Academy of Music

Kalamazoo Opera House & Theater (1882–1919)

Academy of Music
Academy of Music, east side of South Rose Street, c.1882–1885. Kalamazoo Public Library photo file P-179

A First Class Opera House

The old Union Hall near the corner of Main and Portage streets served as Kalamazoo’s primary entertainment venue until the 1880s. Built in 1866, Union Hall hosted local and traveling musicians, dramatic companies, comedians, actors, political rallies, minstrel shows, lectures, and temperance meetings throughout the Reconstruction era. After more than a decade of use, however, the hall had become “unsightly, uncomfortable, unclean, and inadequate” (Gazette), far from that of a proper opera house. An 1879 Kalamazoo Gazette article noted that “many of the very best traveling entertainments [had given] us the cold shoulder because we [could not] furnish a decent hall for their exhibition.”

In March 1881, a letter to the editor in the Kalamazoo Gazette caused quite a stir when pending construction work prompted the writer to suggest that “a first-class opera house” on Rose Street would be “just what our village [had] long needed.” Many agreed and a committee was formed in response, which resulted in several weeks of intense discussion among prominent local business leaders. After exploring several options, the committee announced in April that a new opera house would indeed be built along the east side of Rose Street directly across from Bronson Park.

“Your committee have held several meetings, have examined several sites, plans, questions and schemes, and now, without considering or discussion the various matters, which one by one have been laid aside, we present the site, the plan, and the scheme on which we are unanimously agreed ourselves, and which we unanimously recommend for adoption by you.

The site chosen is the St. Nicholas lot owned by Pelic Stevens, fronting on Rose street (6 rods wide), on the park, and on the open grounds of court house square, centrally and conveniently located, in a place not likely to be disturbed by noise, 66 feet wide in front, 80 feet wide in rear and 157 feet deep, with main entrance on Rose street, and exits by Rose street and by two public alleys.

On this site it is proposed to erect an opera house fronting directly on the street, uncomplicated by stores in front or by any other associated enterprise, and opera house alone, with all modern appliances and improvements, in all respects comfortable and tasteful, capable of comfortably seating 1,000 persons, with stage, parquette and dress circle, all on the ground floor, and with one gallery, building and ground to cost not less than $30,000…

A committee has been appointed to canvass for subscriptions. Your favorable and prompt action will insure success.

Respectfully submitted,

A. C. Wortley,
F. B. Stockeridge,
Allen Potter,
F. M. Clark,
J. L. Sebring,
Peyton Ranney,
Frederick Bush,
Robt. Burns,
Dan Cohn,
Foster Pratt,
E. W. DeYoe,
Dallas Boudeman”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 21 April 1881

A stock company was formed and by year’s end the funds were in place so construction work could begin. The building was to be built (and later owned) by Kalamazoo contractors Fred Bush and Thomas Paterson under the supervision of noted Chicago architect Dankmar Adler. A vote was taken among the stockholders, and it was decided to call the new building the “Academy of Music.”

Opening Night

After several months of work, the Academy of Music opened its doors on May 8, 1882, with a performance of the 1820 tragedy Virginius by “Genial John” Edward McCullough & Company. (McCulloch, one of the most popular and successful actors of his time, was once friends in a theatre company with John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin.) Also on the evening’s bill was the 22-member “Franz Schubert Concert Club” of Jackson. A musical dedication by the Apollo Club (concert orchestra) of Chicago was held on May 9, followed by J.H. “Jack” Haverly’s New York Opera Co. on May 11 and 12 with performances of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Patience and Edmond Audran’s comic opera La mascotte (The Mascot). “The opening of the Academy of Music,” wrote the Kalamazoo Gazette, “marks an epoch in the history of Kalamazoo that will be remembered through life by all who attend.”

Academy of Music, east side of South Rose Street, c. 1882-1885. KPL catalog number P-331

“Academy of Music, B. A. Bush, manager; seating capacity, 1,250; rental, one night $75; license, yearly. Size of stage, 32×66; size of proscenium opening, 32×31; height from stage to grooves, 20; height from stage to top of rigging loft, 45; depth under stage, 9; traps, 3; number sets scenery, 38; leader of orchestra, G. B. Balcom; stage carpenter, Lee Getter; bill poster, B. A. Bush; number of sheets can accommodate, 1,000; rates per sheet, 3c.; theatrical teamster, Boardman & Reese.”

