Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 224 – Thomas G. Moses and the Marquam Opera House in Portland

Part 224: Thomas G. Moses and the Marquam Opera House in Portland

After they got the Tacoma theatre opened, and Moses sent Loitz to Portland and he went on to Riverside. During his stay in Tacoma, Moses had closed two contracts: one for the Marquam Theatre in Portland, Oregon, and another in Riverside, California.

By 1889, Portland’s downtown had shifted inland after the immediate growth surrounding the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883. Phillip Marquam began work on a building that would later bear his name and include a performance space – the Marquam Grand Opera House. It was the city’ first modern office building and recorded to be “ a magnificent theatre.” Once considered to be located on the outskirts of town, it soon became prime urban real estate. The complex was a ten-story office building with a five-story theatre. The entrance to the theatre was on Morrison Street with side entrances on 6th and 7th. The building had steam heat and was powered with electricity. The opera house seating was 1,600 and the opening production was “Gounod’s Faust” starred Emma Junch. Later entertainers and lecturers included Sarah Bernhardt, George Backer, Mark Twain, and Maurice Barrymore.

Phillip Marquam.

Philip Augustus Marquam acquired the lot at the corner of SW Sixth and Morrison from William W. Capman in 1854 as payment of $500 in legal fees. Marquam resided on the property and then constructed other dwellings nearby. In the late 1880s he began planning the Marquam Grand Opera House in the Marquam Building. These were all adjoining structures that would cost approximately $600,000 to complete.

Marquam Theatre in portland.

An early manager of the performance venue was future Portland mayor George Luis Baker. The opera house itself was later known by a series of titles, including Loews Theater, the Hippodrome, the Pantages, and the Orpheum. A Portland newspaper, The Oregonian called it “one of the neatest theaters of the west.”

Interior illustration of the Marquam Theatre.
Photograph of the Marquam Theatre interior.

By 1904 it was advertised as the Marquam Grand Theatre or simply the Marquam Grand.

The Marquam Building was sold in 1912 to a real estate speculator, Henry Pittock. Pittock was the founder and publisher of The Oregonian. Pittock and his son-in-law, Frederick Leadbeather intended to remodel the building to serve as headquarters for the newly organized Northwestern National Bank Company. Pittock hired general contractor Ernest Boyd MacNaughton to supervise the work.

Part of the building collapsed during renovation, possibly because of substandard masonry used in the original construction. After the collapse, discussion increasingly focused upon the need for a newer, modern building. In a letter to the editor of The Architect and Engineer, one writer stated that “…as Portland advanced from a sleepy overgrown village to a half-grown city, the building became a home for quack doctors and patent medicine fakers…” and that the bricks used in construction were soft and of poor material. He implied that the collapse was not a disaster but a blessing. Pittock fired MacNaughton and hired architect A. E. Doyle to demolish the Marquam Building and erect what would become the American Back Buiding.

The rise and fall of the Marquam Theatre is available online at: https://www.allclassical.org/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-marquam-grand-a-tragedy/

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 223 – Thomas G. Moses and John Cort

Part 223: Thomas G. Moses and John Cort

Thomas G. Moses and Ed Loitz all enjoyed the town of Tacoma and their work, yet hoped to return home and work on other projects near their families. Before leaving the area, Moses made a side trip to Seattle and closed a deal with John Cort (ca. 1861– November 17, 1929). The scenery work would be later done at the studios in Chicago and shipped to Cort in Seattle.

John Cort. Image from http://www.seattletheatrehistory.org/

Born in New York, Cort started his career as part of a comedy duo called “Cort and Murphy.” He ten managed a theatre in Cairo, Illinois, before heading west to Seattle, Washington. In Seattle, he managed the Standard Theater. This venue was considered a “box house,” or a cross between a saloon and variety theater. His theatre became one of Seattle’s leading establishments and was considered on of the pioneers for theater circuits. This meant that Cort booked the same act successively into multiple cities. This made it worthwhile for an acting company or any performance troupe to tour to remote locations.

The “Cort Circuit” was one of the first national theater circuits and at one time. Cort was so successful that by 1888 he built a new 800-seat theatre on the southeast corner of Occidental and Washington streets in Seattle. It was the second theatre that Cort opened in Seattle. The first Standard Theatre was located on Second Street between South Main and South Washington Street.

The first Standard Theatre. Image from http://www.seattletheatrehistory.org/
Side porch for musician and actors at the first Standard Theatre. Image from http://www.seattletheatrehistory.org/

Unlike the old Standard Theater, his new building had electric Edison lighting, as well as steam hear and electric service bells. The structure was a wood frame building with a corner entrance.

It was Seattle’s first theater with electric lighting. Unfortunately, his theatre burned to the ground in the Great Seattle fire of 1889. This June 6 fire burned nearly all of Seatlle’s entertainment venues. Cort reopened a performance venue two weeks later in a tent to continue his business and provide a place for booked productions. By November he had erected a replacement for the Standard Theatre. This was the new theatre that Moses had contracted to paint scenery for while on the job at the Tacoma Theatre. He was in the right place at the right time.

