Madison County Historical Society



  Many famous personalities entertained here

The Elwood Opera House was truly a magnificent building and it is still with us today.  Very little remains of it original interior appearance when it opened for business in October, 1891.  Outside is a somewhat different story.  Located on the southwest corner of South A and South Anderson Streets in Elwood, Indiana, the front side of the three-story building retains near the top the words "OPERA HOUSE" embossed in stone proudly proclaiming for all to see the home of the once-famous theater.

The main entrance was on Anderson Street in the center of the building, as it is today.  Immediately beyond the entrance is a stairway climbing to the second floor.  Those stairs today, although different in appearance from the 1890s, bear evidence of the wear they incurred over a century ago when they were used by theater goers ascending them to attend the performances at the opera house on the second floor.

One additional unique feature of the Elwood Opera House can be seen on the South A Street side near the rear of the building.  A set of double arches appear in the brickwork suggesting that once they had a purpose long since forgotten.  An examination of an 1892 opera house drawing reveals the intended purpose.

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Since the opera house was located on the second floor, it would have been quite difficult to deliver items such as stage scenery, props, and other large equipage necessary to support the major productions that played there.  To circumvent this obstacle the builder, Gustav V. Kramer, provided for the delivery of such items by creating two openings on the north side underneath the west end of the building directly below the stage area on the second floor.  Wagons that brought the production's equipment from the train depot to the opera house could drive underneath the stage area and unload.  When empty, the wagons pulled forward a short distance and then made a ninety degree turn and exited the building through another set of arches located on the west or backside of the building.  Presumably freight elevators carried the delivered items to the second floor.  The procedure was then reversed when the production was done and ready to depart Elwood for the next destination.

Another example of Kramer's ingenuity was the installation of two floors in the theater, one over the other.  While the top floor was slanted towards the stage to provide patrons with the best possible viewing experience, the floor underneath was flat.  This floor was there in case someday the theater would be used for other purposes requiring a flat surface.  As it turned out, he knew what he was doing.

The theater was located on the second and third floors.  The interior dimensions were approximately 62 feet wide by approximately 150 feet in length, including the stage, for approximately 9,300 square feet.  The theater, which could seat 850 people, was managed by the builder's son, J. A. Kramer.  The drawings of the interior do not reveal if all the seating was on the main floor.  But, since the building was three stories high,  it is a safe assumption that there was balcony seating available on the third floor.

During its 11 years of operation, the Elwood Opera House was host to a variety of famous personalities from the entertainment world.  Many who performed there are memorialized today through an attractive display of photographs on the second floor exhibited by the building's current owner, Randall Hall.

While not familiar names today, they were certainly popular, well known and huge entertainment stars during their era.  Keith Israel, the great-great grandson of Gustav Kramer, has displayed many photographs of these famous people on the second floor.  Among those on exhibit are Frank Keenan, Maurice Barrymore, Eddie Blondell, William S. Hart, Marie Doro, Charlie Grapewin, Margaret Wycherly, Charlie Murray, and Fatty Arbuckle.

Other notables who visited the opera house was John L. Sullivan, who is recognized as the first Heavyweight Champion of gloved boxing, participated in an exhibition fight there during his farewell tour after his career ended in 1892.  On September 13, 1892, future United States President William McKinley delivered a speech from the balcony of the opera house to a crowd assembled on Anderson Street during Elwood's celebration of the opening of the American Sheet and Tin Plate plant. 

The Elwood Opera House closed in 1902 after eleven years of operation.  Mr. Gustav Kramer, thinking the city needed a bigger opera house that could accommodate a growing population, thus, he had builder George H. Johnson, erect an eleven-hundred seat theater,  the Kramer Grand.

By Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian 

 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|