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Displaying items by tag: opera

Thursday, 08 February 2024 00:08

Ambler Opera and Theater

While preparing for our next exhibit, Downtown: Then and Now, I came across this picture in our photograph collection.

Ambler Opera House

Harry Samuel Nash and Store Clerk, Haberdashery Store, HSMC Photographs Collection

According to the back of the photograph, it depicts Harry Samuel Nash and a store clerk in front of Nash's Haberdashery Store in Ambler. The photograph is dated around 1902 to 1904. Nash's store was located in the former Ambler Opera House.

opera house

Ambler Opera House, HSMC Photographs Collection

Like most buildings in Ambler, the Opera House was a product of the Keasbey and Mattison Company. It was built around 1889. The first floor housed six stores like Nash's until 1904. In 1928, the building was renovated into a movie theater.

OPERA house 1928

Ambler Opera House c. 1928, HSMC Photographs Collection

In our extensive N. Howard collection, which covers many aspects of Ambler, we are fortunate to have a few photographs of the Opera House. We even have photographs taken right before and during its demolition in 1967. From the demolition photographs, you can tell they were worried about the asbestos as some of the workers wore masks on the scene.

1967

Demolition of Ambler Opera House 1967, HSMC Photographs Collection

This building was located on Butler Pike between Maple Avenue and the railroad tracks. Today it is home to a parking lot and a French restaurant. Many other buildings in Ambler did not share the same fate as the Opera House.

 Ambler Theater 2

Ambler Theater, HSMC Photographs Collection

One example is the Ambler Theater, also located on Butler Pike. It opened in 1928 and was originally operated by Warner Brothers. This theater closed in 1969/1970 and was reopened as a Christian movie theater. By 1997, the theater closed again. It was purchased in 2001 and became the non-profit Ambler Theater, Inc. The group restored the theater in stages and continues to show films to this day in 2024.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 15 December 2016 20:19

H. M. S. Pinafore

As part of my job, I often receive emails asking if the historical society has a certain resource or asking for a small amount of research. Most of these requests have to do with family genealogy or the history of our fine county. Last week, I received an unusual request. An independent researcher was looking for the original appearance of the following story:


“A horse ran away at the railroad depot, in Philadelphia, yesterday, and knocked down seventeen persons, each one belonging to a different Pinafore company about starting on a country tour.”


The short little joke appeared in newspaper across the country and was attributed to Montgomery County’s very own Norristown Herald and Free Press (today known as the Times-Herald). The researcher, Russ Sype, an expert on Gilbert and Sullivan who’s working on a book about H.M.S. Pinafore in the U.S., wanted to find the original appearance.


So, I went to our microfilm collection and loaded the 1879 reel onto our microfilm scanner. If you’ve never had an opportunity to read a nineteenth-century newspaper, they were little different from today.


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You’re probably not surprised that there are no photos or even drawings, but there are also no headlines. Headlines start appearing in newspapers at the end of the nineteenth century when the number of newspapers increased, when they had to compete for readers.


In fact, there isn’t even much news on the front page. There are several fictional stories on this front page and part of a continuing series on ancient mythology. On the right hand side is news from the literary world and a section called “Editorial Etchings.” Page 2 usually contains national news and often more Editorial Etchings, while local news, including train schedules and social announcements appear on page three. The back was mostly advertisements for ready made clothes, patent medicines, and anvils.


I while searching for the story, I concentrated on the Editorial Etchings, since most of the items there were short and humorous.


etchings


Sorry about blurriness; the microfilm is old and the original type is very small (I should also apologize for reproducing such awful jokes). It took me a while to find the piece I was looking for, but in the meantime, I found nearly a dozen other references to H. M. S. Pinafore. The editors at the Herald were obsessed with it. According to Sype, all of America was obsessed with Pinafore. He explained that the operetta debuted in Boston in late November of 1878 and in early 1879 “an armada of touring companies” worked their way around the United States. It was even translated into Pennsylvania Dutch for a performance in Reading.
Here are some of the quotes I found:

 

Pinafore April 5 1879      Pinafore Feb 19 1879 2

 

This one was from the "Philadelphia News" section:  

Pinafore Feb 19 1879

 

And my personal favorite:

Pinafore March 11 1879 2


I suspected right away that many of these touring companies weren’t paying royalties for their performances, and according to Wikipedia, that’s correct. The U.S. generally didn’t recognize international copyright, and Americans often pirated European works.


With all of this obsession, I was hoping to find evidence of a performance here in Montgomery County during this initial period of enthusiasm, but so far no luck.


I did find evidence that the enthusiasm for Pinafore did not wane. We have in our collection a scrapbook kept by Margaret Blackfan, an avid theater-goer from Norristown. She kept programs from all the performances she attended and clipped newspaper articles about the theater in Norristown and Philadelphia. These two articles, about two different productions of Pinafore, appeared in the same newspaper. The article is undated, but the scrapbook was produced between 1896 and 1899.

 

blackfan

Now, I think I'll go home and reaquaint myself with H.M.S. Pinafore.

Published in Found in Collection