Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Opera Houses of William Waters

This post will continue the study of commercial building but more to the point, opera houses.  One of the most important commercial structures of the late nineteenth century was a large public hall.  They may have been called opera house or hall and they were vital to the community as they were a place for plays, recitals, lectures or other large public gatherings.  Most every town of consequence had an opera house.    
One of William Waters' earliest commissions came in 1867 for an opera house financed by Mr. R. L. Harding, to be located in Oshkosh, on the east side of Main Street just north of Washington Street.  This seemed to be a good location in as much as the Harding Opera house was replacing Washington Hall which once stood on the corner of Main and Washington.  The newspapers covered with great anticipation the laying of the foundation and reported that the building was to be 45' x 100' and one hundred feet high with the first floor 72' high and the second, thirty feet high, later accounts give the dimensions as 54' x 100' x 54' feet high.   Progress was slow because Mr. Harding was under-capitalized and work stopped for lack of funds.  Costruction resumed in earnest in 1870 and the building was finished in 1872.  But the fire of July 1874 reduced the place to a ruin, with most of the south wall standing but just the first floor of the front and a chimney from the north wall.   There were no images of the building before the fire but it's clear there was a central arch serving as the entrance to the hall, flanked by stores.  After the conflagration another opera house, the Fraker took its place but it was not of Waters' design.  
Just up the street was the Wagner Opera House which also housed Mr. Wagner's grocery store and residence, it too fell to the flames of July 14th 1874.  William Wagner decided to rebuild and turned to architect Waters for the design, which was a three story colossus with commercial space on the first floor, a central entry and an almost tower like cupola. Once completed Mr. Wagner got out of  the opera house business, sold the building to the First Methodist Episcopal Church and left town.  The Methodist remained there until the 1960's and then moved on, it then became the Boy's and Girl's Club. There were a few changes over the years; larger window along the south wall, a modern entry and the biggest change, a new roof.  The cupola which had long dominated the Oshkosh skyline was gone along with the pediment just below it. The building is still in use today. 
In 1881 Mr. Waters designed the Ripon High School.  Ever the savvy business man he made the acquaintance of T. D. Stone the publisher of the Ripon Free Press and lo and behold Mr. Waters received a commission for an opera house financed by Mr. Stone and others.  The building was located on Watson Street, on the square, the heart of the business district. The structure was three stories high with a two story annex, so there were three stores which could be rented. The lay out was similar to that of Dichmann's Hall on Washington Street in Oshkosh, with two store fronts and an entrance to the upper floor to the right.  The building was a light colored brick with bands and accents of contrasting dark brick.  A brick work cornice topped the structure.  Mr. Stone must have liked the work done by architect Waters, as he also designed a house for Stone in 1890.  The opera house burned in 1906 and eventually a large bank replaced it.  That same year Waters planed and supervised the remodeling of the former Bertschy Hall in Appleton.  Dr. Emil A. Erb purchased the venue with the thought of giving that city a first class opera house. The December 8 opening night audience of about 800 witnessed a performance of the opera "Patience", rendered by the Chicago Church Choir Company.  The Milwaukee Sentinel lauded Appleton for having an opera house unequaled by any interior city of Wisconsin.     
