Chatterton's Opera House, Springfield, IL
January 8, 1885
Chatterton Opera House
Posted on October 30, 2013 by editor
However, on March 17, 1876, Rudolph’s was almost completely destroyed by fire. “There is a story that Mr. Bunn, upon being awakened with the news that the Opera house was burning down, remarked that he couldn’t put it out, and turned over and went to sleep again,” Gib Bunn wrote.
The opera house was rebuilt, but Bunn in turn lost it when his private bank failed in 1878. That gave George W. Chatterton Sr. (1822-88), the proprietor of a jewelry and variety store on the west side of the courthouse square, the opportunity to buy the Rudolph. The elder Chatterton turned over management of the opera house to his son, George Jr. (1853-1915).
The Chattertons commissioned a New York City architect to transform the house into what he boasted would be “the finest theatre in the middle-west.” The newly refurbished Chatterton Opera House had its grand opening on Sept. 10, 1879. While the building was surrounded by saloons, and its ground floor occupied by shops (including, in its later years, an auto parts dealer) the theater itself was a place of “gilt and red plush and enormous chandelier,” Gib Bunn wrote. The opening night program was printed on silk.
The Chatterton Opera House (also known as the Chatterton Theatre or simply Chatterton’s) opened as the American theater entered its heyday. It attracted able and promising actors and gave their productions painstaking rehearsal and attention to detail. The railroads made it possible for big-city shows to visit the nation’s small towns. Springfield, located on a rail line midway between Chicago and St. Louis, was a convenient stop for these touring companies, and locals got to see the best of them.
The house closed on May 13, 1924, with a performance of “Sancho Panza” starring Otis Skinner. The building was condemned as unsafe, the street facade partially torn down, and the rear demolished for a parking lot. The Chatterton eventually was replaced by the grand Orpheum Theatre.
The two images of the Opera House are from the same source:
Two views of the Chatterton Opera House in the early 20th century. Above, Sixth Street view. Below, from Seventh Street, showing scale of east end of the opera house; from left are the Sangamon County Jail, jail annex, opera house. (Sangamon Valley Collection)