By KAREN KASPER
Society and the Cliffs
Shaft Mine Museum
ISHPEMING — Once the contract for the new opera house was signed, there was visible progress in the building of the opera house.
“Mr. McClure has a reputation for constructing theaters as rapidly as any builder in this country. He usually completes a house in ninety days after breaking ground. This is done when all conditions are favorable.
The removal of the building occupying the site will be started as soon as possible. The sheds at the rear of the old church building, immediately across the alley from the opera house site, are being demolished, and the main structure will be moved to a new location within the next week or so. This will allow plenty of room for the furniture building.
Charles Johnson has the contract to move the buildings and it is expected that he will have men on the job within a few days. Mr. Johnson bought the barn at the rear of the furniture store. He will tear it down and rebuild it at his own property on North Third street.
It is desired that the site be cleared by the time Mr. McClue and his foreman arrive here.” Mining Journal, June 4, 1903)
Almost immediately, there were snags.
“George E. Meyers, who is in charge of the construction of the new theater, has experienced considerable difficulty in securing a sufficient number of bricks and stone masons to begin work on the construction of the building. He anticipates if all goes well that the excavating will be sufficiently advanced in a few days to start the foundation wall. Mr. McClure rejected all bids that were submitted for the mason work and has concluded to hire masons by the day and have them work under the direction of Mr. Meyers. Good wages are offered to experienced and competent men and a dozen or more of that sort could find employment.” (Mining Journal, July 21, 1903)
Three major building projects were going on at the same time in Ishpeming. The opera house was one, but Braastad had torn down his old building and was erecting a new one just next door to the new theater, and the contract for the new library had just been let, so ‘experienced and competent’ masons who were willing to work as day laborers were probably few and far between.
“Frank McClure, the opera house builder, is expected here this morning. John T. Burke finished the excavating at the theater site yesterday. Trenches are being dug and other work is moving along satisfactorily. Seven or more masons will begin laying stone Monday morning. Many more masons can find employment by applying to George E. Meyers, foreman on the job.” (Mining Journal, July 25, 1903.)
One problem appeared early on, when it was found that the foundations had not been erected properly, so they had to be removed and redone.
Even before the theater was complete, it became part of the Northwestern Theater Managers’ association.
“The association was formed by managers of these houses with the hope of improving the class of attractions; also to foster the best interests of the managers, as well as of the theater-going public. That it is capable of accomplishing these things, the experience of the several months since it was formed amply shows. Managers all along the line say they have experienced some of the benefits already.” (Mining Journal, August 22, 1903)
By the beginning of December, the theater was almost finished.
“At the drawing of seats for the opening of the new theater in the new Braastad Hall Tuesday evening about 150 ticket holders were on hand. There were only a few women in the assemblage and they were present only as spectators, taking no part in the drawing. Considerable time was spent in arranging the details, but after the drawing started the selection of seats proceeded rapidly and systematically. The names of all the purchasers of tickets were placed on slips. These slips were folded and placed in a large box. John Lacey, George A. Newett and Superintendent E.E. Scribner were chosen by the crowd to draw the slips from the box. As each name was announced, the ticket holders or their representatives came forward and picked out their seats, presenting their tickets and receiving the checks in return. The first slip taken from the box held the name of J.H. Rough of Negaunee, who had four tickets. The others had their turn in quick succession and in less than an hour the drawing was over. The seats in the parquet were the most popular. Few chose from the balcony until the lower floor was well taken up.” (Mining Journal, December 3, 1903)
“The members of the committee in charge of the erection of Ishpeming’s beautiful new theater have been besieged with requests for a reduction in the price of gallery seats, so that those who cannot afford to pay $10 might have an opportunity to attend the opening.
It is felt that no one will object to a reduction in the price of the gallery seats. It has been decided to sell them at $2 each.” (Mining Journal, December 14, 1903)
“Ishpeming’s theater, which will be formally opened this evening, was practically completed Saturday night, when the carpenters and painters concluded their labors.
The opening is an event that has been much discussed for weeks past. The details of the arrangements have been completed, and it promises to be the most brilliant social function that has ever taken place in the city. The display of costumes will be striking, and will form a marked contrast to the rich, attractive finishings of the interior.
The assemblage will be composed of representative people of the county, as well as strangers from various parts of the upper peninsula and elsewhere. A number are coming from Chicago and other points to attend the opening in company with Ishpeming friends. Marquette and Negaunee will each be represented by delegations of over fifty people.
Walker Whiteside and his company, who will open the theater with the satirical comedy ‘We Are King,’ will arrive in this morning.” (Mining Journal, December 15, 1903)
“The opening of the new Ishpeming theater last evening was one of the most important occasions in the history of that city, and one of sufficient note and interest to draw a representative assemblage of the people of the county. It was as impressive as it was important. The handsome auditorium was filled with a brilliant throng, and the event proceeded with all the éclat and enthusiasm of a typical first night. It was an occasion that will be long remembered in Ishpeming and by the people who were fortunate enough to participate in it.
At Ishpeming the new theater has not sprung up by itself but is open to the public only as a result of the careful planning and zealous work of the several leading men who were members of the Theater association. They have given freely of their time and money to the enterprise, not with the idea of obtaining returns, for they have realized that should the new enterprise do much better than support itself it would be doing unusually well, but solely with the purpose of providing for the amusement and, at times, education of their people.” (Mining Journal, December 16, 1903)