Wayne Opera House

The Wayne Lyceum Hall, later renamed the Wayne Opera House, was built by J. Henry Askin from designs of David S. Glendale on the corner of Lancaster and Wayne Avenues. The commencement ceremony fo rthe Lyceum took place on March 7, 1871, and it was officially dedicated on October 24, 1871. In its first years, Wayne Avenue was on the building’s East side, in between the Lyceum and the Presbyterian Church. An issue of the Weekly Wayne Gazette published this at the building’s opening: “The object of the erection has been for the extension and development of knowledge and we dedicate it sacred to the promotion of morality, purity, and mental development. Let that which is just, virtuous, and righteous be tolerated kind obliterated.” It was originally three stories tall, with a mansard roof (which came to be Askin’s theme throughout his new commuminty). This roof had three large windows on the North and South sides and one on the West side. On the East, however, a statue of some kind inside a window-shaped enclosure is visible in photographs.

The first floor consisted of four large rooms which housed a library-reading room and stores. The second floor was reached by steep stairs and consisted of a 450 seat meeting room and stage which was home to lectures, concerts, demonstrations, and even church services. The stage was originally very small, but was enlarged in 1889 with the help of the Wayne Estate. The third floor was originally used for meetings, and as of 1890 housed the Masonic Lodge. Askin was a mason himself, and it was his plan to dedicate a whole floor of Wayne’s public hub to the organization. The building’s cornerstone, located twenty feet above ground on the building’s east side, bore the date “1871″ and a masonic emblem, all inside a keystone shape. The cornerstone remained in the same spot until March of 1951, when it was removed as the building was being remodeled. It contained many mementos from the dedication year, including deteriorated copies of the Wayne Literary Gazette, and a small box of coins. Also in the box was the manuscript of a song written especially for the dedication of the building.

Beginning in 1871, Wayne’s first newspaper, the Wayne Gazette, was published in the Lyceum. It had previously been produced at Wayne Hall. The paper ran until only the next year. The Wayne Lyceum School was one of the earliest known businesses to set up shop in the first floor. R.H. McCormick, the local assessor, began in April of 1872 his household furnishings business. A short time later, he became Louella’s first Post Master. The Post Office was located inside his store. Future Post Masters also operated here, including J.H. Brooke in 1881, Theodore F. Ramsey in 1883, Joseph M. Fronefield in 1885 and Mrs. Sallie P. Ramsey in 1890. In 1903, an addition was put onto the West end to accomodate the Post Office.

Other businesses which operated in the Opera House before the turn of the century were George E. Mancill’s grocery and provisions store (who was followed in the business by David D. Mancill), and W.H. Welsh and Co. Welsh’s hardware business, which later became George R. Park and Sons. In addition, Childs and Drexel’s office was contained in the Opera House building.

On December 30, 1914, fire was discovered at the office of the Counties Gas and Electric Co., located in the building’s west side. It was found by the foreman of the company’s power plant, Robert Tisdale, at 1:30 a.m. He then notified the Radnor Police Department’s Sergeant Rahill, and fire companies from Wayne, Devon and Bryn Mawr responded. Included in the eight streams of water that were shot at the fire at one time was the Radnor Hale Pump, the first motorized fire pump in the country. It was the fire at the Opera House that truly showed the power of this little machine; it pumped water for six hours continuously.

The fire spread to the top floor, where the walls caved in. The stage and auditorium floor were gutted, and the bottom floor suffered smoke and water damage. Welsh and Park Hardware sustained major water damage to their stock of goods, and the office of real estate dealer Charles M. Davis was also badly damaged. The tenants lost and estimated $50,000. Fortunately the records and stamps from the post office were saved by postmaster Milton J. Porter and other employees and volunteers. They had to relocate for about a week into the Wayne Title and Trust building, diagonally across the street, after which they moved back to their previous location. Other businesses had to relocate; Welsh and Park went to the Union Hall building, the Wayne Plumbing and Heating Company went to the second floor of the Wayne Estate Building and the gas and electric company went to the J.C. Pinkerton house on the corner of Lancaster and Louella Ave. There thankfully were no fatalities, although post office clerk Miss H. Ada Detterline was injured severely by a falling piece of cornice. The opera house was the first place in Wayne to see silent movies. Although movie film of the time was extremely flammable, it is not known whether this caused the fire or not. The movies, which were shown by George C. and Lawrence Allen, were shown in St. Katherine’s Hall until a house on North Wayne Avenue was converted into a new theatre. The projectionists lost the silver screen and a piano, although miraculously the movie projector was salvaged.

