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People, Locations, Episodes

Thu, 12.05.1889

The Harlem Opera House Opens

*On this date in 1889, the Harlem Opera House opened.  It was an American opera house located in the Harlem community of Manhattan in New York City.

Built in 1875 and designed by architect John B. McElfatrick, it was built by Oscar Hammerstein; it was his first theater in New York City. An early work at the house was The Charlatan, an operetta with music and lyrics by John Philip Sousa and a book by Charles Klein, which transferred from the Knickerbocker Theatre. The venue featured a wide and grand staircase and balcony of polished Italian marble.

The auditorium offered blue seats, and the boxes were arranged in three tiers on either side of the stage. They occupied the most conspicuous part of the theatre, were set forward, and were entirely open. The curtain was made by E. T. Harvey and was decorated with an image of Shakespeare reading one of his plays to Queen Elizabeth and some members of her court; it was painted in bright colors.

From 1900 to 1911, the theater was known as Keith & Proctor’s Harlem Opera House. Through the early 1920s, the venue was included in the Keith-Albee vaudeville circuit, Ella FitzgeraldCount BasieDuke Ellington, and others. By 1922, it was purchased by Frank Schiffman and subsequently closed. The Harlem Opera House showed films starting in the mid-1930s. 

Harlem Opera House was located at 211 West 125th Street and was torn down in 1959.

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