Metropolitan Opera House
The Metropolitan Opera House...1899...Opening Night:
The Metropolitan Opera House opened its doors in 1899, two days after Christmas. It was the grandest structure built for miles. The ladies dressed in gowns made especially for the occasion. Their escorts had paid $2.50 for the tickets. The famous comedian, Tim Murphy, was the star. The play for opening night was “The Carpetbaggers.” The theatre opening was the biggest social event in the history of Iowa Falls. In his private box on the right side of the stage sat Eugene Ellsworth, millionaire philanthropist, who built the ornate structure. Ellsworth, who had parlayed his father's livery stable and an 1868 venture selling prairie chickens to eastern gourmets into a vast fortune in real estate, is Iowa Falls' most prominent and one of the best-liked residents. A man who has led an unusual life—going off to the Civil War with his father as a teenage drummer boy. Ellsworth delighted in the new and unusual. He had constructed the first “golf house” and golf course at Iowa Falls, which is open to the public. He established a “zoological park” stocked with deer, elk and buffalo. In 1882, he built and then sailed the first steamboat ever seen on Spirit Lake. It was named Alpha. Ellsworth's newest project-The Opera House-was as modern as the steamship was in 1882. The keystone of the arch over the entrance sported a carved bust of Shakespeare, and on either side were carved musical emblems and the masques of comedy and tragedy. On the right side of the stage was the Ellsworth box, and on the left another box for visiting dignitaries. Both were furnished with plush drapes and tapestry upholstered chairs, and the lobby, decorated in Pompeiin red with ivory trim on the tapestried walls. Alpha Swartz, was a retired pharmacist, and one of the youthful ushers hired for opening night. Swartz stayed on as an usher for three years. “The most memorable performance in the opera house was Dustin Farnum” he recalled. He played in “The Virginian'. Swartz said the plays would tour from Chicago to Dubuque and then to Iowa Falls. “The Opera House was a better one than they had in Des Moines,” he says. The first movie to play the Opera House was “The Birth of a Nation,” and an orchestra was hired to play during the showing. The orchestra pit is covered now, but Tommy Tompkins, a previous manager of the theatre, showed the original intercom system-speaking tubes into which one whistled to attract attention at the other end. “I'd like to see some group take this over and remodel it,” Tompkins says. (From an article by state editor, Dave Brown, in the Waterloo Courier, December 17, 1972.)
The Metropolitan Opera House...Opened December 27th, 1899 to present day:
Retired attorney John P. Whitesell, a spry and quick-witted World War II veteran, was as much at the center of Saturday’s hoopla as Jackman. He and his youngest son, Patrick(Jackman’s agent and co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor), were the pair who purchased and saved the Met. Whitesell’s love of movies goes back to when 1933’s “Mystery of the Wax Museum”“scared the living daylights” out of him. The Pennsylvania native was drawn to the University of Iowa by its theater department before he ended up with a law degree. He and his wife, Pat, raised six boys, supported the local live theater community and obviously instilled a love of film: Four of the Whitesell boys became seriously involved in the entertainment biz as producers or writers for everything from “Days of Our Lives” to “Homicide: Life on the Street.” In a sense, the timeline leading up to Saturday’s premiere was more than a century in the making: The original William Morris talent agency was founded in 1898 during the vaudeville era. The Metropolitan Opera House in Iowa Falls opened the following year thanks to philanthropist Eugene S. Ellsworth. Back then the Met was a single room with a balcony and seating for 800. By the time Iowa movie theater magnate Bob Fridley was convinced to purchase and save the historic building 20 years ago, he was forced to split the space into two different theaters.
The Metropolitan Opera House...The Grand Re-Opening September 21, 2013:
Hugh Jackman didn’t just flit in and out of Iowa Falls for Saturday’s reopening of the 116-year-old Metropolitan Opera House and the rural premiere of his new thriller “Prisoners" and "The Wolverine". The Aussie actor was spotted throughout the weekend — in the park, by the Iowa River that snakes through town, touring the nearby Calkins Nature Area with his family.
Saturday night’s dinner for Jackman and the Whitesell family that purchased and refurbished the Met was held at the Empress Boat Club on the banks of the Iowa River. Jackman repeatedly proclaimed that he was eager to sample smoked Iowa pork loin with a side of corn. (From Kyle Munson, Iowa Columnist for The Des Moines Register.)