B. Scott Holmes

Just trying to stay alive and keep my sideburns too

City Theater, Brockton, Massachusetts

The following is from a web site that appears to have been abandoned or ignored for several years. The supplied email addresses no longer function so I have not been able to verify this information or ask for permission to post it. I believe it was written by one Gerald Beal who was at one time associated with the Brockton Historical Society. Anyway, I believe that Twain and Cable had a speaking engagement here on November 14, 1884. I have found no corroborating information to this effect, however.

BROCKTON'S CITY THEATER

Vantage point is from the center of the stage in the theater, looking towards its southwest corner.

Although three fine theaters graced downtown Brockton in 1883, a sizeable number of citizens tended to avoid them. Many patrons were concerned about the fire and asphyxiation danger or the uncomfortable heat that such stage lighting generated, especially during warm weather. Others shunned them because of their frequent overuse of arc lighting, a rather harsh form of illumination that was first introduced in operas in Paris and London in the 1830s.... Enter Brockton's City Theater: The world's first dramatic theater designed to be completely illuminated by incandescent bulbs:

When the Brockton City Theater officially opened on October 24th, 1884, the elegant four-level Moorish structure was not only hailed as the first wholly electric dramatic theater in the world, but the first to feature incandescent lighting that was generated and distributed from a central power station, It was also the first to integrate standardized incandescent stage and foot lighting. Not surprisingly, the public flocked to see it.

Promptly termed as the "jewel" of Brockton's theater district, its spacious interior featured a classical oriental theme. Accented throughout with intricate gold leaf artistry, it sported plush red carpeting, scores of dramatic gilt-framed paintings and ornate carvings. Equally dramatic, its ambient illumination emanated from a charming array of over 700 of Thomas Edison's latest electric lamps.

Specifically, its gallery and the curved fronts of its two ornate balconies boasted 48 pair of Edison's latest tungsten bulbs that were cleverly configured in the shape of gaslights. Meanwhile, elaborate sconces were affixed at strategic points so as to illuminate the ceilings, walls and floor areas beneath them. And the seating in the balcony areas was illuminated by hundreds of single pendant shaped lamps

Suspended from the zenith point of the auditorium's frescoed sky-blue dome, was an immense rotating "electrolier" which was identical to the one made in 1882 by the John B. Verity Corporation of England for the famed Crystal Palace Exposition. This seven foot diameter chandelier was most distinguished by the fact that it was one of the first to be equipped with a grooved brass runner and insulated brass ball electrical contacts that "enabled it remain aglow as it slowly rotated upon its axis." It is said that "For many years - whenever its 50 matching lamps were suddenly turned on, startled audiences breathed a "gasp of delight followed by a spontaneous and prolonged burst of applause...."

The first formal performance presented at the City Theater was "The Bohemian Girl." The most memorable aspect of the program occurred at the opening of Act One when every light in the house was turned off. Suddenly, the darkness was pierced by a multitude of bright incandescent light rays beaming forth from the "stars" on a planetarium-like light source at the middle of the stage.

Of course, the audience was entranced by this device, which Edison called a "moon box." One reporter described its rays as "fairy lights that threw out beams like good deeds in a naughty world...." At the end of this short segment, it was turned off. The stage area was then re-illuminated by incandescent light.... and the program continued....

When Act One came to a close, the attention of the audience was directed to one of the lodges where Thomas Edison and his fiancé Mina Miller had quietly taken seats. Once the applause died down, it was announced that Edison and assistants from his Isolated Illuminated Light Co. in New York City had worked most of the night finishing up the task of connecting the stage area to the switchboard "with a complicated maze of wiring that was no thicker than a knitting needle." Accompanying Tom and Mina, "also very much enjoying the show," were Brockton's world famous shoe manufacturer William L. Douglas and the city's "first and greatest mayor" Ziba Keith.

A related item of educational interest took place immediately after the show when Edison accepted an invitation to visit the newly electrified home of prominent shoe manufacturer Fred Packard. As he and Mina were being transported by carriage from the City Theater over to Packard's newly wired "Victorian palace" on Bolton Place, Edison's quick eye spotted an overhead line leading to a large nearby building with incandescent light shining through some of its windows.... When told that his wiring of downtown Brockton had been temporarily extended to the Brockton Public Library for the benefit of local High School students and numerous adult (mostly immigrant) workers attending the progressive city's nighttime vocational and naturalization classes, "he expressed as much interested in this use as he did in the 100 lamps blazing away across the street - outside and inside - the opulent Packard residence...."

(Several months later, Edison made a brief re-appearance at the Packard residence when he attended the elaborate wedding of his friend Daniel W. Field. Another note of educational interest is that, so far as the author has yet been able to determine, the City Theater was also the first building in the world to host an indoor high school graduation ceremony, employing incandescent stage and foot lighting. The first of several of these impressive exercises took place on June 29th, 1885.)

The natural acoustics in the 1,500 seat main auditorium of the Brockton City Theater were said to be "as good as any in New England." Later, its sound was enhanced by one of the first electrical amplification system ever to grace a dramatic theater - courtesy of the Edison Illuminating Company.
http://www.thomasedison.com/edthea2.htm

City Theater, Brockton, MA
42.084592000000, -71.019871000000

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