Henry C. Miner’s American Dramatic Directory (New York), 1887

Famous Performers

Many famous stars occupied the stage at the Academy of Music over the years, from heavyweight champion fighter “Gentleman Jim” Corbett to operatic singer Ernestine Schumann-Heink, actress Maggie Mitchell (another close friend of John Wilkes Booth), and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, to name but a few. One of the first motion pictures ever seen in Kalamazoo was shown there in 1897.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Kalamazoo, Kalamazoo County, Michigan, September 1896 (Library of Congress).

Academy of Music Orchestra

In addition to the performers on stage, some of the Kalamazoo community’s most highly respected musicians took part in the Academy of Music Orchestra over the years. William S. Bronson occupied the podium as the orchestra’s first musical director. His brother Chester Z. Bronson was director of the 1891 Academy of Music Orchestra, which would form the roots of the very first Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra. (C. Z. Bronson was the first KSO director.)

Academy of Music Orchestra (foreground), George B. Balcom, director c.1886. May Music Festival 1886. Kalamazoo Public Library photo file File P-177.

Academy of Music Interior
Academy of Music Interior, image courtesy Newberry Library, Chicago. Used with permission.

Academy of Music interior from stage, c.1909. Labadie’s Souvenir of Picturesque Kalamazoo, p.40. Catalog no. H 977.418 P62

The Academy of Music was operated until June 1919, when vaudeville was king. Owner W.S. Butterfield remodeled the theater that year and re-opened it as a vaudeville and film house called The Regent Theatre, “a strictly modern amusement place.” In June 1930, a juvenile broke into the theater late one night and started a blaze that destroyed the building.

Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library staff November 2019. Updated August 2023.

Design and Construction

· Theater manager (upon opening) John V. Redpath, Benjamin A. Bush manager as of August 1882.
· Stage manager (upon opening) Joseph Bidwell
· Designed by Chicago architect Dankmar Adler
· Built (and later owned) by Kalamazoo contractors Fred Bush and Thomas Paterson
· Stage and auditorium contractor and superintendent James Madison Wood (Chicago architect, partner of Sossman & Landis theater and stage designers, “the most important scenic company in the upper Midwest” (State Historical Society of North Dakota)
· Scenic artists L. L. Graham & T. G. Moses of the Chicago Academy of Music
· Interior frescoing by Chicago artists Abner Crossman and A. Weidling & Bro.
· Carpets and draperies by Wm. B Clark & Sons of Kalamazoo
· Steam and water equipment by the Hay & Prentice Company of Chicago
· Gas fittings by Thomas Dorgan of Kalamazoo
· Seating by A. H. Andrews & Company of Chicago
· Goes & Phillips of Chicago did some of the woodwork, the rest by Bush & Patterson of Kalamazoo
· Electrical work and chandeliers by Mitchel, Vauce & Co and Charles H. Hind of New York

Footlight and Foyer c.1882

The following are excerpts from a pair of articles published in the Kalamazoo Gazette in 1882. Together they give a fairly vivid, if not enthusiastic, description of the interior of the Academy of Music at the time, plus the people and costs involved. The first article was published in February 1882 while construction work was underway. The second — most likely penned by the same reporter — was written later the same year in May when the theater opened (all sic.).

The Academy of Music

A Description of the House as it will Appear When Finished — The Styles of Decoration to be Adopted — The Stage and its Appurtenances — The Finest House in Michigan.

Yesterday, totally blind to an imposing array of signs labeled “no admittance” a pencil pusher of the Gazette invaded the classic precincts of the Academy of Music, and was received upon the stage by Mr. J. M. Wood, the supervising architect of the structure, and by that gentleman initiated into some of the mysteries of the theatre building, learning much of interest to the public.

Since the closing of the building to visitors the work has progressed very rapidly, and the chaos of a short time ago is rounding into form, and a most artistically beautiful form it will be.

About fifty men are employed and the scene presented is a veritable bee hive, the blows of hammers, the rasping of saws, and the cry for “mort” by plasterers mingling in a symphony of labor.