Perhaps one of William Waters finest structures was the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh. The design was a new departure for Mr. Water as far as opera house were concerned,  there were no ancillary commercial spaces to boost the landlords revenue, the building was to be only an opera house and a first class one at that.  Talk of a new opera house began in 1880, there being some discontent with Fraker Hall.  The first Methodist Church had a scheme as did H. B. Jackson as well as Robert Campbell, the latter propose building on his empty lot next to the Masonic Temple on Algoma.  By 1882 the Oshkosh Opera House Association was formed and shares sold, even William Waters was a shareholder.  A lot on the corner of Market and High Streets was purchased from Mr. Jackson and the plans of architect Waters adopted.  Built of a cream colored brick, there were dark brick bands, lintel accents and the front gable featured a windowpane check pattern. At the roof line was a brickwork cornice.  On August 4,1883 the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern published a lengthy article on all aspects of the new opera house and on August 9 the theater opened with a production of "The Bohemian Girl".  The stage was then to host many great performances.  In 1918 the theater was sold to W. G. Maxcy and W. D. Cummings and maintained it as a vaudeville house named the Granada.  Some needed improvements came about 1928.  It changed hands once again in 1948, when purchased by Sol Winoker.   Renamed the Civic Theater and reopened as a movie house.  Two years later Frank Bluhm and Mary Vetter bought the place remodeling the front by moving the entrance to the corner of building, adding a large marquee dubbing it the "Grand Theater" and showing second run "B" films.  Yet another pair: F. J. Hauser and L. L. Cook acquired the building in 1969 replacing the roof and furnace, also exhibited "X" rated movies.  Hauser leased the building in the mid 1970's to Bill Seaton and Maurice Goldy who under took some minor restoration but citizen concern over the continued deterioration of the building  prompted the formation of the "Save the Grand" committee.  After clearing many obstacles, work was begun in October of 1982 with the removal of the marquee.  Four years later the opera house reopened with a production of "The Bohemian Girl".  In 2009 flaws discovered in the roof truss necessitated the closing of the opera house and another restoration, lasting until September of 2010 after which the opera house opened once again.     
The Concordia Musical Society was founded in Watertown Wisconsin 1862 by German immigrants and over the year did much to promote music in that city.  Watertown is situated on the Rock River, 63 mile south of Oshkosh.  In 1875 the group purchased an island in the river just below the damn and named Concordia Island, built a pavilion to perform in and added other amenities.  It was the place to go for summer amusement and music in Watertown.  In 1888 the group built its very own opera house using the plans provided by William Waters, again Waters added no commercial space, it was built strictly as an opera house.  The front elevation had two entrances at the right and left and just above and between them was large bay window.  Near the top of the building was a row of nine small window, five in the center and two each at the corners.  The brick was a light hew with dark courses adding visual interest, two chimneys towered over each side of the theater.  The theater got a great deal of use housing both a movie theater and vaudeville house in the early part of the twentieth century.  In 1916 the Elks Lodge purchased the building and greatly altered it. The entry was change and some widows add and some bricked up, about the only thing which remained the same was the roof.  The building is still used by the Elks  Lodge.  
The Grand Theater in New London, built in 1892 very closely resembles the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh. The main body of the New London building is a pale yellow brick but unlike his other opera houses this time architect Waters chose a red brick as an accent for the lintels and bands.  They share a similar history as well;  Messrs. J. C. Hickley and George E. Lutsey partnered to built the opera house in 1892, according to a 1917 history of New London.  One account places opening night as February 19, 1895 with a production of "Lost Paradise".   Mr. Lutsey became sole proprietor in 1916, continuing to operated it as a vaudeville house and later transitioned to a movie house.  At some time,  perhaps in the late 40's or early 50's the lower portion of the front was remodeled, the entrance changed, windows bricked up and a coat of green paint applied.  Late in the 1990's a groups formed called "Friends of the Grand" that partnered with Rogers Cinema to purchase the building and restore it.  Rogers Cinema remodeled the interior to accommodate four screens and the exterior was restored to its former beauty.      
Waupacas' Danes' Home was organized as a social group in 1877.  With the construction of a new courthouse in 1881 the society bought the old one and transformed it to their use.  In 1904 the Danes Home Society wished for an opera house and acquired plans from William Waters.  The hall was to be built adjacent to the "Home" and extend up the hill with a width of 55' and length of 90'.  The auditorium was to seat 625 with box seats and second floor balcony.  The proscenium was 28' wide by 20' high with the stage behind being 32' x 55'.  The brick used on the exterior was a light cream color with the bands and accents of red brick.   On the front, in the foundation were two sets of triplet windows and at the diagonal which turned the corner was an entrance to the basement above which rose a three story tower.  On the first floor of the front elevation were sets of ached topped triplet windows and above those, two large arched windows.  The main entry was on the side, up the hill near the back of the structure.  The building was never altered but has not been fully restored and appears much as it did one hundred years ago.  It now serves as an antique shop.
 P. S.   I just found an old photo of the New London Grand before renovation.  ...Not so grand!