The building was remodeled, and was kept as an office building on Lancaster Avenue, albeit without it’s top floor. The two-story tall windows from the auditorium were split in half, and two floors for offices resulted. The building, which was renamed The Colonial Building, was again remodeled in the 1950’s, losing some more of its ornamentation on it’s South side. One thing that has not changed since the building of the Opera House in 1871 is the continuation of commerical business on the first floor. In the past they have included “My Country Store,” “Sweet Daddy’s,” “Beethoven Wraps” and the “Blackbird Bakery.” Although each new store that moves in tends to last a few years at best, they continue Wayne’s longest business legacy, one that goes back to when Wayne was a small development called Louella. The current owners of the Opera House seem to have revoked the name “Colonial Building” and the sign at the foot of the stairs now reads “Lyceum Hall.” What goes around comes around.

 

Wayne Hall, March 7, 1871. 
    No better day could have been chosen for the commencement exercises of Wayne Lyceum than that of Tuesday.
    Everything was auspicious; the sunshone magnificently, the sky was cloudless, and at night the stars came out in all their brilliancy, followed by the full moon in all its silvery splendor, while the pleasant, balmy air made the evening all that could have been desired.
    Long before the appointed hour crowds were seen flocking towards Wayne Hall. Everything being read, the curtain was drawn at a few minutes past seven, and a most lovely scene was presented from the platform.
    Radnor’s talented and beautiful daughters were assembled in full force, as well as Radnor’s anxious beaux and sturdy farmers and matrons. These, with the beautiful decorations of the room and the stage with its natural flowers, presented a magnificent picture.
    The President, ever alive to improve the moments as they fly, announced the music, “Away, Dull Care,” which was well executed under the efficient management of Professor John F. Kaufman, conductor, and Miss Annie Brook, organist. The brilliant eyes, as well as musical talent of this young lady, have won for her the cognomen of the “Bright-Eyed Organist.”
    A few remarks were then made by the President, alluding to the object, purpose, and progress of the Lyceum. He then introduced the orator for the evening, Mr.  ——————————- -ably delivered, gave to the friends of the Lyceum a “hearty welcome.”
    “Beautiful Snow,” a declamation by Miss M. C. Everman, was given in a most brilliant manner. Miss E. has won for herself quite a reputation for her excellent attainments. 
    The  ———- on the flute by Mr. Harry Martin, wa well appreciated by the entire audience. As a flutist Mr. M. excels.
    Knowledge, —– by Miss Sallie Martin, was written in her usual clear and comprehensive manner and displayed finely her abilities. It was also exceedingly well read.
    “The Fireman” was declaimed by Miss Seba Bittle in a style that held the audience enraptured. This was one of Miss Seba’s most successful efforts.
    “The Troublesome Investment,” a dialogue by Mr. Feniore and assistants, brought out full rounds of applause, and convulsed all with laughter.
    “The Mariner’s Grave” was then sung by the Musical Committee, whose names we have mentioned before, and who took entire charge of that department.
    “Palestine in History,” was the title of a finely-written essay by Rev. S. P. Linn. 
    “The Lost Pantaloons,” a humorous declamation by Mr. Craig McMitchell, was spoken in a comical manner. 
    The Ninetieth Psalm was then read by Miss Mary Campbell, in a manner never to be forgotten by those who had the good fortune to hear her. Miss Campbell’s sweet voice, her reverential manner, and her lovely expression, gave to her rendition of this grand majestic Psalm of David a sublime force.
    “The Beautiful Hills,” solo, by Miss Brooks, was very prettily sung, and deserves comment.
