Providence Opera House

115 Dorrance Street at Pine Street,
Providence, RI 02903

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Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Here is the opening day ad for the Providence Opera House from the Providence Evening Press December 4, 1871. The first offering of the theatre was the comedy play entitled Fashion, by Anna Cora Mowatt.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on January 4, 2011 at 7:09 am

D.W. Griffith’s film Dream Street opened here on May 2, 1921. A newspaper ad says there are two showings each day, 2:15 and 8:15, and concludes with the note: “Mr. Griffith will personally direct the opening and visit Providence for the first time.”

rsalters (Ron Salters)
rsalters (Ron Salters) on November 25, 2006 at 3:34 pm

The Providence Opera House is listed in the 1897-98 edition of the Julius Cahn Official Theatrical Guide, a reference book for roadshow producers and stage managers. The admission prices ranged from 25 cents to $1.30. The seating was: Orchestra: 529, Balcony: 328, Gallery: 500, total: 1,357 plus box seats. There was room for 400 standees (what they call “admissions” in the Guide). The theatre was on the first floor, and had 10 places in the orchestra pit. The orchestra leader at the time was Felix Wendelschaefer. The Manager was Robert Morrow. The proscenium opening was 38 feet wide X 39 feet high; the stage was 45 feet deep. The Providence Opera House was later managed by the Shubert organization for many years.

dougvbrown on June 7, 2006 at 12:50 am

dvb files- I have a 1938 photo of the opera House then a parking lot under water
Wed SEP 21 -1938 hurricane-


Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on October 6, 2005 at 9:16 am

Another of the “big” movies that were shown at this legit house was the Fox production of What Price Glory, directed by Raoul Walsh, and starring Edmund Lowe and Victor McLaglen. It opened April 18, 1927. The film was accompanied by a “special symphony orchestra of 20” and there were two daily shows, at 2:15 and 8:15, with admission prices ranging from 50 cents to $1.65.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 24, 2005 at 9:19 am

Slightly better image of the above famous photo of the 1931 closing night.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on July 24, 2005 at 9:05 am

Audience at the final gala show at the Providence Opera House on March 14, 1931.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 21, 2005 at 4:46 pm

The Opera House installed sound at the end of the 1920s, and in January of 1929 they were showing Erin’s Isle, “Ireland’s greatest story…motion picture with sound…music…melody…mirth."
Adult prices 50¢ to $1.00. In little more than two years the venerable theatre woould be closed and razed. Note: in 1921 they had shown the film Ireland in Revolt about the uprising against British rule. Irish topics were apparently popular here and in the heavily-Irish city.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 5:14 pm

ONE: NARRANGASETT HOTEL NEXT TO OPERA HOUSE The Opera House would be destroyed in 1931 to provide parking facilities for the Narragansett Hotel.
TWO: POSTCARD VIEW OF DORRANCE STREET, not Eddy Street as printed on the card. On the left we see the Opera House with the Narragansett Hotel to the right of it.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 2:44 pm

From “The Board of Trade Journal” of April, 1915:
“…it must be remembered that the Providence Opera House was put up in 90 days, at a time [1871] when there were not the facilities now used for rapid yet durable operations.”

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 8:26 am

D.W. Griffith’s monumental and controversial Civil War and Reconstruction epic “The Birth of a Nation” opened at the Opera House on Monday, August 16, 1915 and played to unending crowds for three weeks. It ran every day except Sunday, since R.I. blue laws at the time forbade Sunday shows. It ended on Saturday, September 4…“positively last day.” Another theatre commitment then brought in a new program for the next two weeks or so. On September 20 the film returned to the Opera House “by public demand” and played on until Saturday, October 2, when it left. I don’t know where it played after that or if it ever returned to the Opera House. Admission prices for this engagement went from 25 cents in the second balcony to 50 cents in the first balcony to 75 cents, $1, $1.50, and $2.00 in the lower floor when most theatres at that time were still charging 5, 10, 15 cents. These dollar-and-up prices were unheard of in those days for a movie and might be the equivalent of $20-$40 or more today for a three-hour picture. There were daily shows at 2:10 and 8:10. A symphony orchestra accompanied the silent spectacle.

The newspaper ad for the day before opening was a huge half-page. The one on opening day was a bit more modest.
Click to see it here.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 18, 2005 at 7:41 am

A book called "Temples of Illusion,” by Roger Brett, was published in 1976. It is Mr. Brett’s detailed history of all the old downtown area theatres of Providence from 1871 to 1950. It includes numerous rare photos, a list of theatres with name changes, and a map to show exactly where they all were. The book is an invaluable resource and is owned by many libraries in the R.I. CLAN system. I found a copy for sale online and will use it as a reference for future postings.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 16, 2005 at 8:39 pm

Here is a nice photo of the Opera House.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 16, 2005 at 11:37 am

Here is an ad for the presentation of INTOLERANCE at the Opera House in April of 1918.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 16, 2005 at 10:37 am

The Providence Opera House was designed by John Fox of Boston who later designed the Music Hall (1877) of Lewiston, Maine. It seated 1350.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 16, 2005 at 8:56 am

Hail, and good-bye!
The Opera House opened as a theatre on December 4, 1871. It ceased operation on March 4, 1931. It was demolished not long thereafter (not in the “late 1920s” as I hypothesized in my original theatre description.) In the six decades it had been open at the northwestern corner of Dorrance and Pine Streets, adjacent to the famed Narragansett Hotel, it had brought to the Rhode Island capital city great theatrical productions, musical events, and movies big and small in a classy environment that exuded a sense of importance and dignity.

It was a victim of hard times as the depression took its toll and of the competition from other big nearby theatres, especially the immense, more luxurious Loew’s State (opened 1928) around the corner and up Weybosset Street about two blocks away, and probably also because of other factors I am unaware of.

The theatre did not just fade out quietly. It went out with a bang via an enormous closing gala, similar to what took place at the final night of New York’s old Metropolitan Opera when it would shut down in the 1960s as the company prepared to move to its new home at Lincoln Center.

The printed program survives from that final evening of Providence’s Opera House in the collection of Mr. Edward M. Fay, R.I. showman, theatre-owner, and musician, who had a hand in that evening’s gala farewell to a 60-year-old grande dame. (A copy is in a folder of the Edward M. Fay collection at the Rhode Island Historical Society.)The program lists a number of guest celebrities including song writer George M. Cohan of “Over there!” fame. Mr. Cohan was from Providence. Mr. Harry Langdon, “favorite comic of the talkies,” as the program asserted, appeared in person. An ensemble finale, led by Mr. Edward M. Fay, was a tearful “Auld lang syne.”

The printed program gave a history of the theatre which concluded:
“After the final chapter is written tonight, the building will come down. Only memories will remain of an institution that for three score years held high place in the cultural, social, and civic life of Providence and of the State of Rhode Island. AVE ATQUE VALE!”

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on June 13, 2005 at 8:25 pm

A 1925 edition of the Providence Journal Almanac gives these facts about the theatre: Felix R. Wendel-Schaefer, manager; seating capacty, 1430; proscenium opening, 37 ¾ x 32 feet; footlights to back wall, 39 feet; between side walls, 71 feet; height to gridiron 42 feet. The 1931 Almanac lists the seating capacity as 1350.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on May 5, 2005 at 9:04 pm

The theatre was used by Sock and Buskin, the Brown University theatre group, for a number of years until they had their own campus theatre.

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on April 3, 2005 at 9:45 pm

Here is a historic photo of the Povidence Opera House.