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Grand Rapids in 1856

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Smith's Opera House

Smith's Opera House

GRHC - March 28th, 2012

As the Opera House aged and burlesque became the standard fare the theater became known as "wicked old Smith's Opera House. Some considered its reputation redeemed when Mel Trotter turned it into a rescue mission.



Theatergoers enjoyed the gala event that opened Smith’s Opera House at the corner of Louis and Waterloo (now Market Avenue) on September 7, 1885. It boasted a lobby finished in cherry and a floor of imported English tile. The bar-room was one of the most handsome in the city. The auditorium, with seating for 1100 people, was lit by gas and heated by steam. The woodwork was finished in terra cotta and the walls were finely frescoed and ornamented. Eight private boxes were festooned with silk and lace in cardinal red and old gold.

During its later years the theater became known as “wicked old Smith’s Opera House” as burlesque became the standard fare, and drinks were hawked up and down the aisles between acts. In addition, the four clubrooms upstairs were being used for purposes other than originally intended. Both clergy and many stalwart citizens denounced its evil influence on men and boys.

The opera house was purchased from Smith’s widow in 1906 by Mel Trotter, a fiery Chicago evangelist, who had established a rescue mission here in 1900. At the opening of its new home on September 30, 1906, a gospel choir of 450 voices replaced the “merry, merry” girls who had cavorted on the stage for so many years.

The opera house was a fitting venue for Trotter, a great showman, who preached old-fashioned “hell, fire, and brimstone” religion. He was, however, a tireless worker and a good friend of the poor. 

Full Details

TitleSmith's Opera House
KeywordsWYCE; radio; Grand Rapids; Historical Commission; history; Smith's Opera House; burlesque; Mel Trotter;
Pubdate StringMarch 28th, 2012

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