Above: The Grand Harlem Opera House in mosaic at the 125th street subway station
Below: The Grand Harlem Opera House, late 1800s early 1900s. Former location: 207 W 125th street, Harlem
The Grand Harlem Opera House was the first theatre constructed by Oscar Hammerstein an example of the early Harlem music scene: opera.
Envisioning the needs of a fast-growing metropolis, he built more than 50 residences there. To entice the downtown populace uptown, he built his first theatre in 1889, the Harlem Opera House, on 125th Street. Oscar presented the big-name, downtown talents of the day - Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson, Georgie Drew Barrymore, Lillian Russell, Fanny Davenport, E.H. Sothern, Margaret Mather, Otis Skinner and Helena Modjeska. In l890, Oscar built and managed his second theatre, also on 125th Street - the Columbus Theatre - which presented lighter theatrical fare - George M. Cohan, Chauncey Olcott, Walter Damrosch and countless others. In 1893, Oscar built his third theatre - the first Manhattan Opera House on 34th Street.
Hammerstein, however, could not make the Harlem Opera House a financial success, and he was soon lured downtown to build his most renown theaters (and places that would later inspire his grandson Oscar Hammerstein II.) The Harlem Opera House was sold and transformed into a more traditional vaudeville house. By the 1930s, to compete with the thriving amateur nights over at the Apollo, the Harlem Opera House had its own amateur nights. Its most notable discovery is one of the greatest names in music — Ella Fitzgerald.
The Opera House was torn down in 1959. Surprisingly, it appears there was the possibility of a new opera house in Harlem being built in the late 1960s, under the guidance of Gian Carlo Menotti, but that never panned out. However, the operatic tradition lives on today with the Harlem Opera Theater, founded in 2001.
Citation for this post includes this Bowery Boys NYC history post, and this biography of Oscar Hammerstein.