Carll’s Opera House: From Construction to Grand Opening Night

“Ex- United States marshal Peter R. Carll was probably fatally injured Saturday night by falling from the second story of his unfurnished opera house.”
-excerpt courtesy of The Rutland Daily Herald and Globe, Monday, September 17, 1877

“Ex-Marshall Carll’s opera house scheme in New Haven has come to grief by the foreclosure of $50,000 mortages on the uncompleted building.”
-excerpt courtesy of the Boston Post, January 19, 1879

“Yesterday afternoon a workman employed at Carll’s Opera House, named Henry Tydemas, was struck on the side of his head by a falling beam which slipped from the hoisting rope thirty feet above him. He was taken to Dr. Winchell’s office, where his wounds were dressed. A severe scalp wound five inches in length was found, but fortunately the skull was not fractured. The man was taken to his home, No. 184 Grand street. It will be some days before he will be out.”
-excerpt courtesy of The New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, January 9, 1880

Progress of the Work – A Fine Structure – Present Appearance of the Interior – The Forthcoming Seating and Beautifying – The Scenic Equipment

“A board projects from the temporary door of the Carll Opera House, where the workmen pass in to prosecute their daily labors, which proclaims “no admittance” to the outside world, and this has had the desired effect in very much limiting the number of visitors and keeping the premises clear for doing the inside work, upon which the force of help is now chiefly engaged.

A visit paid to this important structure, which is evidently to be the scene of many future occasions for public interest, shows that much has been done towards its completion. In every part of the immense structure signs of progress are manifest.

Entering at the side door above spoken of, the scene disclosed to view is quite varied. The rear wall of the vast building, back where the stage is to be, is still in its primitive nakedness, unplastered and unadorned. The building is as yet doorless and windowless, the places where they are to be being boarded up.

Seen by the aid of the rather dim, religious light afforded, the rear of the building looms up weird and sombre, and down beneath is a yawning, dark, abyss (under the huge rafters which are to support the stage platform,) suggestive of a suitable place for the disposal of the evil one in some future presentation of Faust or of some of the gallery gods, who in coming days may become too exhilarated and noisy at some Buffalo Bill performance for the toleration of a sensitive public.

The great building, however, already wears the aspect of a coming beautiful place of public resort, the bare rear walls being the only unimproved portion. Looking from the vestibule at the entrance, the eye dodging the upright timbers, fragments of scaffolding, and the carpenters’ horses in the way and disregarding the numerous blocks of pine wood, ragged edges of timber, and sawdust scatterings littering the new-laid floor, the eye contemplates the descending flooring with its intervening aisles and regular graduations of platform whereon the opera chairs will stand, and notices the regular artistic sweep of the whole platform and the symmetrical outlines of the general plan for seating the public.

Above is the first gallery, circular-fronted, like its companion gallery above it. This gallery, viewed from the parquette, immediately commends itself as a very desireable place from which to witness whatever may be going on upon the stage.

The descent or slope of the gallery appears to be about ten feet. The gallery above corresponds in general design. The stairs to the first gallery are completed. They are broad, and after an ascent of ten or fifteen steps turn at a right angle; then a short ascent connects with the gallery floors.

The second gallery is not yet connected with the part below by stairs, hence the future lofty perch of the aforesaid “gallery gods” is as yet practically inaccessible except to the workmen. Off near where the gallery fronts join the side walls of the building are the boxes, the plain and ornamented wood work of which is nearly completed, and gives an already fine effect.

They are ample and commodious, and the box occupant has before him, beside a splendid view of the stage, all the scene included in the galleries and parquette. Before each box, rising to the height of about three feet, is an ornmental railing in Venetian balcony style. Each box is in part divided into two apartments so that each is distinct from the other, by means of a partition wall, which, however, does not prevent free passage from one to the other in front near the railing.

The upper boxes will be easily accessible from the lower vestibules. From the boxes the spectator looks down to a descent in front of the parquette, which is as yet in all its primitive roughness of timber.

Here in the rough is the spot where the orchestra will engage the public ear with delightful harmonies or time-worn selections, whatever the case may be, and listen to an impatient public chafing at delay between the acts, or eager for the return of the popular favorite whom all are enjoying to the utmost.