Cort later left Seattle during the depression that followed the Panic of 1893 when much anti-vice legislation was put into place. However, he returned after the Klondike Gold Rush to build the Grand Opera House on Cherry Street.

By 1903, Cort’s circuit controlled 37 theaters throughout the American West. This allowed him to compete with some success against the Eastern entertainment establishment. He even signed an agreement with Marcus Klaw and Abraham Erlanger who were leading booking agents and Cort’s theatres became part of the Klaw and Erlanger Circuit.

However, Klaw and Erlanger’s power continued to spread, negatively impacting many other theatre circuit owners such as that ran by Cort. By 1910, Cort helped organize the Independent National Theatre Owner’s Association. This was a group of circuits that attempted a break with the New York-based theatre syndicates, such as Klaw and Erlanger. They allied with the independent Shubert Organization and eventually forced many theatre that were controlled by eastern syndicates to book other productions. In retaliation for Cort’s participation with this movement, Klaw and Erlanger backed the construction of Seattle’s Metropolitan Theatre. In turn, Cort headed to New York where he became a notable producer and manager, founding the Cort Theatre, The Cort Theatre is still located at 138 West Broadway between Sixth and seventh avenues in the theatre district of downtown Manhattan. It still remains a fixture of Broadway and was designated a New York City landmark on November 17, 1987.

Cort Theatre in New York.

Interestingly, Cort was a founder for the Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.).


To be continued…


Here is a great link for Seattle’s Theatre History: http://www.seattletheatrehistory.org/

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 222 – Thomas G. Moses and the Tacoma Theatre

Part 222: Thomas G. Moses and the Tacoma Theatre

On arriving in Tacoma, Washington, Thomas G. Moses and Ed Loitz checked into the Fife Hotel.

Postcard of the Fife Hotel in Tacoma, Washington where Thomas G. Moses and Ed Loitz stayed while painting for the Tacoma Theatre.
Photograph of the Fife Hotel in Tacoma, Washington.

The Fife Block was finished in 1888 and was considered to be one of the largest multi-storied structures in Tacoma. It lasted until 1925 when it was demolished to build a parking lot for the new Winthop Hotel.  Moses and Loitz’s lodging accommodations were only located only two blocks from the theatre and an easy walk in this bustling area. The Tacoma Theater would become one of the city’s main downtown attractions after opening in the spring of 1890.

Advertisement showing the Tacoma building complex with the theatre.
The complex housing offices and the Tacoma Theatre.

The Tacoma Opera House Company commissioned a group of architects to design an office and theatre block in downtown Tacoma. At this time, Tacoma was experiencing a building boom. It began shortly after the Northern Pacific Railroad first reached Tacoma in 1883. Chicago theatre architect James M. Wood (see my previous installment #214 ) designed the Tacoma Theatre. Wood was a native of New York City, born in 1841. Early in his career, he moved to Chicago and eventually opened an architectural firm for himself. He completed many designs for theaters, opera houses and concert halls throughout the United States. In Tacoma, Wood was assisted by local architect August F. Heide (1862-1943). The architect who had a hand in the theatre design was John Galen Howard (1864-1931). Galen had previously worked in Los Angeles (1887-1888) and would later return to the East Coast after Tacoma. Howard also worked with Sydney Lowell, who completed the larger building’s interior design. Others involved in this portion of the project were Moore and Clark, (building contractors), Spierling & Linden (interior decorators), Thomas Moses (scenic artist), Charles H. Smith (stage carpenter) and the Peterman Manufacturing Company (manufacturer of the carved woodwork).

Tacoma Theatre sign in later years. It opened in 1890 with scenery painted by Thomas G. Moses and Ed Loitz.
Postcard with Madame Butterfly advertisement for the Tacoma Theatre.

The Tacoma Opera House was also called the Tacoma Theatre. Vintage photographs have captured images of the “Tacoma Theatre” sign. The building overlooked Commencement Bay and its tide flats to Mt. Tacoma (called Mt. Rainier by out-of-town visitors) Two months after opening, a fire occurred on March 7, 1890. Over the years, its name changed as the theatre underwent a series of renovations: the “Malan-Magrath Theater” in 1905, the “Orpheum” in 1918, the “Broadway” from 1927-1933, and the Music Box Theatre after 1933.. Performers at the Tacoma Theatre included Sarah Bernhardt (1891 and 1918), Mark Twain (1895), Alla Nazimova (1910), Al Jolson (1915) and Harry Houdini (1924). Much of the above information was located at: http://pcad.lib.washington.edu/building/4751/ Sadly, the Tacoma Theatre was destroyed by fire on April 30, 1963.

1889 photograph of downtown Tacoma, Washington.

While Moses and Loitz were working on the scenery, visitors would stop buy and watch the two paint. Moses wrote, “The drizzling weather that followed for some weeks made me feel blue and homesick. We finally got started and was over-run with visitors.” One of the many locals that went to watch the progress was Mr. Blackwell, President of the Tacoma National Bank and also President of the Opera House Company. Moses recorded that Mr. Blackwell liked his woodland scene so much that he received a commission for a landscape. Blackwell offered Moses $200.00 to paint a watercolor like it.

