O'Brien's Opera House
In 1878, future Jefferson County sheriff and Birmingham mayor, Frank O'Brien, bought 125 feet of frontage at the northwest corner of First Avenue North and 19th Street. Four years later, Birmingham had the O'Brien Opera House, a four-story brick theater intended to house traveling Vaudeville troupes.
The O'Brien Opera House was a 1,266-seat "gas light" theater (lit by gas burners and incandescent lights) and home to a number of other attractions, including a hotel and shops, such as George Pappas' saloon and the Dunnam Brothers grocery store. Other parts of the Opera House served as offices and business meeting rooms for groups such as the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. The theater opened with a sold out performance of the controversial musical, The Black Crook.
After opening night, a number of amazing acts crossed the stage throughout the late 19th Century. Augustus Thomas' critically acclaimed, Alabama, made its debut in the Opera House in 1891. The following year, Henry Mapleson's Opera Company of London staged Fadette here. The opera theater also played host to many performers throughout the years; some of the greatest acts of that time included Joseph Jefferson, Edwin Forrest, Roger Busfield, Rose Coglan, the Thatcher Primrose and West Minstrels, and the New York Symphony Orchestra.
The Jefferson Theater, upon its opening in 1900, claimed the former prominence of the O'Brien theater, and the opera house, after a brief run as the Gayety burlesque house (pictured), was demolished in 1915. Another edifice was built in its place, using some of the original bricks--but that building, too, was demolished. The O'Brien Opera House is remembered by a plaque marker placed in 1950 at the corner of 1st Avenue and 19th Street North, the former site of the theater.
The playbill is a program from the May 12, 1893 performance by the New York Symphony Orchestra in the O'Brien Opera House.
Part I included: Wilhelm Tell Overture by Rossini, Concerto for Violincello by Goltermann, Intermezzo (Naila) by Delibes, Valse de "Romeo and Juliet" by Gounod and Adagio from Septet by Beethoven.Part II included: (A) Arabian Dance and (B) Solvejg's Song from Peer Gynt Suite No. 2 by Grieg, Bolero "Maids of Cadiz" by Delibes, Hungarian Fantasie No. 1 by Liszt, Solo for Violincello performed by Mr. Anthony Hekking, and March (Aida) by Verdi.