Opened March 1, 1887; East side of Fifth Street between B and C; Capacity 800; Later Fifth Street Theater, Grand Theater 1892; San Diego Theater; Demolished 1923
By 1887, private residences, public meeting halls and made-over gymnasiums could no longer meet the growing need for theatre in a bustling community of nearly 40,000. Only one thing could fulfill this need, a building planned, constructed and run as a theatre.
The site selected for this house was the east side of Fifth Avenue between B and C Streets. The name of the theatre was The Louis Opera House. The capacity is not known, but it was slightly larger than its 1,100 seat predecessor. There is disappointingly little information on the actual building. The closest thing to a description that can be found is in the review of the first performance at the Louis. From this review we know little more than that it was considered a pretty little opera house with comfortable seats placed on a slightly raked floor. The brightest spot in the theatre was a large drop curtain covered by a large and well painted picture of Coronado. The house was considered by the reviewer of the opening performance to have a feeling of comfort and intimacy not found in larger, more expensive houses.
The event that crowned the boom-days theater in San Diego was on May 4-5, 1888. Jersey Lily Langtry came to town. She played the lead in a drama called A Wife’s Peril. It was a smash hit. San Diego’s social register turned out in full plumage and such was the demand for seating that the management moved the orchestra to one side and sold the space to seat the elite.
The Louis Opera House, renamed the Grand in 1892, never quite lived up to its builder’s expectations. It did well enough for its first three years, but began a rather rapid decline with the building of the Fisher Opera House in 1892. There were occasional performances by stock companies and variety troupes, but few could equal those appearing at the Fisher. The building was finally torn down in 1923 to be replaced by a store.
[excerpts from: Thesis Presented to the Faculty of San Diego State College by Morgan Jackson Lane, June 1969, entitled “Commercial Theatre in San Diego with Special Emphasis 1892-1917”; Richard Pourade, The Glory Years.]
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