Above, high over the large beams which form the stage groundwork, at a height which looks appalling if viewed in the light of a possible fall of some one of the forms discernible at work near the roof, is a wide flooring of planks, apparently close to the roof of the structure and looking like lattice-work.

Dangling from the outer edge of the platform is a strong rope which hangs down perhaps thirty or forty feet, connecting with a railed landing far up in mid-air, which skirts along the main walls.

The men thus at work close to the roof look small from the main floor of the building so far below. They are busy in reference to the mechanical arrangements for the scenery. Up on the right or West side of the building is a multitude of dressing rooms and rooms for other purposes, enough in number for a modern sized hotel.

In some of the extensive upper rooms the artist is at work preparing the scenery. He is Siguor Arrigoni, an artist of note in his profession, a graduate of schools of art in Italy, and having a wide experience as a scenic painter, some of the time in Australia, where painted the finest theatrical scenery in that remote part of civilization.

Three years of his life were spent in Lima, Peru, where he followed his profession in adorning the principal theatre of that city. He also painted some of the finest of the scenery at the Academy of Music, New York, and at other Metropolitan theatres. He has nearly completed the flies and commences soon upon the drop curtain.

The chairs with which the house is to be furnished are now being constructed in New York, and have been selected with reference to ease and comfort and adornment. There are about 2,600 in the works. The steam pipes for the house have been mostly put in and the grounds on the West side are being graded and a flag pavement laid. The building is expected to be opened next fall to the public.”
-excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, January 28, 1880

“Mr. P. R. Carll now anticipates that he will have the Carll Opera House ready for the public by the 1st of May, and feels safe in saying that the first entertainment within its walls will be given in May. All the wood work of the galleries is completed, the outside doors of the building are hung, and the ticket office is now being finished. Over 2,000 feet of scenery are completed and rolled up in the building and more is being painted. The furnaces have been in for several months, the entire building is being heated. The multitude of rooms of various sizes in the wing are about ready for use. The stage work remains to be done. While the building will be ready for use in May, Mr. Carll will leave the final decorating ’till later, meanwhile making use of the premises.”
-excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, March 29, 1880

“The Carll Opera House shows considerable advancement toward completion and Mr. Carll intends to open it to the public September 1st. The placing of the chairs in position is fast being accomplished, and the building could be made ready for public use in a week’s time. The work about the stage is unfinished. A fine scenic painter from New York is busy at the house. The vestibule stairways are incomplete. The house is visited by so many that the proprietor’s sign ‘no admittance’ was found necessary, the workingmen being incommoded, but many citizens are shown every day by Mr. Carll about the premises.”
-excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, July 19, 1880

“Mr. J. E. Lewis died at the Insane Retreat, Middletown, on Monday, where he had been for a number of months past. Mr. Lewis was a man of inventive and manufacturing talent, and years ago had a rubber factory in Centerville, six miles from this city. He was called to Paris, France, where for twenty years he was superintendent of a large rubber goods manufactory. He returned to this city about two years ago and erected a residence on Park street, near George. He was chosen president of the Carll Opera House Company, which he soon after resigned, and was supposed to be wealthy, but it is thought lost much of his money in unsafe speculations and patents. He had an office on Church street in Clark’s building at one time, about a year ago. He was a nervous, restless man in later life, and his health gave way under financial losses.”
-excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, July 22, 1880

“A Springfield young lady, Miss H. Estelle Tyler, makes her debut with the company that will open Carll’s new opera house. The Republican compliments her as possessed of the graces of person and manner that help make the successful actress, and a faithful student. She is a sister of George Tyler, for several seasons a popular member of the Boston Museum company, who has just accepted an engagement of forty weeks, at $100 a week, to play leading business to stars at the Chicago Academy of Music.”
-excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, September 15, 1880

“The Connecticut Telephone company have this week connected the large dry goods house of Brown, Bolton & Co. and the Carll Opera House with the exchange. The company have also erected a line for the Insane Retreat at Middletown, connecting their several buildings with the superintendent’s office and with the Western Union telegraph office.”
-excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, September 18, 1880

The Opening Night – A Glance at the Edifice – How it Strikes Visitors – The Third Largest Opera House in the Country – A Massive, Notable and Elegant Building

“Matters were lively at the Carll Opera House Saturday. The most strenuous efforts were being made to get the house in readiness for the opening this evening. The carpenters had substantially finished their work, but the great chandielier which is to brilliantly illuminate this great and splendid house of amusement was receiving the finishing touches preparatory to being hoisted to its permanent position, high aloft, far above the parquette.

