New Paddock Theatre
516 Court Street,
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Architects: Harry Lawrie
Firms: Mendelssohn, Fisher & Lawrie
Previous Names: Paddock's Opera House, Paddock Opera House, Paddock Theatre
Senator Algernon S. Paddock had made his fortune as a farmer and factory owner. He gave back to the community with an impressive four-story structure known as the Paddock Block. It was a multipurpose retail and office complex that contained Paddock’s Opera House as well as a hotel, a cigar store, a billiards hall, a confectioner which served as the opera turned theatre’s concessionaire, a jeweller, a barber / shoe shine stand, and many offices. The architect of the structure was Harry Lawrie of Mendelssohn, Fisher and Lawrie of Omaha at the corner of Court Street and Sixth Street. Although designed for live plays, the venue hosted many notable film events in its history.
Paddock’s Opera House officially launched with live plays on September 13, 1888 with Milton Nobles in the play, “From Sire to Son". However, the space had been used for various balls since March of that year. The Paddock Opera House may be where many locals saw their first movies. On April 9, 1900, the Paddock Opera House hosted films including ones of the Fighting First Nebraska group. On August 14, 1902, the theatre hosted the Selig Polyscope Company’s traveling film show featuring “Samson and Delilah” and many other shorts.
The Paddock Opera House name was formally changed if not downgraded to the Paddock Theatre in 1906. As it was approaching its 20th Anniversary, things were not going well. Safety and outdatedness were concerns that season with rumours of a new opera house to be built in 1907. On February 21, 1907, the Paddock Theatre was locked by local officials citing serious fire safety concerns likely due to it being situated on the second story.
More than a year later, new operators Fulton and Powers relaunched the improved New Paddock Theatre on a ten-year lease and a main floor location with added fire exits. But the venue was not a big success. W. Henry Petersen took over the venue – he known more for film theatres including the Kelley Theatre. Though continuing mostly with live events, the New Paddock Theatre had a huge four-day hit with “Birth of a Nation” beginning on January 12, 1916. In off seasons, the New Paddock Theatre went with a full-time policy of motion pictures which played at higher prices prior to popular price runs at Petersen’s other full-time movie house.
Listings for the New Paddock Theatre were discontinued following a high school play in June of 1917 followed by Petersen’s announcement that the venue would not open that Fall of 1917. Though used for a few meetings in 1918, the famed entertainment place closed quietly at the end of its lease in 1918 with no celebration at its 30th anniversary.
The end was near and the theatre itself may (or may not) have been retrofitted for the expanded “new” Paddock Hotel. The entire Paddock Block was engulfed in flames on August 1, 1919 ending the building and causing a new hotel to be built nearby. The site of the former Paddock Opera House sat boarded up for three years and was finally razed in 1922. It was replaced by a new-build department store.
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