September 20, 1883: Grand opening of Duluth’s Grand Opera House

On this day in Duluth in 1883, Duluth’s Grand Opera House opened at 333 West Superior Street. Designed by George Wirth and financed by noted pioneers Roger Munger and Clinton Markell. Perhaps the most architecturally adorned building that ever graced Duluth, the Grand Opera House stood four stories tall and was capped with a Mansard roof executed in several different shades of purple and crowned with iron cresting. Its exterior walls were brick with terra cotta and brownstone trim. People came from as far away as St. Paul to attend the opening, and many of Duluth’s elite sat in the theaters’ six elaborate private boxes—including Munger, Markell, Luther Mendenhall, J. D. Ensign, and Senator Alanzo Whiteman—to watch the Emma Abbott Opera Company perform Martha. The auditorium held 1,000 seats at a time when only 13,000 people lived in Duluth. Duluthians relished their elegant show place—the Duluth Daily News referred to it as “Duluth’s pride and joy.” In addition to the auditorium, which brought world-class entertainment to Duluth, the Grand Opera House served Duluth in many other ways. It was home to the Chamber of Commerce, the Ladies Literary Library (which would evolve into the Duluth Public Library), a few sleeping rooms, Gasser’s Grocery, several offices (including those of the West Duluth Land Company and Munger and Markell’s Lake Superior Elevator Company) and the Kitchi Gammi Club, which occupied most of the top floor. Read a complete history of the Opera House here.

Duluth’s Grand Opera House photographed in 1887. (Image: Duluth Public Library)era