Monday, November 1, 2010

This Month in Rochester History

One hundred and twenty years ago this month, Rochester residents were invited to the grand opening of a brand new entertainment venue - the Rochester Opera House. Located on the second floor of Charles A. Burr's new building on the southeast corner of Fourth and Main streets, the Opera House became the "in" location for all sorts of public gatherings. At the time, Rochester did not yet have a movie theater, and the school building had no auditorium. The churches were large enough to seat an audience for certain kinds of events, but they weren't exactly appropriate venues for boxing matches, minstrel shows, vaudeville acts, and the like. With the opening of the Opera House, Rochester had an opportunity to house traveling acts of all kinds.

The Opera House held its grand opening on Friday, November 7, 1890. The event was a dinner at the Sidney House (later Detroit Hotel) at Third & Main, followed by a dance in the Opera House featuring music by Finney's Orchestra from Detroit. (At the time, Finney's Orchestra, led by violinist Theodore Finney, was considered to be one of the premiere society musical ensembles in the area, and later went on to make quite a name for itself when ragtime became popular.)

Over the years, the Rochester Opera House played host to a wide variety of events, including amateur and touring theatricals, boxing matches, concerts, dances, lectures, civic meetings and high school commencement ceremonies, but I have never seen an advertisement for an actual opera at that location.

In 1909, hotel operator James W. Smith began offering motion picture exhibitions in one of his buildings, and in 1914, the Idle Hour Theater opened to the public. The new high school building added a state-of-the-art auditorium a few years after that, and these new venues dwarfed the capacity of the Opera House, causing it to gradually fall out of favor as a gathering place by the early 1920s.

The newspaper ad shown here promoted a 1914 event at the Rochester Opera House. A couple of the contestants in these matches were local men. Do you recognize any names?

1 comment:

  1. Both my grandparents and my parents met at activities at the Opera House. My grandparents, William F. Palmer and May Smith, met there at a silent movie in about 1909. They were married in 1910.

    My parents, Josephine Palmer and Ray Henry, met there at a dance circa 1930.