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Riley Center - The Grand Opera House

Definition: In the late 19th Century, a partnership consisting of businessmen I. Marks and his half-brothers, Levi, Sam, and Marx Rothenberg, made a decision to expand their retail operations by opening a swank new wholesale and retail mercantile store.
In the late 19th Century, a partnership consisting of businessmen I. Marks and his half-brothers, Levi, Sam, and Marx Rothenberg, made a decision to expand their retail operations by opening a swank new wholesale and retail mercantile store.
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History Records: 1
Paranormal Claims: 4
Evidence Records: 1
Stories: 0

In the late 19th Century, a partnership consisting of businessmen I. Marks and his half-brothers, Levi, Sam, and Marx Rothenberg, made a decision to expand their retail operations by opening a swank new wholesale and retail mercantile store. Plans were also drawn for an adjoining hotel, which would rival the best hotels in the south. The site chosen covered almost a half a block, five lots which faced 5th Street, while three lots consumed the entire length of 22nd Avenue to 6th Street. Construction began in 1889, under the direction of Meridian builder, C. Rubush. The exterior of the building was designed by G.M. Torgenson, architect of the original City Hall, as well as the Cotton Exposition in New Orleans. The original designs included a mansard roof, establishing the style as late Victorian, Empire/Romanesque. Extant photos show a roof gazebo where hotel guests could gather and be entertained, suggesting that the actual building of the hotel had progressed somewhat toward completion before the conversion to a theatre was considered. For reasons not clearly understood, the hotel was interrupted in process, and the decision was made to go with a Grand Opera House. A couple of factors probably entered into the decision to convert to a theatre. First, the top price for a ticket to a first-run production by a traveling company with a star was set at $1.50, about the same price for a room in a decent hotel, albeit with a fraction of the overhead costs. From a business standpoint, the profit margin was much greater in the box office. Second, Torgenson was familiar with the highly successful Grand Opera House of New Orleans, which had been completed only a few years earlier. Finally, because Mr. Marks spent most of the year in New York, he would have been aware of the more successful shows, and, most probably, the booking and production houses of Klaw and Erlanger, the founders of the Syndicate--the most powerful commercial force in the American theatre at the turn of the century. Wanting nothing less than a first-class Opera House, the Marks-Rothenberg partnership hired J.B. McElfatrick of New York and St. Louis to design the interior of the Grand. By this time, McElfatrick had designed over 200 theatres in the United States, including the National Theater in Washington D.C. and the Metropolitan Opera House of Philadelphia, among others. The Grand was completed in late 1890, in time for the December 17th opening of Johann Strauss', "The Gypsy Baron." Marking the significance of the event was a preliminary speech by Supreme Court Justice Thomas H. Woods. The stage, at 30 feet wide by 50 feet deep, could accommodate the largest, most lavish shows from New York. Under the 35-foot high arched proscenium was an ornate painted border which featured the famous "Lady." The "Lady" eventually became the symbol of the Opera House, and today the Grand Opera House is often referred to affectionately as "The Lady." While a direct relation cannot be proven, this is certainly consistent with Meridian's epithet, "The Queen City."

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