The Vidette-Messenger Centennial EditionThe 1936 special edition celebrating Porter County's centennial year . . . .

The following article has been transcribed from the August 18, 1936, issue of The Vidette-Messenger, published in Valparaiso, Indiana. This particular special edition focuses on Porter County's centennial celebration and contains a 94-page compendium of Porter County history up to that time.

Return to the index of articles from The Vidette-Messenger's Porter County Centennial special edition.

Source: The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana; August 18, 1936; Volume 10, Section 1, Page 19.


Valparaiso Was Once a 'Bright Spot' On Theatrical Map; Many Stars Appeared

William A. Brady, Pat Rooney, Sr., Henry E. Dixie, Walker Whiteside, Frederick Ward, Thomas Jefferson, Jennie Yeomans, Minnie Maddern Fiske, Thomas Wise, Joseph Murphy, Madam Janascheck, Vaughn Glaser, Noah Beery and a host of other internationally famous actors and actresses have played to Valparaiso and Porter county audiences in the old Academy of Music, the Grand Opera House, and Memorial Opera House.

The Academy of Music was destroyed by fire in 1926. After it had been abandoned for show purposes it was taken over by the Masonic lodge for its quarters. The Grand Opera House had an up and down life after the Memorial opera house was built in 1891 and later it was taken over by the Odd Fellows' lodge for its home, but not after it had enjoyed a long era of theatrical history.

With the advent of moving pictures back in the early years of the present century, a number of theatres flourished about the city in addition to those named above. They were the Lincoln, Bitju, Vaudevue, Lyric and others. All finally disappeared with the development of the picture business.

Albert F. Heineman, now engaged in the real estate business, is the veteran theatre man of Valparaiso and Porter county. He can related many interesting anecdotes of the old days - recalling the names of the old plays and players which thrilled local audiences in those days.

Mr. Heineman's first experience in the show business was in 1889. James McVicker McGill then owned the Academy of Music and wanted some one to run it. Mr. Heineman took over the theatre and ran it one winter when the Masonic lodge took it over. The first show booked by him was the elder Pat Rooney, father of the Pat Rooney now a big stage star. The show did a big business.

The same year Mr. Heineman leased the Grant Opera House, the second floor to the present Sears, Roebuck building. The entrance was outside the building in the alley. One day he received a telegram from Milwaukee that "Crocker's Horses" wanted a date. He wire back: "Sorry, can not use them as the house is upstairs." They wired back just what they wanted. There were nineteen beautiful, full-sized sorrel horses, wonderfully trained. During the three-day performance, matinee and night, six performances, the theatre was crowded. People came from Elkhart, South Bend, LaPorte and other neighboring communities.

"I booked many great attractions in that house," Mr. Heineman added. "Some that I remember were Joe Murphy, Madam Janascheck, Hi Henry's Minstrels, Frank I. Frayne with his Indian band and wild animals in cages; and Daniel Boone in the play "On the Frontier." Graham Earle was a great favorite in Valparaiso as was Bryan's comedians, with Felix A. Vincent and Morris B. Streeter. Maude Atkinson in "The Spy," was another head liner. Robert Ingersoll, De Witt Talmadge and Elbert Hubbard gave lectures. The Columbian Society under the leadership of P. W. Clifford and P. O'Sullivan also gave a number of fine home talent dramas which were also repeated in other cities. James Whitcomb Riley, Bill Nye and Opie Read also appeared before local audiences.

In 1891 Mr. Heineman took over Memorial Opera House which had just been built. In this theatre he maintained a nine piece orchestra for all performances. Prof. August Wolf, formerly of Valparaiso university, was the leader, and under him were some of the city's finest musicians.

Among the attractions that came to Valparaiso and played in the old Memorial opera house were Sousa's and Creator's bands. Other attractions were Wm. A. Brady, the father of Alice Brady; Henry E. Dixie in "The Man in the Box," Frederick Ward, Thomas Jefferson, a son of Joe Jefferson in "Rip Van Winkle," Walker Whiteside in "Hamlet," and Jennie Yeomans in "The Home That Jack Built." The latter play was brought to Valparaiso direct from New York City and from here went to the Grand Opera House in Chicago. A carload of Chicago reporters came to Valparaiso to see the play.

