up with a bar, but both facilities soon ended in failure. The women refused to visit theirs for fear the visits might be "misconstrued," and the men's bar closed after attracting raucous crowds.
Spirit gas illuminated the building with branch lamps hanging in front of the boxes and the footlights on stage sitting in square tin boxes. Only a dozen or so people turned up to see the first play, "The Honey Moon," but as Sol Smith said, "Nobody in St. Louis thinks of going to the theatre or any other amusement 'before dark."
Presentations ranged from Shakespeare to American dramas such as "The Plains of Chippewa", and from opera to individual artists such as the magician Signor Vivalla, the "Wonder of the World". Usually one charity benefit was scheduled during each engagement, with seats going to the highest bidders. Ellen Tree appeared in 1839, as did Edward Forrest in "Othello" and "William Tell". In 1845 the trained horses of the New York Circus amazed one and all, and in 1846 the Swiss Bell Ringers followed Mr. and Mrs. Charles Kean (Ellen Tree), who presented a full Shakespearean repertoire.
Junius Brutus Booth was a popular favorite in St. Louis, despite an occasional erratic performance. The management reportedly locked him up during his engagements, but he occasionally outwitted them, as shown by the following: "In consequence of your having appeared on the sgtage last night in a state of intoxication, and disgracing the theatre and yourself by your imperfect presentation of the character of Sir Edward Mortimer, we notify you that... we shall hold you responsible in damages... S Ludlow and Smith." "William Clark Kennerly reported seeing Booth,k in the role of Richard III, so inebriated that he wounded and tried to kill the actor playing the Duke of Richmond in a stage duel. Richmond fled through the stage door with Richard in hot pursuit, to the astonishment of passersby who eventually halted the carnage.
After the St. Louis theatre was razed by the federal government in 1851, its place was taken by Bates's Theater (later De Bar's) on Pine Street, Varieties on Market, and the People's on Olive Street. Finally the Ludlow and Smith monopoly had ended, for their St. Louis Theatre had been sold to provide a site for the new U.S. Congress House and Post office.
A closer look at the top of the St. Louis Theatre
Daily Commercial Bulletin from June 30, 1837
Daily Commercial Bulletin from July 3, 1837, opening night for the St. Louis Theatre
Playbill for "Fifth Night of Mr. Macallister" on May 9th, 1851.
From the Daily Missouri Republican on July 5, 1851
From the Daily Missouri Republican on July 10, 1851 announcing the final performance at the St. Louis Theatre.
From the Missouri Daily Republican on July 12, 1851 describing the closing of the theatre.
The Bates Theatre was located on the north side of Pine St. near Fourth St. in St. Louis Mo. and opened January 9, 1851.
Bates Theatre opened in 1851 on the north side of Pine St. near Fourth St. in St. Louis Mo. The theatre was built by John W. Bates who operated theaters in several mid-western cities. It opened in 1851, Bates sold the building in 1853. Later the theater reopened as "DeBar's" under the management of Ben DeBar, a Shakespearean actor best known for his renditions of Falstaff.
Missouri Daily Republican from December 22, 1850
Missouri Daily Republican from January 3, 1851
Missouri Daily Republican from January 9, 1851
Opened on Monday February 24, 1851 and was located on Olive St. between Third and Fourth in St. Louis Mo.
Verieties Theatre/Grand Opera House/Grand Theatre
The Varieties Theater on Market Street in St. Louis Missouri, established on May 10, 1852.
When established on May 10, 1852, the Varieties was a unique oval-shaped building that resembled the Barthelems Theatre in Paris. Opened by Joseph M. Field, the opulent Varieties had nothing moderate about it, not even the admission charge which eventually discouraged people from attending. The floor of the theatre could be raised to slope downward during plays and leveled flat for the renowned Grand Balls held there. It has been the only theatre in St. Louis that had a floor with interchangeable levels, fancy technology for the mid-nineteenth century. The building soon became more popular for its dances than its plays. Unfortunately, St. Louisans did not respond to this expensive theatre which field had hoped would attract fashionable audiences.