The work is now so far advanced that the end can be seen, and an idea obtained of how the house will look completed.

The outside of the building has been viewed by all our citizens and no description of it is necessary, but within, beginning at the entrance, it is still too many “terra incognita.”

will be plentifully lighted by gas jets placed upon the balcony above the archway and by chandeliers of burnished brass. The floor of the entrance way will be covered with a tessellated pavement, and without any step or break lead into the foyer, thus making and elegant and safe exit at all times.

On the right side of the hallway as you enter, will be placed the box office, and over it the gallery stairs will rise, thus making the entrance to the balcony and parquette and circle, entirely separate for that of the gallery, a feature which will be heartily appreciated by the habitués of the house. The only improvement that could have been made in this respect would have been the building of a separate exit to the street for the use of the “Gods.”

Entering through swinging doors at the inner end of the hallway.

is reached, and from this to the left, rises the grand staircase leading to the balcony, which will be finished in the highest style of art, rising with an easy sweep and broad steps, and brilliantly lighted.

To the right is an entrance to the ladies retiring room, which will be handsomely carpeted and furnished in a style commensurate with the finish of the house, as a drawing room. Off this will be a ladies toilet, fitted up with every modern convenience. This room can also be entered from the auditorium, and will prove a wonderful convenience to the ladies, who will always be able to step in and see if the rough wind had disturbed their bangs, before taking their seats to criticize and be criticized.

But the auditorium is reached directly from the foyer also, and it is through this entrance that most persons will obtain their first view of the house.

which will have altogether a seating capacity of twelve hundred, will be a remarkably handsome room. The ceiling, which has ample height to insure excellent ventilation, has been divided into panels, by the boxing of the chords of the trusses supporting that portion of the roof, and will be frescoed after designs prepared especially for the house, whilst the walls will be papered.

The designs for the paper are now under consideration, and one, a solid gold background, embossed with flowers in crimson flock, which has never been used, was gotten up by the manufacturers for this purpose, and will probably be adopted. This rich paper will give a warmth of color to the entire room.

From the center of the ceiling will hang a chandelier of burnished brass with twenty-five goblets, whilst under the galleries will be placed wall brackets, also of burnished brass, with clusters of lights.

including the wainscoting, window and door casings, etc., will be one of the most elegant features of the structure, being done entirely in polished cherry, with all the trimmings of polished brass.

The seats in the parquette, circle and balcony will be of the opera folding kind, with arms between each seat, upholstered with crimson plush. Each row of seats throughout the house is raised above the one in front mitigating the big hat trouble. The aisles being covered with brussels carpet, will reduce the nuisance created by the fat-witted folks who always come late to a minimum.

which are four in number, will be furnished in polished cherry, with burnished brass trimmings, with French plate mirrors for back ground, with fine crimson draperies, and furnished with comfortable upholstered arm chairs. The stage boxes are to the left of the audience. And the boxes are so arranged as to in no way interfere with the view from any seat in the house, a feature which in many new houses is overlooked, and a large number of seats ruined by the projection of the proscenium boxes. In fact there is not a poor seat in this house.

In addition to the boxes there will be …

two in the circle and four in the balcony, each calculated to seat parties of six, the seats being upholstered arm chairs.

The floor of the orchestra is sunk sufficiently below the level of that of the parquette, to give even the occupiers of the front seats an uninterrupted view of the stage.

are especially complete, being so arranged that the pipes pass underneath each seat, and radiators are placed around the wall to insure a comfortable degree of warmth.

Every precaution known to science has been taken to perfect the ventilation.

On each side of the main floor of the auditorium are placed double doors, opening on alleys, which are calculated to be used in case of anything like a panic from fire or other cause arising; by this means, in addition to the main entrance and the large windows, the occurrence of a serious calamity is impossible.

To most people the working of that world of mechanism which lies behind the foot lights is a mystery, and of the amount of machinery and work necessary to equip the first class stage they have but a meagre idea.

This stage has a proscenium opening of thirty by thirty feet, depth of thirty feet.

The curtain will be so rigged that it will be raised without rolling, and will go way up among the rafters when raised, and just inside the proscenium will be placed the heavy grand draperies.

There will be four sets of grooves and five sets of borders, beside the grand draperies.