Other notables were Minnie Madden, later known as Mrs. Harrison Fisk; Harrison J. Wolfe, a Shakespearian actor; Thomas A. Wise, the great English actor; John Griffith in Macbeth; Nell Burgess in "The County Fair," Otis B. Thayer and Gertrude Bondhill in "Sweet Clover," Porter J. White in "Faust," Ogden Stevens in "When Knighthood Was in Flower," Knute Erickson in "The Man From Sweden," Henry Miller in "The Little Christian," Rose Melville in "Sis Hopkins," J. C. Lewis in "Si Plunkard," Joseph Conyers in "Our New Minister," Miss Jane Corcoran in "A Doll's House."

Other attractions were "The Isle of Spice," and "Holty Tolty" musical comedies; H. H. Frazee's "Honeymoon Trail," with a company of sixty people; Stetson's "Uncle Tom's Cabin", a yearly attraction for more than thirty years; H. H. Frazee's "Josh Perkins," David Belasco's "Heart of Maryland," and "The Girl of the Golden West," the Lyman Twins in "A Merry Chase," the four Huntings in "The Fool House," William A. Brady's "Way Down East," Felix Haney, in "When the Harvest Days Are Over," Sol Smith Russell's "A Poor Relation," Charles H. Clark's "The Little Christian," Fred Wright's "York State Folks," Lottie Blair Parker's "Under Southern Skies," and Quincy Adams Sawyer.

The first moving pictures ever shown in Valparaiso were given at Memorial Opera House. These were projected by the Edwin Stuart Repertoire company. Later James D. Hollett opened a store room picture show on Main street, now Lincolnway. After that a Mr. Rock, who had a vault full of picture films in Chicago, came to Valparaiso, and with Mr. Heineman ran pictures for a long time, with 5 cent admission. Then pictures came in strong and Mr. Heineman purchased an up-to-date outfit and ran pictures until after the war. For the pictures a nine piece orchestra furnished the music. In its membership were Prof. August Wolf, Madge Bell Lindall, Frank Wilson, Roger Wilson, Marion Bell, Doc Nicholls and George Marquardt. Frank Wilson and George Marquardt are now radio performers.

Mr. Heineman also went to New York City to book his shows for the season. He has his headquarters in Walker Whiteside's office on Broadway. It required two weeks to do the bookings. The motion pictures came and replaced the stage shows.

Those who worked under Mr. Heineman in his theatrical ventures were: Grant Mitchener, Andy Reiter, George Hankinson, Clarence Drown, Eugene Willits, Henry Caswell, Ernest Butler and Earl J. Salisbury. Clarence Drown later went to Los Angeles, where he became manager of the Orpheum theatre. His daughter, Hope Drown, made good in pictures.

In 1920, Mr. Heineman took over the management of the Schelling Music Hall which had been built by August Miller for Mr. Schelling and opened on Nov. 25, 1914 with the feature picture, "The Spoilers." The two men operated the Memorial and the Schelling for four years, using the Memorial for vaudeville and Schelling for pictures.

In 1922, G. G. Shauer & Sons of Chicago, purchased the Hotel Spindler property, and razed the building. The building was razed and the present Premier Theatre building, seating 1,200 people. Later the firm acquired the lease for Memorial Opera House, the Lincoln Inter Tivoli, and Schelling theatres. The later had been operated under the name of the Varsity by Joliet, Ill., interests prior to its acquisition by the Shauers. With the sale of his interests to the Shauers, Mr. Heineman retired from the show business.

The Shauer interests now control the Premier, Memorial Opera House and Lake theatre, formerly the Schelling.

No theatrical performances were given in Valparaiso prior to 1860, but occasionally a circus, a traveling concert company, or a magic lantern exhibition would put in an appearance. June and Turner's circus was the first to show here and Joseph Robinson's next. Barnum's circus and menageries, with Tom Thumb and a big giant came here about 1854 and drew a big crowd. In 1864, the Academy of Music was started and opened the next year with a fair by the ladies of the Presbyterian church. For many years shows were given in this building.

Article transcribed by Steven R. Shook


CSS Template by Rambling Soul