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…

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