View of Mount Rainier. Notice the Tacoma Theatre building (far right side) on the waterfront.
Painting of Mount Rainier by Thomas G. Moses, 1926. Private collection of W. Waszut-Barrett.

I own a Moses oil painting of Mount Rainier from 1926. This is just one example that Moses would return many times to this area for both theatre work and sketching trips.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 221 – California Dreaming

Part 221: California Dreaming

On April 6, 1889, the Oakland Tribune reported, “Thomas Moses is in Auburn” (page 7). He was there to stay for a while and Ella was pregnant with their fourth child.

During his time in California, Moses made some models and did $1000.00 worth of painting for the State Fair Show in Sacramento. He and Loitz worked on this extra project while finishing the scenery for Booth and Barrett. This would have been while painting the New California Theatre. On completing the Sacramento job, Mr. Tubin (the head man) gave Moses $50.00 and Loitz $10.00 for their earnest endeavors to make this show the best on the grounds. It was a Mother Goose Fairy Tale for the children and was presented under a big tent.

Extra work for Moses included painting the scenery for a production of “Hamlet” while at the New California. It was so well received that they wanted Moses to accompany them back East and repeat it in Chicago. However, he had too much work on his hands already and remained at the New California Theatre to complete their contract with Booth & Barrett. Joe Murphy was another client who played at the New California and hired Moses to paint some additional pieces for his show. Moses’ painted scenery was getting a lot of attention and his skills as a scenic artist were in high demand.   Moses wrote, “Mr. Hayman wanted me to sign a contract and remain at the theatre for $75.00 per week. I couldn’t do it.”

This would have been a wonderful compliment to Moses, but it also posed a threat to the Sosman & Landis studio. Moses had already left for greener pastures already. It was just a matter of time before he realized that he could make a much better living working by himself instead of remaining on salary with the studio.

Work was plentiful and Moses’ small family was growing. They celebrated the birth of Rupert on July 24 and they were making a lot of friends in the area. Sosman & Landis must have sensed that Moses might never return and soon called him back to Chicago for another painting project. There was a drop curtain to paint for Evansville, Indiana. Moses insisted on painting it in California and simply shipping it back to the studio. He recalled the difficulty in shipping back the drop to Chicago before it was sent on to Evansville. By September, he was sent on the road for another project, effectively giving up his hope to remain in Los Angeles. That fall, he sent his family back to Chicago. He wrote, “Ella and the four children started for home September 23 – some job for her. But she got along nicely as the passengers were awfully good to her and Pitt was a great deal of help.”

After his family left, Moses and Loitz headed to Tacoma, Washington to paint scenery for the new opera house. It was an opportunity to not only paint scenery, but also sketch the picturesque landscape surrounding the bustling town. Moses wrote, “My first view of Mt. Shasta I shall never forget. It was sunset and all the foreground and middle distance was in shadow.

Mount Shasta

Made a rapid pencil sketch and have since painted it in watercolor and oil, with some success.” From the beginning of the train ride it was an adventure for the two. During the trip, Moses was sketching the mountains from the steps of the sleeper, when the double-head locomotive broke away from the train and continued rapidly ahead without the cars. They immediately pulled the brakes, forcing the loose cars to stop. Both Moses and Loitz recognized the dangerous situation and leapt from the train. Had the eleven cars started down the oncoming steep grade, they would have run out of control. They were stranded for a bit while waiting for the engine to return and pick up the cars.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 220 – The New California Theatre

Part 220: The New California Theatre

Moses arrived in San Francisco on February 3, 1889. Moses rented a new house at 1715 Eddy Street. It was some distance out, but near a good school. He wrote, “Ella and the children were certainly glad to see me back and I was glad to get back. We were soon packed up and on our way to Frisco.” Loitz soon joined him and they started painting by February 21. Despite of the “knocking” he received from local artists, Moses had lot of newspaper publicity. He recorded that this put him “on the map in Frisco in big time.” The theatre opened in May and his East Indian Drop Curtain received some very good notice. Moses wrote, “my scenery was even praised by the previous knockers, so I must have done my best.”

He had been working on the remaining scenery for the New California Theatre. Here is the article in its entirety from the Oakland Daily Evening Tribune (Friday, April 19, 1889, page 3) as it is certainly worth the read!


The New California Theatre

“The New California theatre in San Francisco approaches completion so rapidly and systematically that it is safe to promise that the grand opening of the beautiful edifice by Messrs. Booth and Barrett will occur as announced, May 13th. There are so many new and striking departures in the plan and construction of Mr. Hayman’s new theater, all tending to the comfort and safety of actors, as well as patrons, that it will be, when finished, the only theater of its kind in the country.   The building itself is a massive fire proof structure, isolated entirely on three sides, and adjoining, by a brick wall without opening of any kind, the building of the City Fire Department, the wall of which is also a solid fireproof one. From the spacious and beautiful arched entrance on Bush street the floor rises by gradual ascent, without any break whatever until the auditorium is reached, the massive iron stairs leading to the balcony and upper circle rising without a curve from the extreme right of the vestibule. Owing to the very slight curve of the dress circle and balcony rail, there are no side seats, nearly every one presenting a full front to the stage, which by this arrangement is brought much nearer than is generally the case.

