BG Opera House / Chidester Theatre / Del-Mar Theatre
Many may not be aware that there was an opera house, first named the Hankey-Taber Opera House (also called the BG Opera House), that once stood at the site of 165 South Main Street (McKenzie’s Flower Basket) and 169 South Main Street (BG Graphics Company) and the adjacent parking lot.
The BG Opera House was built in 1889 by Ira C. Taber and John R. Hankey, a prominent Bowling Green businessman who built several buildings here during the gas boom and was founder of the BG Natural Gas Company and Board of Improvement. It was built after the originally developed block, nicknamed the “Opera House Block”, was destroyed by a fire in 1888. The building was rebuilt by notable Bowling Green brick contractor Morris Walker, who was also responsible for many of the town’s early brick banks, churches, and business blocks starting the late 1860’s. It was said they finished the opera house job in about a month, with his group of about 16 to 18 laborers. The building was 90 feet x 120 feet and 59 feet tall, with a 28 foot main ceiling and the floor sloping toward the stage like other big city opera houses of the day. The facility was noted to seat about 1,500 with “automatic opera chairs.” According to the book “The First One Hundred Years of Bowling Green, Ohio” by Charles Sumner Van Tassel, there were 400 attendees on opening night “present in all their starch and feathers, with Robert Downing in one of Shakespeare’s plays.” Van Tassel also noted the opera house was a popular place for “holding political conventions and other gatherings, as well as for amusements.” Van Tassel emphasized one of the most famous plays performed there was by actress Blanche Bates…he wrote, “her company put on the play that was the talk of all the big cities, The Girl of the Golden West, to a house of top prices, in which there wasn’t standing room left”. This play opened in New York, toured for many years in several U.S. Cities, and was made into 4 films. It was major news for Miss Bates to bring the play to a town the size of Bowling Green, even the Mayor of Toledo and editors of the Toledo Blade attended. In 1892, the remainder of the block was completed north of the opera house, where one building remains (where Beckett’s Burger Bar is).
In 1903 the theatre was purchased by Murray Chidester (who you may recall lived at the home at 707 West Wooster Street, highlighted as the Historic Building of the Month in November) and it was renamed “The Chidester Theatre”. Mr. Chidester remodeled the opera house extensively. He used architect David L. Stine to design the new theatre, who is known for the Edward D. Libby House (1895) and several other homes in the Old West End in Toledo, along with designing the Lucas County Courthouse and Jail (1897).
The “new” theater, 4-stories with two balconies on the upper floors, had all the modern conveniences of electric lights, boiler heat and public restrooms. The floor level seated up to 320 people and also had 8 loges, upper and lower, on each north and south wall, each containing “six beautiful reed chairs, imported from the Philippines”. The balcony off the foyer, was called the Family Circle and contained 219 chairs. Above that, was the true balcony which seated another 190 people. Seven miles of wire, 1000 lights and 100 switches, 250 feet of brass railing and 400 yards of carpet are quoted in the Wood County Sentinel, in a front-page story heralding its grand opening. Opening night was “Crisis” staring Isabel Irving. The remodeled theatre had the reputation among theatrical road shows and booking houses as one of the most beautiful small theaters in the country.
The theatre was sold in 1918, renamed the Del-Mar and movies were shown for about two years until Clark Young took over in 1920 (owner of the Cla-Zel at that time). Sadly Del-Mar burned down on September 29, 1926, which was 6 months after the opening of the Cla-Zel. According to an article in The Sentinel Tribune, fire departments from Perrysburg, Washington Township, Tontogany and Toledo helped to extinguish the fire.
For over 35 years, the theatre served as a meeting place for the community where history was made – whether it be graduations, plays, events, meetings or movies.
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