The same liberality which has been bestowed upon the auditorium will be applied to the stage and its appointments.

Three traps will be put in, a “star,” “vampire” and grave.”

which will be put in at present will consist of twenty complete sets, with wings, borders, etc., and will have among them eight interiors, each with twelve foot boxing pieces; a dark wood, and a light wood, the wings, borders, etc. of these scenes will fill the entire stage; a horizon or ocean; a mountain landscape; cottage flats; a snow landscape; an elaborate garden; a cut wood; a rocky pass; an ancient street; a modern street.

Beside the scenery the stage is filled with every modern appliance that is used to make the working of the scenic effects perfect.

The borders are so arranged that the entire five sets can be handled with one rope and all the scene shifting, except the handling of the wings and flats will be done from the flying gallery over the grooves.

At the rear of the stage, where the “drops” will be worked, is placed the bridge and scene painters frame, the bridge being so arranged that it can be used as a “set bridge” for dramatic purposed, and Mr. Wood expresses the opinion that the house will have as complete a lot of set pieces as can be found in any theatre in the country. The size of the flats will be thirty by twenty feet, and will be as large as those used by any theatre in Chicago.

will be ten in number, and will consist of four in the basement under the stage, and six in the annex, on the north side of the stage, which will be made two stories in height, and also contain a well appointed green-room.

The border lights will be arranged in clusters, and controlled by a pilot light, thus making it possible to put the stage in darkness, without the trouble of relighting the gas.

The space over the stage is already showing some signs of the wilderness of ropes which will be necessary to run the scenery, and which will all be controlled from the rigging gallery.

The large “prop” room is situated below the stage, but two small ones are up on the stage back of the boxes.

The carpenter and scene painter are also provided with rooms upon the stage.

The boilers for the heating apparatus is situated underneath the wing which contains the dressing rooms.

The acoustics of the house appear to be very fine, but just exactly how that may be, cannot be determined until the scaffolding is removed.

The reader can thus see that everything is being done to give Kalamazoo the finest structure of its kind in Michigan, and that the work is progressing rapidly. The entire brown coat of plastering is nearly on and every day now will show marked progress toward completion.

Mr. J. M. Wood, who has the supervision of the work is evidently a man eminently fitted to conduct such work to a successful conclusion, and the many errors which he corrected in the building after taking charge of it, show how necessary it is, even with skilled mechanics, to have some one who makes theatre building a specialty to superintend the work.

Mr. Wood has lately taken charge of the finishing of Redmond’s opera house at Grand Rapids, and will superintend the finishing of that edifice.

Kalamazoo Gazette, 12 February 1882, p.4

of the front elevation, of which a cut appears at the head of this article, is familiar to most of the dwellers in and visitors to Kalamazoo. It is situated upon Rose street, facing the court house square, and its dimensions are sixty feet front, running back one hundred and fifty-eight feet, to a public alley, the walls rising over the stage and auditorium to a height of fifty-eight feet. The walls are laid 11 feet below the street level and are 6 feet thick at the base and 3 feet wide at the top. In addition to this massive foundation, two cross walls extend through the building, one forming the support for the rear of the galleries, the other for the wall dividing the stage from the auditorium. In the basement directly beneath the iron columns supporting the front of the galleries are huge brick columns, settled on solid stone foundations, and also made secure by bond stones six inches in thickness. Commencing at the stone foundations the brick walls of the building are 3 feet thick and they taper to twelve inches at the top of the building, each of the trusses which support the roof resting upon heavy piers which are carried up from the foundation their full thickness.

The façade on Rose street is built of Philadelphia brick, trimmed with Borea stone, and rises to a height of three stories.

In the center is the entrance, which is surmounted by an ornamented balcony upon which are placed several gas lamps for the purpose of lighting the sidewalk in front of the house.

On either side of the entrance are handsome stores, forty feet in depth, whilst the two floor above, are calculated for offices, and for such purposed have already been leased.

