Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Grand 1894 Opera House

Built on the site of an old ice house, The Grand 1894 Opera House is made of St. Louis pressed brick with buff stone trim, cupolas, and terra cotta ornaments. The structure was designed with four floors to house a theater, hotel and shops.
The Grand Opera is the second building from the right

Ticket Booth at street level

Stairway from the Ticket Booth to the lobby


Stairway to the Mezzanine (second balcony)

(Can you believe this beautiful work had been covered with lengths of drywall?)

The auditorium was one of the first designed to use modern theories of acoustics and broke with the tradition of older theaters. The general plan was to use a design that eliminated corners and flat walls and instead use curved surfaces and rounded walls to enhance sound in the theater.

View of the stage from the Grand Tier Balcony (third balcony)

Grand Tier Balcony

Opening night for the new opera house was January 3, 1895.


Less than six years later, the theater sustained major damage. As a result of The Great Storm of 1900 that took the lives of 6000 people and basically destroyed the city, the entire east stage wall and roof collapsed, and part of the north wall collapsed. The damaged parts were rebuilt and the theater reopened within a year of the storm.

The Grand presented all forms of entertainment, including Shakespearean plays, dance, military bands, minstrel shows, operas, and motion pictures. It was said that if touring stage productions did not play Galveston, they didn't play Texas.

By the late 1960s, it appeared that the theater's days as a movie house were numbered, and in 1974, the theater closed its doors.

Fortunately, at this same time, the restoration movement has begun on the neighborhood surrounding the Opera House. The building was purchased by the Galveston County Cultural Arts Council. Basic repairs were completed in 1979, and the years between 1979 and 1986 were devoted to raising money to complete the restoration.

It seems to be another example of the application of the formula for a successful restoration--money and literally thousands of volunteers from Galveston county, the greater Houston area and the state of Texas under the direction of skilled restoration craftsmen. Removing 10-12 coats of paint revealed red heart pine. Replacing wainscoting with wood retrieved from demolished turn-of-the-century buildings and having carpet manufactured to match the colors and designs on a scrap of the original carpet found in the second balcony.

The final stage of the restoration in 1986 included the installation of new seating, the final box decoration, and carpet installation.

The finished theater seats 519 on the Orchestra Level, 280 on the Mezzanine Level, and 209 on the Grand Tier.

The painted canvas curtain was redesigned from photographs and descriptions of the original.

On display in the lobby is a sand painting (Mandala) created on stage by Tibetan Monks of Gaden Shartse and donated by the Monks for display.

On the rear of the Grand Opera are these paintings of some of the people or movies that have appeared over the life of the theater.

On September 13, 2008, the Grand 1894 Opera House suffered extensive flood and wind damage from Hurricane Ike.

The Grand survives.

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