Grand Opera House (Dubuque, Iowa)
||This article relies entirely upon a single source, the National Register Information System (NRIS) database or one of its mirrors. Articles based solely on the NRIS may contain errors. (November 2013)|
Grand Opera House
|Location||135 8th St., Dubuque, Iowa|
|Area||less than 1 acre (0.40 ha)|
|Architect||Willoughby J. Edbrooke|
|Architectural style||Richardsonian Romanesque|
|MPS||Footlights in Farm Country: Iowa Opera Houses MPS|
|NRHP Reference #||02001029|
|Added to NRHP||September 20, 2002|
The Grand Opera House is an opera house located at the corner of 8th and Iowa Streets in Dubuque, Iowa. Today it is recognized for the live performances shown throughout the year. Also other events, such as special lectures by national figures invited to the area by local educational institutions are held at the Grand. This 2015 year marks the 125 anniversary of the Opera House's opening.
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.
In 1915 movies were shown at the Grand for the first time. The $15,488 profit that first year was three times that of the Grand's traditional theater productions. In 1928 the Grand had its last live performance for many years when a production of the Merry Wives of Windsor was performed at the Grand. The Grand was then renovated in 1930 into a movie theater. The second balcony and box seats were removed and the orchestra pit was covered over. The semi circular stage was straightend. A big screen and new projector was added to the theater.
When the Grand was converted into a movie theater, most of the movie theaters were located in downtown Dubuque. By 1972 it was the only surviving downtown movie theater when it was sold to Richard Davis of Des Moines. In 1976 Davis sold the theater to the Dubinsky Brothers. The Grand continued to show movies for several more years.
Return of Live Theater
By the closing years of the 20th century, the Barn Community Theater had purchased the vacant and much-deteriorated Grand Opera House. This marked the end of the Grand's days as a movie theater. In 1986 a production of "Tintypes" was shown at the theater. This marked the first time in over 57 years that a live production was shown at the Grand.
In recent years the Grand Opera House has undergone a number of renovations. This included the restoration of the original facade was accomplished by removing the marquee and metal siding that was placed over it in the 1960s. The interior of the theater was renovated as well, and other improvements continue to be made.
The Grand Opera House is also said to be haunted grounds. Every year we have many requests by ghost hunter groups to come tour the theater at night.
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