Temple Opera House

A group of Swedish-Duluthians gathering outside the Temple Opera Block’s ornate entrances some time in the early 1890s. (Image: Duluth Public Library)
8 – 12 2nd Avenue East | Architect: McMillen & Stebbins; Oscar Cobb | Built: 1889 | Lost: 1896

After fire destroyed Duluth’s Grand Opera House, Duluth’s Masons ordered the construction of a new Masonic Temple. The new facility, called the Temple Opera Block, would include an adjacent opera house to take the place of the Grand Opera House.

The Temple Opera House. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

The Temple Opera House was attached to the back of the Temple Opera Block and matched that building’s Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, enhanced by Moorish details. Its Second Avenue East façade featured ornate wrought-iron lettering.

Theater architect Oscar Cobb consulted on the Opera House’s design, including its extravagant Second Avenue entrance. On opening night, October 23, 1889, Duluth’s elite gathered to watch Rose Coghlan perform the play Jocelyn. The next day the Duluth Daily News described the building:

“Grand, imposing, beautiful! The Temple is indeed the ideal of the artist’s dream and the actor’s cherished hope. Beautiful in design, nothing of the practical has been sacrificed for effect, but rather has been made to lend to the beauty of the whole. From the avenue the massive pile, illuminated by nearly one thousand incandescent lights, presented a picture most beautiful. But inside the beautiful Temple! Its gorgeous colors and brilliant lights; its beautiful scenery, the sweet strains of orchestral music — indeed it was an event in the dramatic history of the Northwest that will not soon be forgotten.”

The newspaper also gushed over Cobb’s work on the auditorium:

“The proscenium boxes are marvels of beauty and comfort…. There are eighteen boxes, nine on each side, in three tiers of three boxes each. Each box has a railing of brass highly polished, which adds to the rich effects. The parquet and dress circles are seated in solid blue, with Wilton carpet in terra cotta in the aisles. The foyer is richly dressed. The windows are curtained in gorgeous Vallours [sic] in old gold. Two of its fine doors are in Vallours [sic] in solid Spanish red portieres and valances, and the other three are in Spanish red portieres and old gold valances, all hung on brass poles.”

It wasn’t always high-brow music and theater on the Temple Opera House stage. And besides the public theater, the Temple Opera House also held the Mason’s Scottish Rite, a theater-like facility wherein members earned different levels of Masonic degrees. Kitchens and dining rooms used by the Masons were found in the Opera House, which also contained an art gallery.

On October 12, 1895, fire claimed the Temple Opera House, also destroying the Scottish Rite. Newspapers reported that the entire building was lost within thirty minutes and described the fire dramatically: “The interior of the building was like a hell. The flames were a perfect cyclone. They shot nearly 200 feet into the air.” A firewall prevented the fire from damaging the Temple Opera Block. The Temple Opera House was not rebuilt, and the building’s ruins sat empty for ten years.

In 1905 the Temple Opera House ruins were converted into the Temple Rink, a roller skating facility designed by J. J. Wangenstein boasting a skating surface 140 feet long and 70 feet wide. In 1910, Guilford Hartley purchased the property, demolished the rink, and built the Orpheum Theatre on the lot.

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