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Pittsburg Opera House
The National Bank
Northeast Corner Fourth & Broadway
 



 
Pittsburg Opera House & Manufacture's National Bank
NE corner Fourth & Broadway
- photo copied picture from "Serving Pittsburg and Southeast Kansas Since 1880", The Morning Sun, Oct. 19, 1980
 

On the Northeast corner of Fourth and Broadway sits one of the oldest structures in Pittsburg. The National Bank Building, as it is still commonly called even though the bank hasn’t been located there since 1966, wasn’t always just a bank with offices on the upper floors. In the beginning the building was filled with the sounds of voices singing the latest songs and men and women putting forth their best dramatic or comedic dialogues, the sounds of laughter reverberating off the walls. Under the Bedford limestone façade and the white paint, this building housed the first permanent home of entertainment in Pittsburg, the Rhodes Opera House. By the fall of 1887, several things were beginning to be discussed on the streets of the decade old town. One was the need for a sewer system and the other a need for an opera house. Franklin Playter, one of the founders of Pittsburg and a Chicago associate, J. Foster Rhodes, brought a plan to the city that they would invest and build an opera house on property already owned by Playter at the northeast corner of Fourth and Broadway if the city would build a sewer system. The sewer system they said was needed to assure that the facility would be of the utmost elegance and modern capacity.

After some discussion an agreement was reached on March 19, 1888 between the two interests that the city would build a sewer system for the town and Playter, along with other interests would build the opera house. After going to Kansas City and meeting with Rhodes a final contract was written and signed by all the parties involved assuring that the Opera House and city sewer system would be built. The new sewer system would be located behind the Stilwell Hotel at Seventh and Pine.

 
Architects Drawing of the Newly Proposed Pittsburg Opera House
- microfilm copied picture from The Daily Headlight, April 2, 1888

The Daily Headlight announced along with an artists sketch of what the new opera house was going to look like on April 2, 1888. At a cost of $50,000, the building was going to have a 50 foot front along Broadway and extend one hundred and seventy feet down East Fourth. The Opera House would occupy all but the ground floor of the building with a crowd capacity of 1000; this would eventually be cut to 900, and would include private boxes and a gallery. The Opera House entrance would be off East Fourth. On the first floor two 25x75 rooms facing Broadway and three rooms of the same size would be located along the Fourth Street front. The building would also include 20 large rooms that could be used for offices and would be heated by steam and lighted by gas. By the time work on the site for the building commenced in June 1888, the plans had changed dramatically from the original drawing to resemble more of what is there today, minus the stone front and a round turret on the southwest corner. The Manufacturer’s National Bank and the abstract office of Franklin Playter occupied the first floor.

 
The Manufacturers National Bank loan note for $10 on Aug 1, 1894
- copy courtesy late Gene DeGruson, curator Special Collections, Axe Library

The first stone of the foundation was laid on August 24, 1888, but torrential rains just a few days later caused the earthen walls of the foundation to collapse delaying construction of the foundation for a few weeks. Work progressed rapidly after that with the foundation and first floor, with the pressed brick front completed by the end of November. The large vault for the bank was installed in the northeast corner of the basement in October 1888, and is still there. The columns for the building were made of cut granite rather than the usual iron ones of the day to add stability and longevity to the building. Nice unseasonably warm weather in December sped the construction along allowing the second and third floor, which would hold the opera house, to be completed by the end of December. By the end of March 1889 the building was ready for occupancy, taking almost 1 year for the Opera House to become a reality.

As the windows went in and the new chairs arrived, anticipation grew, waiting for opening night. The new manager, John Ashbaugh, had returned to his hometown, after a time in California managing various theatres and had stated that the opera house when completed would be the “handsomest opera house in the state.” Opening night was April 1, 1889 with the celebrated comedy “Two Johns” by J. C. Stewart. According to an article in The Pittsburg Headlight on April 2nd, “audience convulsed with laughter from the time the curtain rose on the first act until its fall on the third and last.”

