Phoenix Opera House

Washington Street,
Waukegan, IL 60085

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Additional Info

Previous Names: Waukegan Opera House

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The Phoenix Building’s own opera house (located on Washington Street) dates back as early as the 1860s but its opening date was lost as of now. It was located inside Phoenix Hall which once also housed a courtroom until 1878.

On December 14, 1866, the Phoenix Opera House was destroyed by a fire, killing 68-year-old Captain Hiram Huginn.

Everybody knows the one-and-only early film pioneer George Kirke Spoor, a Highland Park resident, was the original manager of the Phoenix Opera House, and the founder of many film inventions. Spoor teamed up with Philadelphia-native Edward H. Amet to build the first 35mm film projector, the “Magniscope”, ever designed to the entire planet in 1894. They made films and would later distributed them with the device before the 1895 introduction by the Lumière brothers of Besançon, France. They are also credited for the first newsreel ever made, the inauguration of the President William McKinley in 1897.

Other history involved him include a breaking-wall moment when he produced “Men Who Have Made Love to Me” in 1918, his inventions on Stereoscopis films in 1923, and early 65mm widescreen process as “Natural Vision” in 1926 (the future of 3-D films), among others. He passed away at the age of 81 on November 24, 1953 at his Chicago Uptown home of 908 West Argyle Street.

The last days of the Phoenix Opera House, is a shocking one. On March 24, 1902, the Phoenix Opera House was destroyed by another fire, but this time, it was an unusual one and it occurred before a live presentation. The east dressing room is where the fire started where Webster Cullenson, an actor in the “A Runaway Match Company”, was scheduled to show on the day the fire occurred. He first accidentally washed his trousers in a pail of gasoline. After washing his hands, he checked around the Opera House to see if there was any fire nearby but no sign of fire. After coming back, he saw flames coming from oil and gasoline combined, being flared up, and he was enveloped in flames. He grabbed a little boy and rushed him into the hall. After dropping the child off outside, he went back inside the house to grab his coat and tries to put out the flames with his coat. The flames spread rapidly and later got out. Webster suffered minor injuries from burns in his arms, shoulders, neck, and head.

This caused an estimate $23,000 loss in total. The house itself did get a rebuilt shortly after being planned to rebuild five days after the fire, but was since at the time being converted into office space.

Contributed by 50sSNIPES
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