The Grand Opera House is now a palatial theater, was opened first to the public on May 10, 1852, as the Varieties Theater, and during several seasons thereafter was one of the largest variety houses in the West, producing some grand spectacular pieces, the "Black Crook", for instance, which had a run of several months, bringing to the city thousands from the neighboring towns to witness its presentation, which was acknowledged to have been the most elaborate and gorgeous presentation of that extravaganza ever put upon the stage. The building closed for three years and reopened under the management of Henry Bernstein. He redecorated the edifice and sold it to Benjamin DeBar, who named the theatre after himself, DeBar's Opera House. Four years later DeBar died; John W. Norton assumed management and changed the name to Grand Opera House. After changing hands and being entirely rearranged, it was opened as a first-class theater August 29, 1881. It was destroyed by fire on May 28th, 1884 and was rebuilt and opened September 14, 1885.
Interior and exterior is in the moresque style style of decoration and architecture. The seating capacity is 2,300, which includes a double tier of proscenium boxes, which are perfect gems. All the leading stars have been seen upon its stage, and on the visits of Edwin Booth, Miss Mary Anderson, Joe Emmet, and Grand Opera, even standing room is not available. Mr. John W. Norton, once an actor of renown, but now retired from the stage except for an occasional charitable benefit, is the proprietor and manager. Mr. George McManus is the treasurer.
Missouri Daily Republican on August 15, 1851
Missouri Daily Republican on August 17, 1851
Playbill for "Fair One With The Golden Locks" at J.M. Fields "New Varieties Theater", July 5th, 1852.
From the Missouri Daily Republic May 2, 1852
From the Missouri Daily Republic May 10, 1852
From the Missouri Daily Republic May 10, 1852
From the Missouri Daily Republic May 16, 1852
Program of Buffalo Bill's play at De Bar's Grand Opera House, St. Louis, April 2 to 10, 1877.
Grand Opera House Burns On November 23, 1884
From Commercial and Architecture St. Louis by George Washington Orear (1891). The Grand Opera House originally opened as the Varieties Theatre in 1852, which was rebuilt with a new facade in 1881. However, the building exploded as a result of a gas fire in 1884, and the Grand Opera House (depicted above) was built in its place at 514 Market Street. The Grand Opera House stood as an opera and vaudeville venue until the 1940s, when it was converted into a burlesque operation. It was well-known for its Moresque exterior and its 2300 seat venue. In 1963, the Grand Theater (as it was then known) was demolished as part of the urban renewal project associated with Busch Stadium.
St. Louis Globe Democrat article from February 1910 about the Grand Opera House rebuild.
The Grand Theatre after an early transition and showing "Grand Follies"
The Grand Opera House in more recent years.
In the 1940's the venue changed to burlesque.
The Glorious Grand Opera House prior to demolition in 1963.
The Olympic Theater was located at 107 S. Broadway St. Louis Missouri and opened in 1866.
The above picture is from 1870, The Olympic first entertained with vaudeville acts and minstrel shows. After 1869 it turned to legitimate drama. A new theater building replaced the 1866 building in 1882. Theater greats of the nineteenth century, Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson, Edwin Forrest, Helena Modjeska and Charlotte Cushman performed on its stage.
1903 Program put out by the Olympic Theatre celebrating the Louisiana Purchase Centennial.
The Olympic Theater after it was rebuilt.
The Hagan Theatre was located at Tenth and Pine Streets in St.Louis Missouri
The latest accession to places of amusement is the Hagan. The building will be five stories in height, surmounted by a tower on Tenth and Pine streets, 150 feet high. In this tower will be placed an immense clock, showing the time through four large illuminated dials. As can be seen, the building will be of pressed brick with stone trimmings. The walls are all very heavy, 26 inches thick, interior as well as exterior. The face of the house will be on the Tenth St. side, while the Pine St. side will be devoted to business purposes. The entrance to the theater will be from both Tenth and Pine. The support of the tower is directly on the corner, with large entrances on either side of it. Entering, the partrons of The Hagan, will walk over a floor laid with mosaic tiling, while just ahead will be seen two silid marble staircases, uniting on a turn and ascending to the balcony. The lobby will be 23 feet long, 40 feet wide and 40 feet high and surmounted by a glass dome.
