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GLADSTONE – According to information provided by “Gladstone Centennial History – 1887-1987,” the two opera houses that were in operation in Gladstone in the late 1800s and early 1900s, both were destroyed in fires.
The McWilliams Opera House was built in 1888 between 8th and 9th Streets on Delta Avenue’s south side. It was destroyed by fire on May 8, 1901.
Opera House #2 was built shortly after and was a brick building on the corner of 7th and Delta. It was built with financing by Walter Hammel, Soren Johnson Sr., G.R. Empson, E.V. White, Henry C. Henke, and Peter and Hugh Laing. When completed, it was 56×130-feet on the ground. The front was occupied by two small stores with the Masonic Lodge above. The auditorium occupied the remainder of the building. Ceilings of the theatre were 25-feet high. The balcony circle seated 168 people and the main floor 465 for a total of 633. The seating capacity could be increased to 800 if needed.
The opening show was S. Miller Kent’s “The Cowboy and the Lady.” Many high class dramas were booked, among them, Walter Whiteside in “We Are King,” John Griffith in “The Twelfth Night,” Ben Hendricks, a popular Scandinavian dialect comedian in “Ole Olson,” and “The Unique,” starring Fred Mace, which had established a record for musical comedy runs in Chicago. One of the dancers in the chorus of the latter play later became “Myrt” of the radio team of “Myrt and Marge.”
Indoor baseball and basketball games were also played in the auditorium and roller skating sessions were held.
By the time the opera house burned down, the advent of motion pictures was underway, other theaters came into being and the opera house was never replaced. Jake Witz ran a theatre on the south side of Delta Ave. between 7th and 8th Streets. Later, Needham and McLaure also operated a movie house for a time.
Other movie theaters were The Lyric and Rialto.