LADOGA OPERA HOUSE
by Bill Boone - thanks BB
The Opera House shown above was built by Hiram Huntington and son, George in 1891. It was managed by P. P. McGinnis and George Havens. The Ladoga Leader of January 1, 1892 had the following article: "The new opera house at the northwest corner of Main and Washington streets was formally opened last Saturday (That would have made the formal opening night to have been Saturday, December 26, 1891), by the Wills' Two Old Cronies Company. The building is a large and comfortable one. The seats on first and second floors are of the latest improvement. The acoustic properties are perfect. The stage is completely furnished, and the scenery is handsome of great variety. In addition to the advertising curtain, there are nine drop curtains, and the stage and hall are both lighted by electricity. In fact, the opera house is a model of beauty, neatness, and comfort. It is heated by a large furnace, and perfectly ventilated. In erecting the building, McGinnis and Havens have done a good thing for Ladoga and for themselves, and deserve the thanks of the community.
The intelligent and cultured audience that filled every one of the five hundred seats, and then cheerfully paid for standing room last Saturday night, was sufficient to show that our people appreciate the valuable addition to our town. The play was a good one of the kind. Of course all were not exactly suited, but until angels take the part of actors, such a thing is impossible. Among the illustrations of this week's LEADER are correct pictures of the opera house building and the enterprising managers, P. P. McGinnis and George Havens." The play was so well-received that the Crawfordsville Journal covered it.
The Leader reported in another place the following note: "The Crawfordsville Journal has this to say concerning the opening of our opera house: 'It is safe to say that no town of Ladoga's size in Indiana begins to compare with her as a place of amusement. A magnificent audience of well-dressed and well-behaved people filled the house and an excellent troupe gave the best it had in the box. A peculiar thing in regard to the appreciation of the actors' efforts was that they roared continually with laughter, but not once did they stamp their feet or whistle. The gallery gods of Crawfordsville will please take a pointer from this example and demean themselves accordingly.'"
In January of 1981, Mona Kreuger wrote an article about the Ladoga Opera House under the title, 'That's Entertainment.' She wrote: "On a cold winter Saturday evening at the turn of the century, where did all the people go? They gathered at the Ladoga Opera House for a night of entertainment. The Opera House was the center of the community's culture from the late 1800's to the 1930's. People came from all around to see such touring companies as the Zeke and Daisy shows. Another exciting act from out-of-town was the flamboyant Indian Chief who came from Terre Haute. The Chief sometimes brought the whole tribe and they would camp out at the Normal College grounds, having themselves a great time. There were also medicine shows and, of course, let us not forget the hometown shows such as the performance of "The Mikado." Besides the live entertainment there were picture shows which cost 25 cents to see. One of the biggest sell-outs for two weeks was "Black Eagle," with Rudolph Valentino. The same week the movie was running at Ladoga, Valentino died. The Opera House was located in the upper story of the building on the corner of Washington and Main Streets at Ladoga. In later years, the upper story was torn down and the rest of the building remodeled. It is now the home of the First National Bank. The entry to the Opera House was off West Main Street with a wide stairway to the second floor, through the double doors to a large dome-shaped auditorium: the main floor had elevated seating for 400; the balcony seated 200 with a beautiful hand-painted Irish linen curtain on the stage. The Opera House became a victim of progress due to expenses such as heat, maintenance and state fire laws."
Mr. and Mrs. Forest McMurtrey of Ladoga became managers of the Opera House in 1924. They not only served as business managers but were also promotional directors and stage-hands. They teamed together to write and direct their own operetta, "The Gypsy Queen." "Babe" McMurtrey directed and taught 45 students a session of Dramatic Arts (recital readings and dancing) on the stage and presented their student programs to the community. After an evening with the McMurtreys as they reflected back to the days of the Opera House, Mr. McMurtrey leaned back in his chair with a twinkle in his eye and said, "Those were the good days and we had a lot of fun, didn't we, Babe?" Carrie Robbins, Chet Vice's aunt, ran the Opera House before the McMurtreys took it over. She also ran a millinery shop on the ground floor. Chet recalled that the entrance was on the far west end of the building. There were large double doors opening onto a wide stairway. The ticket office was at the top of the stairs. Chet remembers going to silent movies and plays at the Opera House. He also recalls that there were two levels. The main floor seated about 200 people and was reserved for the kids, who had to pay 10 cents for their tickets. The adults sat in the balcony. The tickets there were 25 cents. At the very back of the balcony was the projection booth for the silent movies. It was a little tin room about 8 feet by 8 feet square. He recalls that Dorothea Dinsmore Nelson played the piano for the silent movies. After the Opera House closed, Forest McMurtrey and Ollie Pennington moved the theater to the south side of main across the alley from Herman Davis' garage was in the 50's. Ollie opened up a liquor store later and the theater moved to the east side of Herman Davis' garage. Bob Poynter ran it and called it the American Theater. He later sold it to Emory Creekbaum. I still remember that Emory put a number on every popcorn sack and had a drawing after the movie for a free ticket to the next movie.
Below is a photo of the building which served as a Opera House, bank, furniture store, Ladoga Leader building and monument moved in 1938. At cemetery now. From Bill Boone on Ladoga Facebook page