Passing in from the street under the stone arch, of which the span is eighteen feet, the first doors reached are of handsomely polished cherry, swinging noiselessly either way. These are located just a little beyond the foot of the stairs which lead to the offices on the upper floors and the upper gallery. Just in front of these doors hangs a handsome hall light, made of plate glass and burnished brass. Inside the doors, to the right, and under the gallery stairs is located the box office with ground glass windows where John V. Redpath the manager of the house will hold forth, to gather in the shekels, and plan dramatic treats for the community. Hereafter the reserved seats for the house will be sold at the box office. The lobby is frescoed in good taste and wainscoted with polished cherry.

Passing on to the end of the lobby, another set of doors are reached, which forty feet from the entrance mark the boundary of the tessellated floor of the lobby, and serves as the means of entrance into …

This beautiful spot, the gem of the whole house, is twenty five feet long by fifteen feet wide. To the left rises the grand staircase with its carved railing and steps easy to ascent, leading to the balcony. Also to the left near the foot of the stairs is situated an exquisitely carved and superbly finished mantel, under which is an open grate, with brass trimmings and tile hearth. The design and workmanship of this beautiful piece of furniture if above reproach, and it is like every portion of the interior wood work made of polished cherry. All round the walls of the foyer, and upon the ceiling which is divided into panel; specimens of the highest art in decoration can be seen.

The walls above the wainscot have been divided into panels by moldings and rich crimson velvet paper, whilst gold paper upon which conventional flowers have been painted by hand. Immediately over the fire place a grave old owl has been pictured and surrounded by the brilliant colors of the walls, his cool gray tints form a pleasing contrast. From the center of the ceiling depends a chandelier of burnished brass of one of the latest designs, and from its six cut glass globes throws a soft radiance over the scene, making the brilliant walls, and the rich crimson body Brussels carpet with which this, and every other part of the house is carpeted harmonize perfectly. The richness and warm color in this apartment was a frequent remark. To the right of the foyer is …

which is entered through a broad doorway draped with Tureoman curtains suspended from polished brass rods and caught back by chains of the same metal. This room has a handsome mirror in a carved frame let into the wall, facing the entrance, and is furnished with a drawing-room suit of ebony, upholstered in old gold raw silk, and crimson plush. Just under the chandelier is placed a stand, upon the top of which is painted and burned in a very natural bunch of roses. This was the work of Mrs. Bush. This room is also papered in old gold and crimson, with hand painted flowers, the panel work and decorations of conventional flowers being exceptionally artistic in design. Adjoining this is a private room for ladies containing all the conveniences necessary for the toilet.

is entered on the first floor, by five openings draped with Tureoman curtains from the foyer, and by one large draped doorway from the ladies’ retiring room. The seats of the dress circle and parquette slope gradually away from the entrance so that the seats, which are of the most approved pattern, and are upholstered in crimson plush, are placed sufficiently above each other to preclude the person occupying the seat in front from interrupting the view of the person behind. Ascending the grand staircase, from the foyer, on the first landing will be seen in a niche a coil of hose with nozzle, attached to a stand pipe, and only needing the turning of a valve to bring to bear upon any incipient fire in that part of the house a strong stream of water, it being one of many such pipes. Going on up the stairs which in their ascent turn once round…

is reached, and from a space immediately over the foyer, and which is intended for a promenade, the various aisles are reached. Directly back of the seats is placed a large double door, opening into the front of the building and calculated to be opened in case of a panic of any kind thus giving the occupants of that part of the house two means of exit.

Above this, and reached by a separate staircase, is …

which is comfortably seated, well ventilated, the isles carpeted, and is in fact superior in its comforts and accommodations to the halls of the past.

There are four proscenium boxes, which are among the most ornamental features of the house.

The wood work, which is massive, is beautifully carved. Above the upper boxes there is carved two exquisite rosettes, whilst the boxes have the appearance of a balcony with handsome balustrade, overhanging somewhat the lower boxes, which are guarded in front only by a slight burnished brass rail, with dependent drapery. The curtains and valances of the upper boxes are of “gen d’arme” blue plush, trimmed with embossed crimson plush and old gold fringe; also curtains, trimmed with antique lace. The floors are covered with light colored body Brussels, of indistinct pattern. The walls, where not covered with the two large mirrors placed in each box, are finished with a gold embossed paper and lighted by wall brackets. The drapery of the lower boxes have a dark old gold embossed plush for the trimmings of the draperies which are of crimson plush, but in other respects are furnished like those above. The chairs for the boxes are of carved cherry, cane seated. The same pattern is used for the loges, of which there are four, each capable of seating six persons.