The auditorium will be frescoed from top to bottom, and the decorations will be the finest that can be bought. The seats will be of the most modern and costly patterns, being rated at $9.50 to $10 each. The boxes will be 14 in number, two grand ones and one large box on either side on the first and second floors, with a large box spanning these on the third floor. These boxes will be of the lightest material possible consistent with strength, large pillars and ungainly railings being avoided. The draperies and decorations will be of the richest description. In addition there will be beautifully upholstered sofas in all parts of the theater. there will be several suites of room for the use of ladies, a parlor and a reception room, an interior room and a toilet room, the latter supplied with several stationary wash stands, with hot and cold water. There will also be a gentlemen's lounging and smoking room. To the south of the entrance will be a luxurious office for the comfort of the manager, and beyond this apartments for the employee's.
There sill be a fine drop curtain and a second drop of asbestos. Old methods will be abandoned in handling scenery, all of which is to be raised and lowered by an electric motor. Electric fans will also be used for the ventilation of the house, forcing air through the pipes. In selecting the site for the house, Mr. Hagan chose one central to all the cable, electric and street railway lines in the city. On the east is the Cass Ave., South St. Louis, Broadway and Fourth St. roads, Market St. and Laclede Ave. on the south: the Blue Line on the west and the Olive St., Cable and Western, Northern Central, St. Louis Ave, Washington Ave. Benton and Belief ontaine and Citizen's on the north, while it is directly on the Union Depot and the Mound City lines. The work will all be done under the direction of Architect MacElfatrick, who is also a director of the company. The contracts have all been awarded, R.P. McClure having just been granted a building permit from the city for a $100,000 structure. This and other extras will make the cost over $150,000.
The Hagan is being erected by the Hagan Opera House Co; a joint stock organization, the stock of which is held by Messrs. Oliver L. Hagan, John H. Havlin, J.B. MacElfatrick and Rufus J. Delano, and of which Mr. Hagan is president, Mr. Havlin vice-president, and Mr. MacElfatrick secretary. The theater, however will be under the management, one of the most remarkably successful in the country, of Havlin & Hagan. They will be the sole managers, and will conduct the house as a strictly high class one, at prices ranging from $.25 to $L50. Mr. Hagan, the president of the company, is one of the best known, most popular and most energetic managers St. Louis has ever had. Mr. Havlin, who has headquarters in Cincinnati, with houses in that city, Chicago and St. Louis, is one of the best known and hardest working managers in the country, with a reputation in the profession which is envied by all. Mr. MacElfatrick is one of the best known and most capable theatrical architects in the country. Mr. Delano is a well known St. Louis attorney, and has ahd a great deal to do with theatrical matters as general attorney of Havlin & Hagan.
The Plaza Theatre was located at the corner of Etzel and Clara Avenue in St. Louis Missouri
St. Louis Globe Democrat article from January 30, 1910 showing how the new theater at the northeast corner of Etzel and Clara Avenue will look. Widmann & Walsh are the architects of the building. It is to be constructed wholly of brick, steel and cut stone. The interior lobby will be heart shaped because of the peculiarly shaped lot, measuring 12x30 feet. The Plaza Realty Amusement Company will build and operate the theater and is planned to open shortly after June 1, 1910. Joseph Townsend will manage the property. Planned capacity will be 700.
The Plaza Theater is now a Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in 2011.
The Lafayette Theater was located on Jefferson Ave. in St. Louis Missouri
St. Louis Globe Democrat article from January 1910, on construction of the new Lafayette Theater. This was known as the first theater built especially for movies and light vaudeville. Seating capacity was 850 people which included 100 in the balcony. The architect was Gustav P. Wuest. The building was erected by the Independent Amusement Company.
This photo captures the Lafayette Theatre in the 1960's. The building was demolished in later years for the sake of a grocery store.
The Delmar Theatre and Airdome, was at 4938 Delmar Ave. in St. Louis Mo; and opened up in April of 1910.
St. Louis Globe Democrat from March 27, 1910
Stadium Cinema #1 Opened on May 24, 1967
6th & Chestnut in St. Louis Missouri
"The Taming of the Shrew" was the very first film shown
Opening night Ceremony
Opening night ad for "Taming of the Shrew" included order form for seat purchase
St.Louis Globe Democrat article by Polly Bangert