A corps of men were busy moving the big mirrors into places which they are to occupy at the right and left of the parquette. The painters were putting the finishing touches of light French gray color on the borders of the stage. Back on the stage, near the wings on the right, was a corps of women industriously sewing, half enveloped in an array of cotton cloth which they were engaged upon.

Rolls of rich carpeting had just arrived. Unbound coils of rope lay upon the stage, all ready for the use they were to be devoted to in connection with the scenic effects which are to delight the thousands who, in time to come, will enjoy hours of pastime at the house.

Gas fitters were perspiringly at work finishing up the connections to furnish the chandeliers. Men were delving and building a solid, thick stone wall out of sight of the world underneath the vast stage of the house, working by the dim religious light of a kerosene lamp, and looking grim and silent, but as much disposed to jest as the grave diggers in Hamlet.

An approach to them must be by devious paths to avoid the light wooden frames which play so important a part in the traps, down which in the future diabolical characters are to disappear amid blue smoke, in discomfiture and public execration; and which are to play those invisible mechanical parts in scenes where angels and seraphs, nymphs and goddesses are to appear amid the usual seraphic accompaniments and public admiration.

Out doors in the large area on the right of the house were perspiring men imbedding with their heavy roller the stones just laid for the smooth bed of tar and cement.

Mr. Carll was present directing all, listening to agents who were negotiating engagements of noted troupes and companies, giving orders here and there, and exhibiting the possession of the rare energy and executive power which have characterized his erection of this fine structure, a place of amusement ranking third in size in America, having seating capacity for 2,500, built upon the most approved plans and receiving most flattering encomiums and endorsement of the best judges.

The view from the rear of the great stage, as also other parts of the house, is very imposing. The idea of the vastness strikes the visitor from these points, while especially from the rear of the stage the happy architectural arrangement is seen, the dip and sweep of the galleries being such as to bring the entire audience within range of the stage, and in easy compass of the voice.

The acoustic properties of the building are pronounced very superior and most gratifying, as proved by actual test by noted theatrical and other professional men. It is said that the voice of an ordinary speaker can easily be heard at the remotest part of the house, clear up to the highest tier of chairs in the upper gallery, in close proximity to the cornice, where the gallery gods will be most exalted.

Great praise is bestowed upon the house by noted members of the theatrical profession, and it is pronounced by men who are familiar with the opera houses and theatres of every large city in the country that this is one of the very finest in the land. A prominent New Haven gentleman, who has just returned from an extended tour, finds in the house quite a resemblance to the beautiful new church of Rev. Dr. Beecher’s, brother of Henry Ward, at Elmire, N.Y., and likewise to the opera house in which Rev. Dr. Swing preaches in Chicago.

A brief description of the prominent features of the house is as follows:

The height and large size of the building are apparent, and from the roof a wide view over the city is visible. Entering the main passageway to the building, just opened – there is another on the left – you pass in through one or other of two massive doors of rosewood finish, with arch skylights, and pass into the vestibule. This extends from side to side of the building, and is about as wide as a good sized drawing room, barring the space occupied by the stairways. One on either side, leading to the first gallery, or dress circle.

The stairways are broad with accents of oak and panelled balustrades of black walnut, substantial and ornamental. In the supporting wall, right and left, dividing the vestibule from the auditorium, are two openings through which the agent and ticket sellers deal with patrons from their offices, which are handsome three sided enclosures of woodwork, ornamental and well lighted by many sightly windows looking toward the auditorium, of which there are a central pair leading to the main aisle and two pairs opening to the side aisles respectively.

The passageway allows the spectator room to pass from one side of the house to the other and is enclosed from the seats by a black walnut fence with guard rail and posts. We now come to the parquet circle seats, and down a slight descent of twenty or twenty-give feet to the parquet, which is divided by a similar low black walnut railing from the parquete arch.