    “Paubasius Captive” was a bold stroke for Mr. James Mariott, and he did his best.
    “Hezekiah Bedott” was read by Mr. Charles Pugh most excellently.
    “Love at Home,” an essay, by Miss R. L. Clinger, was elegantly written, and the thoughts that swelled the heart of Payne when writing the well-known song of “Home, Sweet Home,” were expressed truthfully by her.
    “The Bashful Lover,” a dialogue by George Martina nd Miss Nellie Marsh, received a hearty applause; it was acted exceedingly well.
    Music, “The Flag,” preceded the presentation of awards, which were as follows:
    The First – A Lady’s Gold watch and chain. To Miss Sallie Martin. Presented in a neat speech by the President. 
    The Second – Halls and Homes of Britain. Illustrated with colored chromos. To Miss Seba Bittle, for the best Essay.
    The Third – Women Kind of Western Europe. Finely illustrated with colored chromos. To Miss Mary Campbell, for the best declamation.
    The Fourth – Tennyson’s Poems Illustrated. To Miss M. C. Everman, for the second best declamation.
    The Fifth – A copy of “The Innocents Abroad.” To Mr. Craig McMitchell, for regular attendance.
    The Sixth – Tennyson’s Poems, with Dore’s illustrations. To mr. W. H. Bittle, for prompt and early attendance.
    The Seventh – “Evenings with the Best Authors,” in three large volumes. To Mr. F. Fenimore, for meritorious services as “Crier of the Court.”
    To John F. Kaufman, Musical Conductor, a large volume of “Tennyson,” with beautiful full-page illustrations.
    And last (but not least), a beautiful rosewood writing-desk, fully equipped and ready for use, to Miss Anna Brooke, the organist.
    On behalf of the members of Wayne Lyceum, an elegant solid silver gavel was presented to the President, J. Henry Askin, by John Campbell, Esq., in a most elegant and brilliant speech. It was one of those speeches made from the promptings of the heart, and as only such speeches can be made by one of “nature’s gentlemen.”
    This present was so quietly gotten up that Mr. Askin was completely taken by surprise. He returned his thanks to the Lyceum in a few earnest words.
    Every member of the Lyceum feels deeply indebted to him for the favors so lavishly bestowed on them by him.
    All eyes were then attracted by the appearance of a wedding cake, the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Baldwin, a newly-married couple. It weighed about one hundred pounds. Mr. Theodore Ramsey cut the article, and we can assure Mr. and Mrs. B. that their acceptable present was appreciated.
    Refreshments were then handed around among the guests, and the roll was called, and sentiments given.
    A delegation from the Barean Literary Association of Philadelphia was present, and were well pleased with the evening exercised, as were all present.
    The gavel tapped to order; “Bright Eyes” took her seat at the organ, and with Professor Kaufman and the entire audience standing, singing “Auld Lang Syne.”
    The evening’s entertainment was over and the happy people betook themselves to their homes, each speaking in looks that were louder than words the sentiment so lately expressed by a member, “The Wayne Lyceum, may its shadow never grow less.”
    On Thursday evening the exercises were repeated, and the hall was crowded. Full particulars will be given in the April number of the Wayne Literary Gazette.

 

Photo Gallery

ophouseengraving

An engraving shows the building before the addition of 1903. This is from a Wayne real estate booklet.
Radnor Historical Society Collection

ophousefloor3

The Masonic Lodge on the third floor.
Radnor Historical Society Collection

operahouseproduction

A production in the Opera House of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Patience.”
From “Radnor: A Pictorial History”

ophousefire1

Radnor Historical Society Collection

ophousefire2

Radnor Historical Society Collection

1916ophouse

In 1916, after the renovations.
From “The Suburban and Wayne Times”