of the wall and ceiling present a pleasing view to the eye. The ceiling is divided into three large, and several small panels by the boxings of the chords of the trusses which support the roof, and the panels are colored a light bluish tint, bordered by a frame work over which a flower vines run, whilst swallows disport themselves in the blue field of the center, the boxes which divine the panels are striped and touched with gold and crimson, with here and there touches of other color which only brighten the effect. The body of walls are covered with a crimson velvet flowers of quite a large size, embossed upon  a solid ground of gold paper, the monotony being broken by the finishing of the projections formed by the piers, flues etc., with a plain crimson paper. Immediately over the proscenium arch, is the chef de oeuvre of the frescoing. It is a copy of …

the figures being life size. The execution of this fresco is quite fine, the lines being boldly drawn, and the color well laid on, but like all new frescoes it wants age to tone down the somewhat garish effect of the bright coloring.

The proscenium arch is covered with gold embossed paper, divided into panels by black moldings, whilst from each side a vine with conventional flowers, starting from a vase is made to traverse its way until they meet in the center above.

which is framed in a plain but massive cherry molding, is thirty feet in width by thirty-two in height, and is filled by one the rarest things on earth …

The curtain represents crimson satin drapery, fringed with gold, and drawn back in such a manner by silken cords as to show under draperies of shirred white satin with blue fringe, in the center of which is a square occupied by a marine view, showing the ocean, and Dunluce castle on the coast of Ireland. In front of the top of the curtain is a valance, imitating white lace over crimson satin.

When the curtain is raised the grand draperies, etc., are disclosed, the straight drapery being made to represent white satin with old gold trimmings; with medallions painted upon it, the arch draping of crimson trimmed with ermine, and the tormentors which columns with gilded capitals etc.

of the auditorium is accomplished by means of a central chandelier which is feet in height, has a spread of nine feet, and has one hundred burners. To diffuse the light over the auditorium, there is an opal glass reflector with 40 burners beneath, and above it to light the ceilings and upper part of the house there are a large number of imitation candle clusters. The whole is beautifully ornamented with glass prisms. Under the galleries are placed wall brackets with clusters of eight lights, also of burnished brass with imitation candle clusters.

In addition to the regular means of exit two large doors have been placed on either side of the main floor, opening upon alleys and rendering the danger of a panic absolutely nothing.

Every care had been taken to maintain a thorough circulation of air through the house. In each of the panels above the auditorium is placed a large ventilator, which can be operated from the stage, over which there is also a large dome to carry off any smoke from red fire etc., without allowing it to enter the auditorium. Beneath the floor of the parquette and circle is a perfect set of steam pipes, through which fresh air admitted into the basement must pass before entering the house behind every row of seats. This insures a genial warmth in winter, while in summer the heat from the gas will create a sufficient upward current to bring in the cool air from below. The boiler which generates the steam is located in the annex to the main building and is of the self regulating anthracite coal burning variety. Being outside the building there can be no danger of fire, and being used on the low pressure principle the danger of an explosion is obviated.

is forty feet in depth by sixty in width, and is supplied with four sets of grooves, and five sets of borders, four sets border lights, ground and wing lights, three traps, “vampire,” grave,” and “star,” and all of the paraphernalia of the first class stage.

On the north side of the stage are the dressing rooms. On the stage level is the green room, which is handsomely papered and frescoed, and furnished with a handsome parlor suite. Off this is the star dressing room, the floor of which, like the green room, is covered with Brussels carpet. There is also two other drawing rooms on this floor, also ladies’ and gentleman’s closets. On the second floor there are four more dressing rooms, also well lighted and tastefully furnished and carpeted. Underneath the stage are three large dressing and the necessary property rooms.

The venturesome individual who will climb up into the loft, fifty feet or more above the stage, will come upon a perfect wilderness of ropes, pulleys, ball wheels etc. These are but the ropes necessary to run the various borders etc., and are worked from the flying gallery just over the grooves on the north side of the stage. By means of the machinery one man is able to work five sets of borders at one time.

The curtain is moved by means of a counter balance and work rapidly and noiselessly.

