Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar. Part 331 – Thomas G. Moses and the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio

Part 331: Thomas G. Moses and the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio 

For the year 1895, Thomas G. Moses recorded that he secured $46,000.00 of scenic work. Of that amount, he paid himself only $3,500. Moses commented that the necessary expenses were “very heavy” that year, resulting in such poor profits. In addition to touring shows and productions at the Schiller, Moses produced several stock scenery collections for theaters and halls across the country. One of the stock scenery installations was for Toledo, Ohio.

Moses wrote, “I closed up with the Valentine Theatre of Toledo for $5,300.00. We all got in our good work on this job.” In today’s dollars, it was almost a $150,000 job and one of many that he was juggling that fall.

Vintage postcard of the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, Ohio with stock scenery created by Thomas G. Moses in 1895.

Here is a little information about his Toledo project to create a little context for his story. The Valentine Theatre replaced a previous opera house, called the Wheeler Opera House that burned to the ground in 1893. The Wheeler had boasted a stage that measured 47 x 80’ with 15 sets of scenery (Harry Miner’s American Dramatic Directory, 1884-1885). When a new venue was contemplated, one of Toledo’s businessmen entered the picture as he was already leasing a few other performance venues in the region – George H. Ketcham. The Democratic Northwest and Henry County News reported that the Valentine Theatre was “built at enormous expense and under the personal supervision of its owner Mr. George H. Ketcham” (26 Dec. 1895, page 1). The newspaper reported Ketcham to be “one of Toledo’s wealthiest and most progressive capitalists, and whose enterprise has been a prominent factor in the phenomenal growth of Toledo and the development of its commercial interests.” The Valentine Theater was named after Ketcham’s father, Valentine Hicks Ketcham. The estimated cost of the project $300,000. Ketcham made himself president of the Valentine Company in Toledo, but he was already controlling the Grand and Great Southern theaters in Columbus, the Victoria Theatre at Dayton, and the English Opera House in Indianapolis (The Piqua Daily Call, 17 March 1902, page 1). Ketcham selected Lee M. Boda to be his manager in Toledo.

Interior Photograph of the Valentine Theatre with some scenery by Thomas G. Moses. Image from “The Book of Ohio” (1912)

The Valentine Theater was located on the ground floor at the corner of St. Clair and Adams as part of the Valentine block. The building was four stories and contained 200 offices (of which were included all of the city governmental offices), 15 stores, a private law library the Elks lodge room and a theater. The theater was a separate building with an entrance on St. Clair Street. Designed by Edward Oscar Fallis (1851-1927) in the “Sulivanesque style.” E. O. Fallis was a well-known architect who was also responsible for the several courthouses, a few public buildings, churches and residential homes in the region. Construction of the Valentine building began in 1894 and was completed in 1895.

Fallis’ theater design included an unusual cantilevered balcony and increased the theatre seating by arranging the chairs in straight rows instead of semi-circles. Some sources report this to be the first of its kind in the country. Unfortunately, his seating design created some areas with obstructed views. However, it greatly increased the number of chairs that could be crammed into the venue and increase the profit margin. According to Julius Cahns Official Theatrical Guide the seating capacity was 1,904. There were also twenty exists from the space in case of fire.

The building was illuminated with electric light and equipped with large dynamos in the basement that sent direct current to the incandescent lights, numbering approximately 2500. One newspaper article noted that the Mayhofer system was used at the Valentine Theatre and the lights could be manipulated to transform scenes from dawn to dusk. This would be similar to the electric scenic theater that was on display at the Columbian Exposition, featuring “A Day in the Alps.” There were also calcium lights and a “chaser” to spotlight people on stage and “produce brilliant effects of light and shade on the actress’ costume as she moves about the stage” (Blade, No. 131, 26 Dec. 1895).

The proscenium opening measured 39’-0” wide by 37’-0” high and depth from the footlights to the back wall was 62 feet. The distance between the girders was recorded 50 feet, with the stage to the rigging loft measuring 85 feet. There were nine bridges above the stage, located in three rows.

Interior Photograph of the Valentine Theatre with some scenery by Thomas G. Moses. Note the painted Austrian drape partially scene above the stage. Detail of image from “The Book of Ohio” (1912).

The Valentine Theater opened on December 25, 1895 with Joseph Jefferson’s famous “Rip Van Winkle.” The article, “The Opening of the Valentine Theatre,” described the space in detail, especially the area behind the stage with scenery produced by the studio of Thomas G. Moses. Here is a section from the article published in the Blade from December 26 and posted online as part of Dr. Timothy Messer-Kruse’s essay on the Valentine Theatre.”

“Back of the footlights, everything is as complete as human ingenuity and unstinted expense could make it. The dimensions of the stage are as follows: L Proscenium opening, 39 feet; depth of stage, 72 feet; width, 80 feet; height to rigging left, 84 feet. The scenery is all from the studio of Thomas G. Moses, of Chicago, and is complete in every detail. An asbestos curtain, absolutely fire proof, decorated, in the general style of the carpets of the house, with a peculiar green tint and golden fleur de lis, divides the auditorium from the stage. The act curtain, which was dropped for public inspection, the first time, last night, is a revelation of beauty. It is entitled “A Spanish Flower Festival,” and is a symphony in color. There is a freedom and grace about each fixture and a wealth of historic detail in the scene which makes it almost perfect as a work of art.” Here is another example where a front drop curtain replicates a well-known artwork.

Interior Photograph of the Valentine Theatre with some scenery by Thomas G. Moses. Note the interior box set and tormentors that would have been part of the stock scenery collection. Detail of image from “The Book of Ohio” (1912).

The same article also mentioned the stage machinery: “The stage, which is equipped with every essential in the scenic and mechanical line, is under the supervision of Robert H. Minis, than whom, Mr. Boda says there is no better stage carpenter in the country.”

By 1918, the venue was transformed into a cinema, effectively ending live theatre performances after a $50,000 renovation as it was transformed into a movie palace. In August of 1983, a task force was established by Mayor DeGood, who recommended the demolition of the Valentine Theatre at a cost of $217,000. Luckily, a group called “Friends of the Valentine” began a campaign to save the theater from the wrecking ball.

The Valentine Theatre

To be continued…

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