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…

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