The absence of wood in the construction of the auditorium, which is iron-lathed throughout, and the iron rails and chairs, render protection from fire absolutely certain. Between the auditorium and the stage there rises from the foundation to the roof a massive brick wall in which the immense proscenium arch, 38 feet wide and 39 feet high, is backed y an absolutely fire-proof curtain, hung on a wire cable secured to the brick work by heavy iron rings. In the roof over the stage there are six large skylights that open automatically at a temperature of 150 degrees, allowing heat or smoke to escape instead of being carried over the house. The hose appliances and automatic sprinkling attachment will furnish abundant means for promptly extinguishing an incipient fire, and as the scenery is all chemically treated and prepared with an incombustible paint, another cause of danger is removed.

While every possible precaution had been taken to prevent cause for panic, ample means are provided for immediate egress by fourteen exits, fur on each upper floor and six downstairs, and it is believed that the house, which will seat 1800 persons can be emptied in three or four minutes if no rushing of crowding occurs. Incandescent electric lights alone will be used in the house, no arrangement being made for gas, either o the stage or in the auditorium. Three separate engines with dynamos are provided, two of which will be held in reserve in case of accident, and all the usual effects of colored lights on the stage will be given by a system of switches which will produce instantaneous changes.

As far as possible, drops only will be used on the stage, which has facilities for hanging sixty-two drops, thirty by forty-five feet in size. In case grooves are needed, an ingenious invention on the plan of the parallel ruler will be employed, which permits lifting the grooves out of the way when not in use. The largest and most varied stock of scenery ever is being furnished a new house is now being painted by Thomas Moses, the artist for Messrs. Sosman & Landis of Chicago, whose light embraces thirty-two full sets, requiring 7000 yards of linen. The feature of horizon settings is a semi-circle rod on which is hung by rings, dispensing entirely with wings and giving the effect of great distance. Five different street scenes, complete in every detail,; five Gothic interiors of entirely different character, French, modern, plain, and fancy chambers, palaces, prison, kitchen, and garret – each scene requiring fifteen to twenty pieces – are already finished or under way, besides a number of exteriors of great beauty and variety.

There are thirty dressing rooms, separated from the stage by brick, fireproof wall, and provided with hot and cold water, retiring rooms, and other comforts usually unknown to actors. The dressing rooms have windows looking out into the open court, and are provided with improved fire escapes. The chairs in the auditorium are of the latest style, and there are eight beautiful pagoda like proscenium boxes, decorated in the East Indian style, which, indeed, is the general style of the house decoration, the drop curtain representing a hunting scene in the Indies.

Every arrangement for the comfort and convenience of patrons has been made, including a comfortable smoking room for gentlemen and a luxurious and elegantly furnished parlor and retiring room absolutely sacred to the ladies. The hotel to which the new California Theater is an adjunct will not be finished until some time after the completion of the theater, which is already well booked for sterling attractions to follow the great Booth and Barrett season which opens it.”

There is so much to comment on, especially the fire prevention system and fire-proof paint on the scenery. This is fifteen years before the fire at the Iroquois Theatre in Chicago. As usual, California is ahead of the game. But there also is conscious decision to not have grooves, yet make allowances for those who still want them. They are cutting edge and ahead of their time. What a great article for future analysis.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 219 – California, Here I Come!

Part 219: California, Here I Come!

Map of Los Angeles in 1888 when Thomas G. Moses went to work painting scenery.

In 1888, Thomas G. Moses secured a substantial amount of work at the Grand Theatre, Spring Street Theatre and New California Theatre in California. He envisioned so many projects in one area that he decided to temporarily relocate his family to California. They rented three rooms in a private home on Temple Street for $50.00 per month, but there was a “land boom” in Los Angeles and everything was expensive.

Area near Temple Street where Thomas G. Moses lived while working in Los Angeles, California.

After a summer of constant travel the Moses family departed for California on August 25 and arrived in Los Angeles on August 31. They had rented their fully-furnished Chicago house to a dentist, wife and a bull dog. Moses later wrote that the bulldog “made antiques of all our rugs and draperies.”

Moses was constantly on the go and ready to settle in one spot for a while. California must have seemed like a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with Ella and his children. He had been crossing the country from coast-to-coast, juggling painting projects from Pennsylvania to California. Pennsylvania projects included theatre in South Bethlehem and Altoona. By September 17 he completed the scenery for the Grand Theatre and started the Spring Street theatre painting by Sept. 25. The few days in between projects, he and Ella enjoyed several days running about Santa Monica and other resorts. During this time they discovered an old school mate, Mary Jones, now Mrs. Connell, living directly opposite of them – a happy surprise.