The house is supplied with “rain machine”; “thunder car,” and all the things necessary to produce a first class mimic storm.

The gas is all controlled from the stage, and is so arranged that it can be turned down without danger of putting it out. The central chandelier, foot lights, and border lights, are all lighted by electricity.

The amount of scenery which the house starts out with is unusually large and the class of work far above anything ever seen in Kalamazoo.

The “drops” already finished, are a “Roman Arch,” the “Roman Forum,” “Snow,” “Horizon” and “Mountains.” These drops are worked at the rear of the stage just behind the ways of the scene painter’s frame.

Among the other scenes are a modern street, roman street, modern fancy chamber, roman chamber, gothic chamber, Perspective palace, and palace arches, which are remarkably fine; plain chamber, rustic interior, prison, garden, landscape, dark wood, cut wood, and cottage flats. The boxing pieces are gothic arches, the modern chamber. The number of set pieces is very large, including garden statues, vases, rustic bridges, garden wall, set trees, boats, waters, arbors, balustrades, fire-place, cottage, log hut, snow hut, house, court room, tents, market places, and screens.

The borders are a set straight sky, arch sky, foliage, drapery, gothic and rustic interior.

The wings are modern street, gothic, wood, rustic interior, modern fancy interior, palace interior, plain chamber, prison, tropical and snow.

It will thus be seen that the house is prepared to produce with good scenic effect all the usual run of dramatic pieces, and has the stage room to put on the largest of the spectacular pieces.

The work of the scenery, and the paining of the drop curtain was done by Messrs. L.L. Graham and T.G. Moses, of the Academy of Music, Chicago. These gentlemen have certainly shown themselves masters of their business; and capable of holding their own with any in the country. Their work as shown in this house speaks their praise louder than any one can.

who have done the various parts of the job work all deserve credit for the fine work which has been done in every department.

The carpets and draperies were all furnished by W. B. Clark’s Son of Kalamazoo. The work being done under the supervision of Mr. Frank M. Clark and E. F. Brownson, and speaks well for the resources and ability of that firm.

The delicate task of putting in the gas fixtures was done by Thos. Dorgan of Kalamazoo, as was also the plumbing. Hay & Prentice of Chicago doing the steam fitting.

A. H. Andrews & Co., of Chicago the seating

Goss & Phillips of Chicago made the elaborate wood work of the boxes, all the rest of the wood finishing including the beautiful mantel in the foyer being the work of Messrs. Bush & Patterson of this place.

Messrs. Mitchel, Vauce & Co., of New York manufactured the chandeliers etc.

The electric lighting apparatus was put in by Chas. H. Hinds of New York.

The frescoing was done by Mr. A. Weildling of Chicago, whose work all who have seen the interior can testify is excellent and highly artistic.

Mr. J. M. WOOD
of Chicago has been the supervising architect of this work, and the prompt manner in which everything has gone forward, is largely owning to his executive ability. Mr. Wood is an expert in theatre building and occupies a position in his profession, where there is room for lots more – namely, the front row. He has introduced many features in the house not contemplated in original plans, and made many changes, especially on stage, greatly adding to comfort of the profession. To this fact, no doubt can be ascribed his popularity with them. The management certainly did a wise thing when Mr. Wood was engaged to superintend the completion of the edifice.

of the building now are Messrs. Bush & Patterson, who were the building contractors, and who bought out all the other stock holders.

John V. Redpath, a gentleman widely and favorably known, is the manager, and Joseph Bidwell is stage manager.

This somewhat extended report, gives many details, but cannot possibly convey the beauty of this house to the reader. He or she must go and see for themselves.


C. H. Dickenson, Kalamazoo, roofing and tinware.
Henry Dibble, Chicago, brass work and vestibule tiling.
Shriver & Weatherly, Grand Rapids, galvanized iron work.
Hay & Prentis, Chicago, steam heating.
R. W. Southworth, Kalamazoo, paper hanging.
R. Smith & Son, Kalamazoo, painting.
Bird & Clarage, Kalamazoo, iron work.
Lawrence & Chapin, Kalamazoo, iron work.
Spoor Mackey, Chicago, paper decorations.
J. L. Philips, Kalamazoo, stair builder.


