The hall was reconstructed with an additional building added to the east end, and for two years was occupied as a garden styled after Gilmore’s Garden of New York, with fountains, waterfalls, vocal and instrumental music, and all kinds of refreshments.
John Borden shortly afterward sold the property to his son, William Borden, who re-constructed the theater at an additional expense of about $55,000, and it was opened on September 6, 1880, under the name of the Grand Opera House, and under the management of John A. Hamlin. The lot upon which the Grand Opera House buildings are erected contains about thirteen thousand two hundred square feet of ground.
The history of the location as a place of amusement, commencing with the original Bryan Hall, way back in the 1850s, and running through all its various changes, is one of almost continuous success. The original Bryan Hall was one of the most popular amusement resorts in Chicago for many years. The Grand Opera House was opened by Hoey & Hardy’s Company, in their adaptation of the play “A Child of the State,” followed by Tom Keene, in a Shakesperian repertory. Nathaniel Goodwin, Emma Abbott Opera Company, Boston Ideal Opera Company, etc., all performed.
It was the scene of the first production of two huge hit musicals aimed at children. In June of 1902, the original production of The Wizard of Oz had its premiere there. One year later, in June 1903, came the premiere of Victor Herbert’s Babes in Toyland.
|"Of Thee I Sing" became the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama (1932), and was the longest-running Gershwin show during George Gershwin's lifetime. Ad c.1933|
|The RKO Grand Theater, 119 N. Clark Street, Chicago. One screen,1200 seats. (1953)|
Among the stars who played the Grand Opera House, over the years, were: Lionel Barrymore, Arthur Byron, Mady Christians, George M. Cohan, Constance Collier, Katharine Cornell, Dudley Digges, Robert Edeson, Leon Errol, Douglas Fairbanks, Walter Hampden, Miriam Hopkins, Allan Jones, Bert Lahr, Eva Le Gallienne, Canada Lee, the Marx Brothers, Chester Morris, Mildred Natwick, Effie Shannon, and Ethel Waters.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.