Sunday, March 11, 2012

Here's the Scoop on the Clinton Opera House

Davis Opera House
In a previous post I shared photos of my g-g aunt, Katherine Augusta Brown, known as Gussie.  In one of the photos, Gussie and a group of other young ladies were dressed as men complete with bowler hats.  They appeared to be having a grand time, and a note on the photo mentioned that Gussie also sang opera.  I ended the post as I often do with a plead for anyone with more information  to please share it with me. Not long after, I received an email from Mary, in other posts known as my Clinton angel, a title she dismisses.  She does have a great curiosity, and as a current Clinton area resident she was intrigued by my question, so she did her own sleuthing. The Root Cellar at the Clinton library and the Clinton Historical Society had the answer for my question.

It turns out that Clinton did have an opera house, but not in the sense we currently envision.  The following is the result of Mary's investigation.

 A clothing store on the first floor of the Davis block
It turns out that most towns of any size had an opera house.  In the days before movies and high def televisions, society attended productions put on by traveling choral groups, solo artists, actors, and occasionally local talent.  The impressive four story building known as the Davis block was constructed in 1876 by E.M. Davis, and was located at the southeast corner of Sixth Ave. South and Second Street.  The ground floor housed five retail shops selling the latest fashions while the second floor held executive office and a music hall.  The Davis Opera House filled the top two floors of the building and could seat 2000 theatergoers. The interior was topped by a center dome decorated with frescoes of the seasons and the immense stage and outer circle featured portraits of famous authors circling the walls.  The Davis claimed that no pillar or post would obstruct the view of it's patrons and had installed the latest in fire protection should the unthinkable happen. Sadly Mary could find not photos of the interior, and the building was demolished sometime around World War II.
Lillian Russell - Clinton native.

Many well known musicians, and actors performed on the stage of The Davis Opera House, including the international stage star, Lillian Russell.  Ms. Russell was a Clinton native, born Helen Louise Leonard, whose father was the editor of The Clinton Herald.  It is said that she commanded $5,000 per week.  Do you think she was paid that at The Davis or would she have given them a discount for old times sake?

Now that I know how grand and extraordinarily large the Clinton Opera House was, I've decided that I don't really think my g-g aunt Gussie and her female singing group performed there, but possibly the music hall on the second floor which no doubt played to a smaller and more casual crowd. I'll bet they attended performances at the Opera House, though.

Thank you again to Mary for her curious mind and for sharing her findings with me.  What still seems unusual to me is that the Opera House was located on the third and fourth floors of a building rather than a stand alone building.  Would they have had elevators? ----No, probably not.

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