Ground, $   8,100
Building, 36,300
Heating, 3,600
Lighting and Plumbing, 2,800
Decorations, 3,000
Upholstering and drapery, 3,300
Seating, 4,400
Stage scenery and fittings, 4,500
Total, $ 66,000


Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 May 1882, p.4

Academy of Music, c.1909.

Orchestra Leaders

1882: William S. Bronson (resigned October 1882)
1882–1885: Stanley B. Morse
1885–1887: George B. Balcom (resigned March 1887)
1887–1888: Max Factkenheuer (of St. Louis)
1888–1889: (unknown)
1889–1891: George B. Newell
1891–1903: Eugene C. McElhany
1903–1905: Charles Wolff
1905–1910: George B. Newell

Orchestra Members

1883 (Kalamazoo Telegraph, 21 April 1883)

Prof. Stanley B. Morse, piano, director
Prof. Martin of Battle Creek, first violin
John Lounsbury, second violin
Charles A. Skinkle, cornet
Chester Z. Bronson, claironette[sic]
Frank Holton, trombone
John H. Everard, double bass

1885 (Kalamazoo Gazette, 22 March 1885)

George B. Balcom, 1st violin, leader
John Baker, violin
George Flegal, violin
Arthur Fiske, violin
George A. Balcom, clarinet
Fred Davis, cornet
Tracy Wattles, cornet
A. B. Sawyer, trombone
George W. Ketchum, double bass


Chester Z. Bronson, clarinet, business manager
Eugene C. McElhany, violin, conductor
Sam Born, alto horn, treasurer
Wallace S. White, alto horn, booking
George Pfeiffer, violin, prompter
Fred Shoecraft, cornet
Fred W. Davis, cornet
John Leak, tenor horn
Hiram W. “Hi” Ballou, trombone
J. F. Warner
Fred C. Hayes
Frank Newell, bass


Charles Wolff, violin and leader
Tom Walton, bass
Otto Schultz, flute
Miss Anna Walton, piano
Arthur Reams, clarinet
Banks Baird, cornet


Charles Wolff, leader
Fred Curtis
John Vlieken
Miss Anna Walton
Sam Strong (of South Haven)
Chas. Parrent (of Lansing)

1909 (Kalamazoo Gazette, 26 August 1909)

George B. Newell, leader
Hazel Belle Newell, piano
Frank Newell, trombone
Reyfsnyder, cornet
Earl Putnam, clarinet
Patrick McKee, drums
Thomas Walton, bass
Otto Schultz, flute


Information originally compiled in 1995 by J. P. Jenks. Additional information was later added by library staff. Information compiled from Kalamazoo City Directory listings, details obtained in researching newspaper reports published at the time by the Kalamazoo Gazette and Kalamazoo Telegraph Press, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, Kalamazoo County Warranty Deeds and numerous other sources. Updated September 2023.

Additional Resources



Henry C. Miner’s American dramatic directory for the season of 1887-88

Miner, Henry C., editor
Publication Office, Peoples Theatre, New York, 1887, p.130.

Labadie’s souvenir of picturesque Kalamazoo

Labadie, E.E. 1909.
H 977.418 P62L, p.40

A history of theater in Kalamazoo

Pixley, Jorge V., 1958
H 792 P694

Theater in Kalamazoo from 1860–1890

Johns, Marion, 1955
H 792 J65


“From the people”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 18 March 1881, page 5

“Opera house: a rousing meeting at Corporation Hall last evening”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 8 April 1881, page 3

“The new opera house”

Kalamazoo Daily Gazette, 21 April page 4

“Open to the public”

Kalamazoo Morning Gazette, 9 May 1882, pages 1, 4

“Academy of Music”

Kalamazoo Daily Gazette, 19 February 1882, page 4

“Charles Wolff’s success with academy orchestra”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 13 March 1904, page 3

“Academy dedicated 36 years ago today”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 9 May 1918, page 5

“Butterfield gets academy”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 16 March 1919, page 15

“Recall opening of old theatre; famous troupe dedicated theater in 1882”

Kalamazoo Gazette, 31 August 1919, page 13, column 2

Local History Room Files

Subject File: Theater

Subject File: Elite Theater

Subject File: Majestic Theater


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