From the entrance of the auditorium to the stage the seats of both the parquet and parquet circle are on a gradual descent, more marked in the latter, and are semi-circular. The seating all over the house is by chairs of iron frames with backs of black walnut, upholstered in red leather bordered with figured iron work of light pattern. The bottoms are upholstered in red leather. The seats are very comfortable and with sufficient space for comfortable sittings.

Far overhead of the parquet, or orchestra as Bostonians term it, will hang the lustrous chandelier, with its grand circular combination of pendant prisms, with one of lesser circumference underneath and flanked by eight satellites set in the rim of the immense flat circular reflector which overhangs the whole.

The boxes, three tiers of them, flank the parquet, each having two apartments, each of which will comfortably accommodate ten persons, making accommodations for 120 in all. A pretty low balcony juts out in front of each box. The partitions between the apartments does not wholly separate, occupants having a passageway in front.

They are flanked by flat grooved pillars. Iron posts support the lower and upper galleries in front. They are of artistic style and figure. The orchestra is enclosed by a handsome railing from the parquet, and these ample quarters are located where they can be illuminated by the border lights. The stage is one of the largest dimensions in the country, being 75 feet square.

The stage is elegantly carpeted there are five rows of border lights, having adjustable grooves and is supplied with scenery which, in theatrical parlance, can pass twenty-five feet through and twenty-five feet below the stage, and pass to the flies above the stage also, and roll to each side of the stage.

The main curtain represents a statue of Augustus Caesar, flanked by Roman drapery, and is a fine piece of work, executed by Marston, of the Union Square Theatre, New York. The other scenery represents Italian skies and architecture, landscape and other scenes which the exigencies of the stage demand.

Great credit is given by Mr. Carll to Mr. Marston and the other scenic artists, Hughson Hawley, of Covent Garden, England, and the Madison Square, New York; to Signor Arrigoni and Richard Smith, of New York, and John Ritter, of Union Square, New York. Mr. Grevy, of Union Square, has been for some time in attendance as stage carpenter.

The green room is commodious and finely carpeted and equipped. There are no less than eighty rooms in the building, several of which are seventy-five feet in length. No theater in the country has such an array of apartments.

A light French grey tint is the prevailing color, in wich the woodwork is painted with a lavender shade for extra effect in the boxes. The frescoing and other beautifying of the ceiling and walls is deferred to give the walls time to set firmly, hence the absence of this important feature of embellishment.

A few items in detail. A million and a half of brick were required in the erection of the building. There are twenty large doors of exit; there is room on the stage for twenty-five coaches, which could enter at the side doors of the stage; there are hundreds of thousands of feet of steam and gas pipe; hose reaches to every part of the building, there are acres of flooring; there are from 6,000 to 8,000 square feet of scenery.

A large audience will doubtless attend to-night. We learn that preceding the presentation of the play the Star Spangled Banner will be sung by a member of the theatrical company, and an address of congratulation appropriate to the opening of this splendid opera house will be delivered by Mr. Alexander Fitzgerald of the company. Everything was in readiness last evening for to-nights entertainment.”
-excerpt courtesy of the New Haven Morning Journal-Courier, September 20, 1880

“Parquet and Parquet Circle, reserved, $1. Admission, 75c. Balcony, reserved, $1. Admission, 75c. Family Circle, reserved, 50c. Admission, 25c. For Private Boxes for opening night, apply at Opera House. Tickets for sale at Loomis’ Temple of Music.”
-excerpt and (above) image courtesy of the New Haven Morning Journal and Courier, September 20, 1880. (Top) image courtesy of New Haven Colony Historical Society, “Carll’s Opera House, 1030-1032 Chapel Street,” 1884

“Many people took a promenade last evening to view the Carll Opera House lit up for the first time and see the throngs pass in to the performance. The main entrance was not yet ready for use. The street in front yesterday afternoon presented a busy scene, a corps of men under Mr. Grannis being engaged in connecting the house with the water main. The work was pushed forward so that by evening it was substantially completed but the walk was not yet laid.

Gas burners were in full blaze and glitter, thus displaying to the public the ample portals of the house and signifying also that this entrance was unfinished. The public entrance last evening was on the west side over an extemporized walk of planking, thrown over the stones of the yet unfinished concrete walk.

