< --Previous Up Next–>
Back to Theatres of Chicago
Grand Opera House
Life Span: 1872-1958
Location: 119 North Clark Street, Between Washington and Randolph streets
Architect: Adler, Dankmar, & Co., Adler and Sullivan [1880 interior remodeling and addition]
THE GRAND OPERA HOUSE, OF CHICAGO, is built upon the original site of Bryan Hall and Hooley’s Opera House. J. A. Hamlin and brother (L. B. Hamlin) purchased the property in January, 1872, and erected the first building that was completed upon that block after the fire. In 1873, Hamlin Brothers built upon the rear lot what was subsequently known as Foley’s Billiard Hall, which was at the time the largest billiard hall in the world, containing thirty tables on one floor. In 1874, the billiard hall property passed out of the hands of Mr. Foley into the hands of Hamlin Bros., and the billiard business was discontinued after a few months and the hall re-constructed, with an additional building added to the east end, and for some two years was occupied as a garden, after the style of Gilmore’s Garden of New York, with fountains, waterfalls, vocal and instrumental music, and all kinds of refreshments.
Subsequently the garden, by degrees, was changed to a vaudeville theater, and was continued as such until 1878, when it was again re-constructed as a regular theater, and opened in September, 1878, under the name of Hamlins’ Theater. About that time the property passed out of the hands of Hamlin Bros: into those of William C. Reynolds, who sold it to John Borden in 1880. John Borden shortly afterward sold the property to his son, William Borden, who re-constructed the theater at an additional expense of about $55,000, and it was opened on 6 September 1880, under the name of the Grand Opera House, and under the management of John A. Hamlin. The lot upon which the Grand Opera House buildings are erected contains about thirteen thousand two hundred square feet of ground.
The history of the location as a place of amusement, commencing with the original Bryan Hall, away back in the fifties, and running through all its various changes, is one of almost continuous success, rhe original Bryan Hall being for many years one of the most popular amusement resorts in the city. The Grand Opera House was opened with Hoey & Hardy’s Company, in an adaptation of the play “A Child of the State,” followed by Tom Keene, in a Shakesperian repertory, Nat. Goodwin, Emma Abbott Opera Company, Boston Ideal Opera Company, etc., etc. .
It was the scene of the first production of two huge hit musicals aimed at children. In June 1902, the original production of The Wizard of Oz had its premier there. One year later, in June 1903, came the premiere of Victor Herbert’s Babes in Toyland.
The Grand Opera House was built as a legitimate theatre and had seating for 1,750 in an orchestra, balcony and gallery. The interior was lit by gas and described by the Chicago Daily Tribune as having “the beautiful blending of rich colors and the graceful elegance of the designs charms the eye at every point”.
In 1912 George M. Cohan and his partner Sam H. Harris leased the theatre, on March 3, the renamed Geo. M. Cohan’s Grand Opera House opened its doors. In 1926 the façade and auditorium were reconstructed by Andrew Rebori, and reopened as the Four Cohans. Later the Shuberts took over and the theatre became the Shubert Grand Opera House, it then returned to its original name Grand Opera House. When live theatre left and films came in the theatre was renamed the RKO Grand. In March 1958 the RKO Grand showed its last film and was demolished a month later. The Chicago Civic Center (renamed the Richard J. Daley Center in 1976) was later constructed on the site.
Among the stars who played the Grand Opera House, over the years, were Lionel Barrymore, Arthur Byron, Mady Christians, George M. Cohan, Constance Collier, Katharine Cornell, Dudley Digges, Robert Edeson, Leon Errol, Douglas Fairbanks, Walter Hampden, Miriam Hopkins, Allan Jones, Bert Lahr, Eva Le Gallienne, Canada Lee, the Marx Brothers, Chester Morris, Mildred Natwick, Effie Shannon, and Ethel Waters.
LEFT: Hamlin Grand Opera House, as rebuilt in 1880
RIGHT: Hamlin Grand Opera House, September 1900
New York Dramatic Mirror, 25 September 1900:
Last week we were entertained by two of the funniest men on earth, and one of them is still with us. His name is Frank Daniels and this is his seeond week at the Grand Opera House in The Ameer.
Hamlin Grand Opera House
Hamlin Grand Opera House Program, 12 October1903
Cohan’s Grand Opera House, 1923
George Cohan’s Grand Opera House, 1924
Anthony F. Dumas
Grand Opera House
Robinson Fire Map 1886
Volume 3, Plate 1
Grand Opera House Seat Plan
Chicago Tribune June 24, 1902
At the Grand Opera House
“The Wizard of Oz,” which began the second week of its summer run at the Grand opera house last night, played to the capacity of the house every night of last week, and at the matinees and on Derby day night hundreds of persons were turned away. The piece has been carefully revised since the opening performance and materially improved by some slight alterations and skillful pruning. Some of the less attractive vocal numbers, like “Guardians of the Gate,” at the beginning of the second act, and the duet of Cynthia and Dorothy, “The Different Ways of Making Love,” in the same act, have been cut out, and by some additional pruning the length of the performance has been reduced to reasonable limits. Another change has been introduced by John Slavin, the Wizard of Oz. He has made the part a German comedy character and has generally improved it in other ways. Some of the stage effects have been greatly improved, and everything now works smoothly and satisfactory.
Original programme of the production of “Wizard of Oz” at the Grand Opera Theater
8 September 1902