Moses’ Spring Street Theatre project lasted from September 25 until November 20. At its completion, he fully expected to go to San Francisco and start on the New California theatre job as Booth and Barrett would be performing there in December. The New California Theatre job was later noted in the Dec. 17, 1888, publication of the Los Angeles Daily. The newspaper printed that “Booth and Barrett will open the new California Theatre in San Francisco, and we will again have the pleasure of seeing them.”

Ruins of the New California Theatre in 1906.

But Moses was not there for the opening. Unfortunately, the studio farmed out Moses’ painting skills on another project. He was sent east again and arrived in Chicago on November 27. There, Moses and Ed Loitz packed up their supplies and left for La Crosse, Wisconsin to began work on some scenery by December 1.

Map of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the 1880s.

It took a month, but the two finished their project by January 1, 1889. Again, he expected to go back to his family in California, but there were some projects in the studio and he remained in Chicago. Moses wrote, “The new year of 1889 found me in a grouch, as I found I had fallen shy of $4000.00 for the past year. After all the hard work, I put in a month a round the studio and left Chicago the 30th of January. ” He was constantly away from his family and they were again spiraling into debt. I cannot imagine Moses’ frustration. He must have felt an utter failure as not only a husband and father, but also as a scenic artist. There was so much work to be had and he was not making any of the profits.

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 218 – Thomas G. Moses at Plack’s Opera House in Altoona, Pennsylvania

Part 218: Thomas G. Moses at Plack’s Opera House in Altoona, Pennsylvania

Moses wrote, “The year 1888 found me rather blue.” It was a combination of family and work troubles. His father was quite sick and would continue to decline until his passing in 1891. He was also still determined to make Burridge, Moses & Louderback work, but there was one hug problem – no Walter Burridge. Burridge had left he partnership after differences with Louderback and returned to the Grand Opera House where was once again on salary.

At the beginning of February, Moses went to Altoona, Pennsylvania. He was painting for the new “Plack’s Opera House,” dedicated the Mountain City Theatre. In 1887 Louis Plack began construction on the Mountain City Theatre on Eleventh Street and Twelfth Avenue. Amazingly, the Masonic Temple was also on that same corner – Eleventh Street and Twelfth Avenue too. The Mountain City Theatre opened in February 1888 with the Emma Abbott Opera Company.

Emma Abbott (1849-1891) in advertisement for Virginia Brights Cigarettes.

On March 5, 1889, the building was destroyed by fire. Plack then built the Phoenix Block, a business building, on the theatre’s site. In 1906 this was remodeled to include a theatre named the Lyric. This building was also destroyed by fire on February 24, 1907. It was again rebuilt and subsequently named the Orpheum, then the Embassy, and finally the Penn. Whew – lots of theatre names for one site.

Moses’ painting for Plack was briefly interrupted as he needed to return to Chicago and complete some “special work.” It was “Lights and Shadows,” a new play that was going to tour.

Program for 1888 production of “Lights and Shadows.” From scrapbook attributed to the Whalley family. It provides a rare and unique glimpse into Nashville’s theatrical history. https://library.nashville.org/blog/2016/10/nashville-theatrics-1888
Scenic design for “Lights and Shadows.” From scrapbook attributed to the Whalley family. It provides a rare and unique glimpse into Nashville’s theatrical history. https://library.nashville.org/blog/2016/10/nashville-theatrics-1888

Billie Marin was sent to Altoona until Moses could return. Moses completed the painting, headed to Philadelphia for the rehearsal of “Lights and Shadows,” and then returned to Altoona.

Area in Altoona near the Mountain City Theatre.

By May 12 Moses was once again in Altoona and hoping to close a contract with Balzell and Rouss for the 11th Street Opera House. Interestingly, Abraham “Perry” Landis also showed up after the same job. Moses recalled that after their meeting at the theatre, they went to the hotel and sat up long after midnight to talk over business. Moses wrote, “Sosman and Landis wanted me to come back with them, and I agreed to do so as soon as I could finish my work. I was to receive my old salary of $50.00 per week, and a chance to do contract work, which would increase my salary to $4000.00 per year. Balzell gave Sosman and Landis the contract on the strength of my going back.”

Moses then had to settle up with Louderback, finish all of their remaining work, and then started back at Sosman & Landis’ studio. His first studio project was on the West Coast. He tried to get out of the California trip as he was tired of traveling and wanted to remain at home with Ella and his children. Regardless of his desire to remain in Chicago for a bit, he left for California on June 10. On his way, he stopped by to see Lem Graham at Kansas City Scenic and recorded that his friend was doing well.

Lemuel L. Graham’s company, Kansas City Scenic Co. of Kansas City, Missouri. They made hardware in addition to painted scenery like many scenic studios.

Moses enjoyed the trip though New Mexico and Arizona, but noted that it was awfully hot during the day, about 110° in the train car. Luckily it cooled down at night. Overall, the trip took four days and five nights and Moses wrote, “On arriving in Los Angeles, I was very surprised to find such a hustling large city, about 50,000 population. I took in everything in the vicinity while I was waiting for my paint frame to be completed.”