Mr. Shelby, manager of the company, was at the door guiding and directing the people in, and assigning those not yet supplied with tickets into line which besieged the ticket office. Mr. Carll was in the vestibule giving directions and having a general oversight. Many prominent people passing in accosted him and extended their congratulations on the fine appearance of the house which was now looking finely.

The capacious mirrors were in place, the aisles handsomely carpeted, the passway just inside the auditorium neatly covered also while the proscenium boxes were elegant in their drapery and hangings of yellow silk and gold and appropriate trimmings, and the great drop curtain with its fine center piece, a statue of Caesar and its accompanying graceful sweep of Roman drapery, added much to the beauty of the scene.

The massive chandelier seemed diminished by its giddy height, set in the ceiling directly over the parquet, but gave a soft and abundant light, while many side burners on the walls aid in the illumination of the house. Back of the stage in one of the side recesses are a half dozen or more silver knobs capping various wires, which are operated to light the house by the use of electricity.

Far up near the roof the collection of little windows, half opened and bright with light, gave no indication that the evening zephyrs were passing in through them on to the heads of the upper gallery gods on the topmost tiers.

The Carll Opera House Orchestra

A pleasant feature of the Carll Opera House and one that will be appreciated by all lovers of good music, is the orchestra. This organization is composed of the best local talent, selected from the American band, augmented by several New York musicians, and is a permanent feature of the house. Instead of instrumental quartettes and quintettes, which has heretofore been the custom, we are now to have an orchestra. Mr. Waas, the violinist, is the conductor, and he proposes to give all the newest and most popular music, also solos each week by the different members of the orchestra.

The Opening Performance at Carll’s Opera House

An audience that would have crowded the New Haven Opera House to overflowing and filled the Grand Opera House to its utmost was in attendance at Carll’s Opera House last evening, when the comedy ‘Married Life’ was presented and the house formally dedicated.

Shortly after 8 o’clock the curtain rose and disclosed the whole company. Mrs. Shelby, the wife of the manager, stepping to the front, and accompanied by a fine orchestra, opened the exercises by singing ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ the company joining in the chorus, making it very effective and pleasing.

After this Mr. Alexander Fitzgerald made the following opening address in a capital manner, it being recieved with applause:

‘Friends of the stage, to whom both players and plays
Alike must sue for pardon or for praise,
Whose judging voice and eye alone direct
The wondrous power to cherish or reject;
If frivolity has led to fame
And made us blush that you forbore to blame,
If ere the sinking stage could condescend
To soothe the sickly taste it dare not mend;
All past reproach let present scenes refute
And censure wisely loud be justly mute.
Ah, you whose flat stamps the drama’s laws,
Forbear to mock us with misplaced applause.
So pride will doubly nerve each actor’s powers,
And reason’s voice re-echo ours.
This greeting o’er, an ancient task obeyed,
The drama’s homage by her herald paid,
Receive our welcome too, whose every tone
Springs from our hearts and fain would win your own.
The curtain rises. May our stage unfold
Scenes not unworthy Drury’s days of old;
Americans our judges, nature our guide,
Still may we please; long, long may you preside.’

‘Married Life,’ the play which followed the opening exercises, contains a good deal of witty dialogue and many ludicrous situations which require a company of talent to do them justice. The portion of the ‘mammoth company’ that took part in it last night, considering that everything was new to them, even the play itself, did excellently, and were encouraged by the audience with liberal applause and laughter.

The female characters were well sustained, Miss Mina Crolius, as ‘Mrs. Lynx,’ being particularly attractive in her personal appearance as well as rendering her part exceptionally well. Miss Grace Cartland also played her part well, and the others showed themselves to be possessed of considerable talent.

Mr. John Murray, whose ability as an actor is well known, sustained an inferior part, but made the most of it and added much to the amusement of the audience. If the rest of the company prove to be equal in ability to those who performed last evening there is no doubt that in the celebrated plays that are to follow during the week there will be enough enjoyment to warrant full houses.

Every one seemed delighted with the theater as it is, and when the final touches are given we shall have a theater which the city may justly take pride in.”
-excerpt courtesy of The New Haven Daily Morning Journal and Courier, Tuesday, September 21, 1880

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