Grand Opera House (Dubuque, Iowa) - History - Early Years

Early Years

The Grand Opera House was built in 1889 and 1890. The Grand Opera House, Inc. was established by William Lester Bradley, Sr. and five other people in 1890 to operate this and other theaters in Dubuque. The opera house would cost $65,000 to build. At the time of its construction, the Grand Opera House was the largest theater to be built in Dubuque. It had a seating capacity of 1,100 and a huge stage that measured 42 feet (13 m) from front to back. Initially the opera house was connected by a tunnel to a house next door in which people changed costumes.

Originally the opening night performance was scheduled to occur on August 15, 1890 until it was realized that August 15 was also the Holy Day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At that point opening night was rescheduled to August 14. Approximately 800 people paid five dollars to view the Hess Opera Company production of Carmen - a French opera by Georges Bizet.

For the next 40 years there were over 2,600 live productions shown at the Grand. Henry Fonda, Ethel Barrymore, George Cohan, Sarah Bernhard, and Lillian Russell were among the more famous people to have performed at the Grand. A number of years later Fonda would fondly remember his time playing at the Grand, and expressed gratitude that the Grand was still present. One of the most elaborate productions was that of Ben-Hur, which was complete with horses and chariots on stage. The theater showed a profit for 22 out of its first 28 years; the six unprofitable years being the result of capital improvements.

Read more about this topic:  Grand Opera House (Dubuque, Iowa), History

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