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 217 – Thomas G. Moses Leaves Sosman & Landis Studio

Part 217: Thomas G. Moses Leaves Sosman & Landis Studio

In 1887, Moses wrote, “My discontent with studio work got the upper hand and I quit on February 11, and joined Burridge, Moses and Louderback.”

Burridge, Moses, & Louderback was short-lived and lasted until 1888. During that time it provided Moses with a wonderful opportunity to be associated with two other individuals who were well-respected in the fine art world. The company focused on stage production work and had their office and several frames in the Chamber of Commerce building in Chicago. Their main studios were at the Columbia Theatre and Grand Opera House.

Newspaper article listing Burridge, Moses & Louderback as scenic artists for the Columbia Theatre, previously Haverly’s Theatre.
Advertisement for the Columbia Theatre.
Illustration of the Columbia Theatre’s front entrance.

Previously known as Haverly’s Theatre, the Columbia’s stage was 70 by 54 feet. Advertisements listed Louderback as the business manager. He was well-respected owner of an auction house with fine art galleries, carrying a variety of high-end fine products in the Chicago area. It was Louderback & Co. that had previously hosted the first Scene Painters’ Show in 1885 at 215 Wabasha Avenue.

Burridge was a year younger than Moses, born in 1857. He initially trained with Harley Merry at his Brooklyn Studio during the early 1870s. By 1876 he worked with Phil Goatcher for the Philadelphia Centennial World Fair, painting the “Seige of Paris.” He would later paint a the “Battle of Gettysburg” panorama. After working in Philadelphia, he returned to New York and painted at the Bijou and Fourteenth Street theatres. Then he headed for Chicago where work was plentiful and his skills were in demand. From 1882-1885 Burridge worked with John A. Havlin at Chicago’s Grand Theatre. He was also listed as the scenic artist for the Standard Theatre before partnering with Moses and Louderback. Burridge’s skill and connections would have been an asset to the newly formed studio.

The work of Burridge, Moses & Louderback during 1887-1888 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. They also worked in New York City and Moses noted that they produced scenery for the Duff Company’s production of “Dorothea” at the Standard Theatre. Moses wrote, “This was a great experience for me, for the production came out fine. The 1st Act was a scene in County Kent, England – grain fields and fine rolling country. Stage right a lot of hop vines on poles. Left, a wayside inn. All very sunny, but inclined to be grey. At rehearsal, on came the Inn Kepper with a pair of the brightest scarlet satin knickerbockers. What a yell Burridge gave out. They killed the whole set. Burridge insisted on a change of color, which was done. “ During this same time, Burridge, Moses & Louderback stocked six city theatres with all of the necessary scenery. Of this busy period, Moses wrote, “We worked day and night.”

On November 20, 1888, Burridge pulled out of business because he and Louderback couldn’t agree on the running of their company. Louderback came from a “managing art” background while Burridge came from a “creating art” background. Moses was caught in the middle. As Burridge’s replacement, Howard Tuttle was brought on board. He joined Moses and his assistant (Ralph Terwilliger) at their loft studio on Lake Street. Tuttle would remain with Moses for the next few years, traveling to Riverside, CA, San Francisco, CA, Evansville, IN and Corvallis, OR. He would later be responsible for scenery at the Davidson (Milwaukee, WI), the La Crosse Theatre (La Crosse, Wisconsin), Grand Opera House (Oshkosh, WI), Illinois Theatre (Rock Island, IL), Calumet Theatre (Calumet, MI), and Stone’s Theatre (Flint, MI).

Without Burridge, however, Moses’ business venture was not nearly as successful. Moses wrote, “I would have been better off had I remained at Sosman and Landis’, as my share of salary only amounted to $42.00 per week. Not very much of a hustler. While I was not pleased, I was anxious to keep on.”

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 216 – Thomas G. Moses and Jacob Litt

Part 216: Thomas G. Moses and Jacob Litt

Thomas G. Moses travelled a bit more than usual after completing the panorama with David A. Strong. One of his “short trips” was to Toronto, Canada. There he had a scenery painting project where he had to really “hustle” in order to meet the impending deadline. Moses wrote, “I enjoyed my short stay there, as I liked the city very much, so much like the U.S.”

Interior of the Academy of Music in Milwaukee. Image from John Beutner and posted online at www.urbanmilwaukee.com
Exterior of the Academy of Music in Milwaukee. Image from John Beutner and posted online at www.urbanmilwaukee.com

Moses also went to Milwaukee to paint some scenery for the Academy of Music. For this project, he was working for Jacob Litt and recalled that one piece was a wire fireproof curtain that was “hard to paint.” Moses never liked painting woven wire asbestos and would complain about them in later years too. Yet they were a permanent fixture in many collections. Occasionally they would be poorly shipped or hung, adding to his exasperation. He would reiterate that the curtains should never be folded, but always rolled, to prevent the huge dents that would ruin the painted compositions.

