The Herald Bulletin

November 30, 2013

Anderson was home to Doxey and Grand Opera House

Fires, arrival of silent films signal the end of era


The Herald Bulletin

---- — ANDERSON — Costing $80,000, the Doxey Opera House, located at 41-47 North Meridian Street, was Anderson's first opera house. Built by Charles T. Doxey, it featured classic stage extravaganzas that traveled throughout country.

Little information exists about the physical appearance of the three-story Doxey Opera House. It was described as one of the finest, most complete, and best arranged opera houses between the Alleghany Mountains and the Mississippi River. It featured classic stage shows at reasonable prices in order that all could enjoy.

The Faye Templeton Opera Company was the first performance on opening night, June 15, 1883, and the last performance was "Mountain Pink," performed by Laura Dainty Nov. 14, 1884, which concluded at 11 p.m.

Two hours later a fire started in the haymow of Hurst's Livery Stable, which adjoined the theater on the south. Many rushed to the scene but were unable to stop the flames as there was not enough water. The iron shutters that adorned the windows warped and melted under the intense heat.

The fire soon spread to the gallery-balcony and into the attic. Shortly thereafter, the entire interior was a mass of flames.

Members of Dainty's troupe helped to remove the scenery, the fire drop-curtain, carpets and draperies and prop them outside against the nearby trees. The loss was estimated at $75,000 and was uninsured.

Undaunted, Charles Doxey erected on the same site a more handsome play house than its predecessor. It was described as being the only one of its kind in Indiana. Its elegance and convenience gave to Anderson a far-reaching advertisement that made every citizen feel proud.

Named the Doxey Theater and Music Hall, it was proudly described as a beautiful "Thespian Temple." Although Doxey's second building was not quite as elaborate as his first, it was one of central Indiana's finest opera houses when it opened the evening of Nov. 19, 1885.

The building was an enormous one for the 1880s in Anderson. Measuring 125 feet wide by 225 feet deep, the three-story building contained a gallery on the third floor that overlooked the second floor balcony. The main floor measured 125 by 150 feet, including the stage. Located on the stage were barrels of water positioned at the rear corners in case of fire.

Eight years later, on March 30, 1893, fire struck again. It was believed a gas jet which was left burning near some of the draperies caught them on fire and in turn the scenery and stage appliances, and then spread quickly, leaping from the upper windows and roof in a short time.

The Anderson Fire Department responded with the hose wagon and ladder trucks within a minute of receiving the alarm. Sadly, the firemen were unable to do much good as the pumps at the water works were unable to provide enough pressure to be effective. Nevertheless, after two and a half hours the blaze was brought under control.

With the loss, Mr. Doxey gave up on his dream of an opera house for the city.

The front part of the theater was not badly damaged and was salvaged. The former Doxey Theater and Music Hall eventually became the home of the Banner Store in 1895.

In December 1894, former Anderson Mayor John H. Terhune gave the city a Christmas present in the form of news about a new opera house to be constructed at the northeast corner of 11th and Main streets.

The opera house was to be part of a larger building on that corner called the Opera Block. Business fronts would occupy the Main Street frontage while the entrance to the opera house was on 11th Street. The portion of the building housing the opera house was roughly 100 by 200 feet.

The three-story building contained two balconies, one above the other, and seated 1,400 people. Two double-door arched entries covered by an elaborate marquee welcomed patrons to the Grand Opera House on opening night Oct. 22, 1895.

Patrons were treated to the Opera of Faust by Goethe. The Grand contained the second largest stage in Indiana. Only the English Theater on the Circle in Indianapolis surpassed it in size.

In a panel above the proscenium (stage area) was a allegorical painting representing the capers of cupid and a song, and to the right and left of the stage were large and beautiful figures representing "Slumber" and "The Awakening" or night and day. The drop curtain depicted a court scene from Hamlet.

A signature event for the Grand Opera House was the appearance of 110-member cast supported by a 50-piece orchestra performed by a touring company's production of "Madame Butterfly."

The Grand was also used for conventions, speeches, musical presentations, boxing matches, wrestling and other attractions, making for an extensive use.

All across America the arrival of silent films signaled the end of the opera houses as viable forms of live entertainment. Silent films were the entertainment rage and, as a growing number of new theaters opened to take advantage of the phenomenon, many former opera houses converted.

Such was the case with the Grand Opera House. It ceased operations sometime in 1923 and was reopened under the name Granada Theater in 1924 featuring silent films. The public's taste in entertainment had shifted and with the shift the traveling live productions could no longer sustain themselves.

With the conversion of the Grand Opera House to the Granada Theater, an entertainment form in Madison County came to an end. An era begun in Madison County in 1883 was over. For four decades, tens of thousands of Madison County's citizens had enjoyed the greatest live theatrical productions our country had to offer.

During that time five of the eight Madison County opera houses had endured disastrous fires, leaving them in ruins. In 1950, a wrecking ball brought down the sixth one, the Grand Opera House in Anderson. It had been vacant since the Granada Theater closed its doors in 1937.

Fortunately for us, two former opera houses still survive, one in Pendleton and one in Elwood. From their appearance and the people in whose hands they currently are entrusted, they should be around for a long time to come for future generations to ponder and remember their days of glory.

For more information visit the Madison County History Center, 15 W. 11th St., Anderson, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Phone 683-0052.