|
|
News Eagle - Hawley, PA
  •  Recalling the Standard Opera House

    • email print
  •  Managing Editor HAWLEY- The Standard Opera House was once the place to go in Hawley for entertainment. Before the days of the motion picture theater and well before the TV age, local playhouses dotted the land. Today’s Ritz Company Playhouse, is a revival of that long-time diversion, when choices were a lot fewer than we have today.?Opera houses were found in communities along the rail lines, easily accessible by train for traveling vaudeville shows and public chasing their favorite shows and actors. There were opera houses along the Erie Railroad, in Hawley, White Mills and Honesdale.Plays and graduationsThe Standard Opera House was located on Church Street, between Maple and Chestnut avenues- directly behind the Methodist Church. In addition to vaudeville shows, the stage provided the venue for local theater, although whether this occurred here is unclear. We do know that Hawley High School held graduation exercises there for a number of years, as well as other social functions.?Perhaps it was also a place for a good opera.?It was built sometime between 1872 and 1886. The theater isn’t found on the 1872 Hawley map. A high school graduation picture for the class of 1886 has been found, showing commencement was held there.?Mary Anne Teeter interviewed people who recalled the opera house, for a 1978 story in The News Eagle. The late Frank Chapman said he worked there as a boy selling peanuts for 5 cents a bag. He recalled that the local children preferred the balcony because it was cheaper. There were always a few other local boys selling peanuts, moving scenery, operating curtains and other tasks.?To keep the patrons in line, the opera house employed a “bouncer” by the name of James Coughlin, who Chapman said was an easy-going gentleman who managed to keep order despite the mischievous kids.?Kenneth Kreitner wrote in Discoursing Sweet Music that the Hawley Orchestra played at the Standard Opera House during a performance of the play “Enoch Arden” in March of 1901. Enoch Arden is the title of a narrative poem written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in 1864. Enoch Arden was a fisherman stranded on a deserted island.?Traveling stock companies would sometimes stay in town two weeks, presenting several shows in succession. Among the favorites were “Ten Nights in a Barroom” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”?Teeter recorded that the latter show stirred the sympathies of the patrons. When Simon Legree kidnapped little Eva and her family was looking for her, the villain hid behind a prop resembling a rock. One of the patrons jumped to her feet and shouted, “Ahind the rock! Ahind the rock!,” which brought the house down.?While St. Philomena Parish (today, Queen of Peace) was building its new brick church at Church Street and Chestnut Avenue in 1900-1901, parishioners went to Sunday Mass at the Standard Opera House, a half block away.Theater describedThe 1899 Julius Cahn-Gus Hill theatrical guide and moving picture directory lists opera houses across the country by state and town. The opera house in Hawley is listed.?The directory gives all sorts of detail about Hawley’s Standard Opera House. It had a seating capacity of 600. Edward V. Murray was owner and manager. Ticket prices ranged from 25 cents to 50 cents.?The wood-frame building was illuminated by oil lamps. The stage had a 20 foot opening, 14 feet high. Foot lights were set 20 feet from the back wall. The curtain dropped two feet from the foot lights. The stage was four feet high and had one trap door.?The interior was 36 feet wide. The theater was on the second floor.?Lem H. Lemphert was the scene artist. James Grady led the orchestra.?Murray also owned a carriage shop in the building; there was a blacksmith shop attached. The theater was on the second floor. Murray lived next door, in the house on the corner across from the Catholic church.?Theater doors opened on the side towards Chestnut Avenue and were reached by climbing a covered staircase from the side of the building.?The 1912 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Hawley shows that the Standard Opera House now had electric foot lights. A curving balcony is outlined. The balcony climbed all the way to the third floor ceiling.?Pictures show classic columns on either side of the stage. There was a piano in front at right and seats for the musicians.?In an 1886 picture over the stage in bold letters was “Fideliter- Feliciter.” The entire inscription may have been, “Fortiter, Fideliter, Feliciter,” Latin for “Boldly, Faithfully, Successfully.” Another translation is, “Boldly, Reliance on God, Happily.”?Joseph Max Munzel, who was born in 1933, recalled seeing the place as a kid. He said it was in terrible disrepair and had been abandoned a long time. One time he stepped inside only a few steps and someone told him to get out of there before he got hurt. He recalled seeing what looked like gold leaf on ornate boxes. There was a plush curtain behind the asbestos drop.?Honesdale had a larger opera house, seating 700. White Mills had an opera house known as the Florence Theater. Seating capacity was 500. The White Mills Community Hall on Route 6 stands where the opera house was located.?Milford did not have an opera house, at least in 1899. Port Jervis, which was served by rail, had the Grand Old Opera House, which seated 1,000. Tickets were as high as one dollar. Forest City and Carbondale, also rail towns, had opera houses as well.Final actThe coming of the motion picture industry gradually brought an end to the opera house vaudeville circuit. The Standard Opera House was sold to the late Michael Monaghan who converted it to a knitting mill in the early 1920’s.?Mrs. Lena Hamann of Hawley was interviewed for the 1978 article. She worked there as a floor lady and recalled finding rolls of painted scenery left over from the opera house.?As a youth, Joe McGinty put up a basketball hoop on the stage. Joe Drake said that he and other kids used the abandoned opera house to play basketball. Jim Monaghan, who owned the Erie Garage, stored oil in the building and let the kids play there as long as they didn’t smoke. There were also barrels full of glass blanks kept there, left over from Wangum cut glass factory, which was owned by the Monaghans.?Munzel said that when he ventured inside as a kid, the place was a mess, and had been used to dump ashes. This was about 1940. He would pass by there often to get to church. He said the place either burned down or was demolished. All there was left was a pile of ash. The Catholic church later put up a garage on the site.?By the time of the 1910’s, Hawley already had two motion picture theaters, the Hippodrome on Main Avenue and the Dreamland on Church Street. In 1935 the Ritz Theater on Keystone Street replaced the Dreamland, which had burned down. Vaudeville acts came to the Ritz as well as movies. Live theater would return to Hawley in 1973, with the opening of the Ritz Company Playhouse, in the former cinema.Editor’s Note: A photograph of the front of the Standard Opera House has not been found. If anyone has one that the editor may copy for publication and historical record, please call him at (570)226-4547 or e-mail news@neagle.com. 
      • calendar