Submitted by scott on

Erie beat a path to the shops and stores in West Park Place to buy clothes, groceries, hardware, imported foodstuffs, silverware, paintings, books, real estate, insurance; and to seek the services of lawyers (the 1879 City Directory listed 15 attorneys on North Park Row), doctors, engineers, and dentists. People went there to bank, to buy tickets on the Erie and Pittsburgh Railroad, and possibly to school at Erie Commercial College; but above all, they went to be entertained.

In 1860 Gray and Farrar had finished off the upper floor of their building as a small theater. It was called Farrar Hall and could seat 1500 people. Many of the theater notables of the period appeared there; including Lauara Keene, Ristori, Edwin Forrest, and Mrs. Scott Siddons. Farrar Hall was closed for extensive renovations in 1872 and when reopened the following year as the Park Opera House, was touted as the largest theater between New York and Chicago. The new facility was designed by New York architect Thomas Jackson somewhat along the plan of Booth's Theater in that city. It hosted attractions that were impressive in their number in their diversity, and in their evident stylishness. During the 1888-89 season the Park advertised upwards of 100 dramatic and quasi-dramatic offerings. Scattered throughout this legitimate fare were wrestling matches, a wild west show, minstrels, magicians, and vaudeville artists. While it was claimed that every precaution had been taken to guard against fire, the park Opera House did burn twice.

However, in the end it was not flame but the demise of the grand road company productions which put an end to the Park Opera House. It survived as a seedy burlesque theater until 1939.

West Park Place

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