Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center-part 132

Part 132: Burridge, Moses & Louderback at the Columbia Theatre

Burridge, Moses & Louderback started in 1887. Later, Moses would form a second partnership with Will Hamilton. Moses & Hamilton would work in New York City from 1900 until 1904. Moses would eventually return to Chicago and the Sosman & Landis studios for good, becoming the company’s second and final President.


Burridge, Moses, & Louderback was short-lived, only from 1887 to 1888. However, it provided Moses with an opportunity for his reputation to skyrocket in not only the Chicago area but also throughout the country. The company’s offices were located at 22 Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, Illinois. This was on the corner of Clark and Division Streets.

Burridge, Moses & Louderback advertisement.

Advertisements listed Louderback as the business manager and very little is known of him as a scenic artist. He was well-respected owner of an auction house with fine art galleries. The firm carried a variety of high-end fine products in the Chicago area, including Turkish rugs. It made a great deal of sense for Louderback & Co. to host the first Scene Painters’ Show in 1885. This would have been a well-known and popular venue to promote the works of this eccentric group of individuals and sponsor the scenic art community. Their sales galleries were located at 215 Wabasha Avenue.

Burridge, Moses & Louderback painted at the Columbia Theatre under the management of J. M. Hill. Located at the corner of Dearborn and Monroe Streets, the building was seventy feet wide with a depth of one hundred and ninety feet. It rose up six stories high and was surmounted by a pyramidal tower. The total seating capacity of the entire house was two thousand with a stage of seventy by fifty-four feet.

Article listing Burridge, Moses & Louderback as scenic artists.

The original theater was opened by Mr. Haverly on September 12, 1881, and he continued as the proprietor until June, 1883, when financial reverses caused him to re-lease the property to Charles H. McConnell. McConnell made changes to the front of the building and in the lighting and ventilating facilities, but the chief attraction became the art galleries, which were added during the summer of 1884. The art galleries were Mr. McConnell’s pet project and became a popular feature with a notable collection. These art apartments were further embellished with cabinets, mantels, bronzes, Bohemian-glass, settees, decorative screens, marble pedestals, bronze busts, Egyptian lamps, and many other items of fine décor.

Photograph of the Columbia Theater, Chicago, Illinois.
Columbia Theater program.

On February 2, 1885, a stock company was organized, and Mr. McConnell sold out a large interest in the theater. The same day, Mr. McConnell transferred the theater to the Columbia Theater Company, incorporated with a capital stock of $200,000, of which, J. M. Hill was president and manager; J. S. McConnell, treasurer and acting manager; and C. H. McConnell, secretary. The change of name from Haverly’s to the Columbia Theater occurred at the close of the Irving engagement, Miss Ellen Terry, the actress, having had the honor of re-christening it.

When Burridge, Moses, & Louderback were working at the Columbia Theatre, publications show that the Chief Stage Engineer was Ohn Leigh. M. B. Olmsted was the Electrician. H. B. Branum was in charge of Properties. Unfortunately, the theatre only lasted until March 30, 1900, when the building was destroyed by a fire. Only five people were injured as the fire broke out during a cast rehearsal and not a performance.

The work of Burridge, Moses & Louderback during 1887 included “Gypsy Baron” for the Conried and Hermann Opera Company, 2 panoramas for Joe Murphy for “Donah,” and 2 complete productions of “Kerry Gow.” They also stocked the Grand Opera House in Columbus, Ohio and Foster’s Opera House in Des Moines, Iowa. In New York City, Moses notes that they produced the scenery for opera of “Dorothy” (Dorothea?) for the Duff Co at the Standard Theatre. Their contribution was the act one scene in County Kent, England. Finally, at the Chicago Grand Opera, the studio painted Steele MacKaye’s “A Noble Rogue” in 1888.

During these two busy years, Burridge, Moses & Louderback stocked six theatres with all of the necessary scenery – no small task. Incidentally, Ralph J. Terwilliger worked with them as their paint boy. He would later become the founder and first president of the North-West Side Commercial Association.

Ralph Terwilliger, paint boy to Moses, Burridge & Louderback. From Thomas G. Moses’ scrapbook, Sosman & Landis collection at the Harry Ransom Center.

In November of 1888, Burridge pulled out of the studio because he and Louderback couldn’t agree on the running of the business. Louderback came from a “managing art” background while Burridge came from a “creating art” background. From the records, it appears that Moses was the referee between the two, trying desperately to make the studio successful and appease these two “larger than life” personalities. He was unsuccessful.


To be continued…


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