The scenery that Moses painted for the Academy of Music in Milwaukee was in the second-generation space. Milwaukee’s first Academy of Music performance venuewas an exact model of the Philadelphia Academy of Music. The auditorium was 100’-0” deep by 64’-0” wide, and was divided into a parquetted, dress circle and upper tier. It was furnished with patented seats arranged with “a view to comfort” (“The Chronicles of Milwaukee: Being a Narrative of the Town From Its Earliest Period to the Present, 1861” page 285). The newspaper article noted “it is impossible for the spectator to so locate himself that a full and comprehensive view of the stage cannot be obtained.” The stage was thirty-six feet and flaked by two private boxes. There were dressing rooms and an orchestra box in front. William P. Young was the builder and it was inaugurated on March 16, 1860. In 1876 a second Academy of Music was built in Milwaukee between Wisconsin and Michigan. The design was a commission of Edward Townsend Mix and had a 1,600 seat capacity. This was the stage that Moses provided scenery for in 1886.

Letterhead from the Theodore L. Hays Papers collection at the Minnesota Historical Society. Image used in Twin City Scenic Company catalogue.

My interest traveled briefly to Litt as I recalled an image of a letterhead with his name on it (Twin Cities Scenic Co. collection catalogue, Brockman, 1987). I started to scan newspaper archives for Litt in both Milwaukee and Minnesota. There is mention of Litt in 1886 when he ventured to Minnesota with his sister. On July 31 the St. Paul Daily Globe published, “Jacob Litt, the dime museum proprietor and manager of the academy of music, Milwaukee accompanied by his sister, is in the city, expecting to spend a week at Minnetonka” (page 3). It is possible that his trip was as much for business purposes as pleasure.

Jacob Litt is recorded as being “the first theatrical manager to amass a great fortune and reach the millionaire class solely as a result of his own labors” (“The Stage in the Twentieth Century” by Robert Grau, 1912, page 135). He began his theatre career in the box office of Milwaukee’s Grand Opera House. He soon became the first manager to arrange a circuit of theatres for theatrical combinations in the Northwest and became wildly successful. He leased theatres in Milwaukee, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Chicago, every endeavor becoming a lucrative success.

By 1889, Jacob Litt had taken over the People’s Theatre of Minneapolis that had opened on October 31, 1887 (20 Washington Avenue North). The venue was first owned by Lambert Hayes W. E. Sterling of Buffalo, New York as the theater’s first manager. By March of 1889,

Kohl and Middleton leased the theater. In July Jacob Litt took over, renaming it the ” Bijou

Opera House.” Unfortunately, a gas jet behind the scenes started a fire and burned the building to the ground on December 28, 1890. A second “Bijou Opera House” was built on that same site in 1891. Twin City Scenic Company began in the Bijou Opera House in Minneapolis. There were three principle employees who opened the scenic studio. Theodore Hays, manager of the Bijou, became the first president of Twin City Scenic Co. William P. Davis and William Knox Brown supervised the scenic art and stage mechanics departments. The company would later expand into St. Paul’s Grand Opera House for additional studio space.E. Sterling (the first manager of the People’s Theatre) returned to Minneapolis to open the New People’s Theater at 322 Marquette Avenue on March 24, 1894. By December 16 of that same year the theater was acquired by Jacob Litt, who renamed it the ” Metropolitan Opera House.” As a director and producer, Litt’s Broadway credits include “The Diplomat” )1902), “The Proce of Peace” (1901), “Caleb West” (1900), “The Ghetto” (1899), “Shall We Forgive Her” (1897), “The Last Stroke” (1896) and “Yon Yonson” (1894.)

It is important to recall what was also happening in the Twin Cities prior to the establishment of Twin City Scenic Company. In 1881, Charles S. King was brought in to install the stage machinery for the Grand Opera House in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the time, he was thirty years old with seven years of practical experience in the industry. Keep in in mind that Moses had been working for Sosman & Landis since 1880. There is mention in the Minneapolis Tribune that “Mr. C. S. King, the stage carpenter at the Grand Opera House, was initiated into some of the mysteries of stage mechanism as exemplified in our new temple of amusement. Mr. King who was summoned here from Chicago, is regarded as one of the best stage-carpenters in the country, having had wide experience and possessing perfect knowledge of his progression. He says that our opera house will have the finest stage, the easiest worked, and will be the best appointed theatre west of Chicago, or of many large eastern cities” (page 5). When King was working on the stage at the Grand Opera in Minneapolis, the local stage carpenter for the venue was William Knox Brown, one of the three founders of Twin City Scenic Company.


Scenic artist John H. Young recalled in 1912, stating, “Jacob Litt always gave carte blache order for scenes, asking for the very best that could be painted, but if any breakaways were to take place in the scene such as a falling bridge carrying a man or woman with it, he always demanded that I be the first one to try it. This naturally had the tendency to make me arrange a safe fall. This method was adopted by the great Salvini at Wallack’s old theatre when he produced ‘Samson’ and the breaking away of the temple as he pushed aside the great stone columns, causing the entire building to collapse, was rather a trying test of my nerves” (Grau, page 230-231).

To be continued…

Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 215 – Thomas G. Moses and David A. Strong


Part 215: Thomas G. Moses and David A. Strong

In 1886, Sosman and Landis completed the construction of their scenic studio on Clinton Street in Chicago, Illinois. By this time, Moses had been working at Sosman & Landis for six years. The company knew what he was capable of and who were the best scenic artists to use on specialty projects. Moses’ typed manuscript records that he and David A. Strong started on a panorama of Grant’s trip around the world that year. Moses wrote, “We were alone in the big studio for some time before the whole force came over. We enjoyed painting the panorama as it was continuous. There was some careful blending to be done.” The remainder of the Sosman & Landis crew was still finishing projects in the old studio space.
Little is known about this panorama, but it was likely a moving panorama that documented General Grant’s worldwide tour. After leaving the office of the presidency in 1877, Ulysses S. Grant embarked on a journey around the world, visiting Europe, the Middle East and Asia over two and one-half years. The trip was first published in 1879 as “General Grant’s Tour Around the World: With a Sketch of His Life.” It provided an abundance of opportunities to paint visions of foreign lands and exotic scenery for American audiences. Sadly, nothing is known of the completed composition or where it toured across the country.

John Banvard’s panorama. Here is a great link for his story Banvard from the online site Atlas Obscura: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/foer-files-banvard-s-folly

What is of interest to me, however, is Moses’ mention that he and Strong were the painting team for this project and the primary crew at the new Sosman & Landis studio before the arrival of the remaining crew. Strong was fifty-six years old and Moses was thirty years old in 1886. This was a perfect pairing of aged experience and youthful enthusiasm. We know that Moses was very fast and Strong was known for his production of visual spectacle. Working with Strong in any capacity must have been an asset in Moses’ career and training.

By this time, Moses had already made a name for himself and was well-respected as a scenic artist in many areas of the country. Working with Strong would have been the icing on the cake. They would have painted side-by-side, chatted about past projects, and anticipated each other’s approach to painting a large composition. It takes a very short time to recognize the skill and speed of a fellow artist when painting a backdrop together. A panorama would have provided ample opportunity for Moses to study Strong’s approach to scenic art and mirror it so the composition would have an overall unity. Strong would have set the tone of the entire piece, being the more experienced artist.

Let’s recall the significance of Strong (1830-1911) to appreciate this pairing. Strong was born in Connecticut where he became known as a decorative painter and scenic artist at an early age. By the age of thirty-four, he was working professionally at theatres in Washington, D.C. and New York, primarily staying on the East Coast. There, his contemporaries were Layfeyette W. Seavy, Richard Marston, Robert Smith, William Wallack and E. Hayes. At the age of forty-four, he moved to Chicago and painted for Crosby’s Opera House, Haverly’s Theatre, and McVicker’s Theatre. Strong was also a well-known stage machinist who specialized in burlesque pantomime, such as “The Black Crook” and “The White Fawn.” Well skilled in the creation of painted panoramas, he also was known for painting the 1871 “Panorama of Ireland.” Strong was affectionately referred to as “Old Trusty” by his fellow scenic artists and well-respected for his “facile brush,” and “the quality of opaqueness” in his painting, characteristic of the Dusseldorf School.” Moses wrote, “His color was deep and rich and his drawings very correct.”

Strong was not simply a scenic artist. As previously noted, he was also a member of the Theatrical Mechanics Association. Strong, Henry C. Tryon and Charles S. King would have been a powerful triumvirate of theatrical engineering at Sosman & Landis during this time, allowing the company to soar to the top of their industry. The construction of a new studio space was proof of their success.

By 1886, Sosman & Landis studio had contracted enough new business to justify the construction of a premiere studio space on Clinton Street. This would be their main studio until the 1920s when Chicago Studios would rent the facility. We also know that by this time, Henry C. Tryon, John H. Young, Hardesty Maratta, Ed Morange and Charles S. King were all part of the studio’s work force. I wish that I could have been there to see all of that talent under one roof.

To be continued…

Design and painting by Lance Brockman for an 1987 showboat production. He and Janey Ryger created an amazing painting of the Mississippi River for the University of Minnesota’s Centennial Showboat. This performance venue’s fate is uncertain as the University of Minnesota’s Department of Theatre and Dance abandoned this educational opportunity. It is currently the possession of the City of St. Paul.
View of a section of the panorama from the 1987 U of MN Showboat production.
View of the Mississippi panorama. This was from when I unrolled it for students at the U of MN – Twin Cities while teaching a scene painting course.
Painted detail from the moving panorama designed by Lance Brockman for the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat in 1987.
Painted detail from the moving panorama designed by Lance Brockman for the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat in 1987.
Painted detail from the moving panorama designed by Lance Brockman for the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat in 1987.
Painted detail from the moving panorama designed by Lance Brockman for the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat in 1987.
Painted detail from the moving panorama designed by Lance Brockman for the University of Minnesota Centennial Showboat in 1987.