 
Opera House letterhead from a letter dated May 28, 1892
- copy courtesy late Gene DeGruson, curator Special Collections, Axe Library

The description of the Opera House itself should have given Pittsburg citizens something to be proud of. The interior was finished with embossed hard wood and bronze gas fixtures throughout. A gallery formed a circle around the room with raised seating so the view was never obstructed and included two boxes on the east end. The auditorium was 50 x 80 feet and was furnished with beautiful folding opera house chairs. The stage was 50 x 20 feet and included dressing rooms and stage storage in the back.

The Opera House soon became a major stop for all traveling circuit shows with reviews being presented in The New York Dramatic Mirror, an industry magazine. Pittsburg even had its own correspondent, Mr. Wyll Watson, who would send his observations back to New York via telegraph or mail to be published. This allowed Pittsburg to have the top stage productions; lectures and artists of the day stop and entertain the citizens, including John Phillip Sousa and his band on 26 Jan 1901. The music was usually supplied by local musician Frank S. Botefuhr and his Orchestra. Scott Joplin who according to his family oral history stated that while in Pittsburg his manager left with all his money and receipts leaving him stranded and not able to pay his boarding house bill. So he left a trunk filled with unpublished music manuscripts, photographs and letters as collateral but never came back to retrieve it. The story was told by his widow Lottie Joplin in 1949 but has never been confirmed. So who knows there could be a trunk in someone’s attic in Pittsburg full of rare Scott Joplin treasures.

 
New York Dramatic Mirror Correspondent Card of Mr. Wylle Watson
- copy courtesy late Gene DeGruson, curator Special Collections, Axe Library

W. W. Bell became the third and final manager of the Opera House. Bell had moved to Pittsburg in 1889, opening a paint and wallpaper business with a brother in one of the shops below the Opera House. His first foray into the theatre business was in 1896 when he became the manager of the Opera House. He increased his theatre interests in 1900 when he purchased the closed auto-racing park west of Cow Creek and south of the Hull & Dillon Meat Packing Plant, remodeling the park, adding an outdoor stage and called it Forest Park. In 1907 he built an outdoor theatre, which he called The Airdome on the northwest corner of Ninth and Broadway. It was such a success that in 1908 he built 13 more Airdome theatres in the Midwest.

Between the years of 1900 and 1904 the Opera House was on a slow decline. With the advent of moving pictures, the theatre companies couldn’t compete in price and attendance. A typical film show of the time could be set up in the back of a store, charge .05 cents admission and remain for a longer period. J. Foster Rhodes the sole owner of the building in October 1903 announced that he would be remodeling the opera house and selling it realizing that the house was too small for the needs for a growing city. Pittsburg had grown from a population of 6,697 in 1890 when the opera house had been built to 10,112 by 1900, a 51% increase. It was also about this time that W. W. Bell began to organize his own theatre company and was in the process of building a new opera house in Pittsburg that would be much larger and be able to accommodate the new films and larger traveling shows.

His theatre, The LaBelle Theatre, opened on May 9, 1904 on the northeast corner of Fourth and Locust with the final production in the Opera House being on May 4, 1904. It was advertised in the Pittsburg Daily Headlight as the “First American Tour of the International Bioscope Company, presenting Pantomime of Gulliver’s Travels, moving picture production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the first scenes of the Russian-Japanese War, reproduction of the Attack of Port Arthur, the Grandest Moving Picture Exhibition Ever Offered.” With this, the lights went out at the Opera House.

Not long after, Rhodes announced that he was selling the opera house and it would be converted into an office building. The second floor would contain ten 18 x 18 offices, 5 on each side of a long hallway. The third floor would be made into a lodge room measuring 48 x 90 feet, and the first floor would be remodeled and increased in size for The National Bank. The National Bank purchased the building from Rhodes on the same day as the curtain closed on the opera house. The Manufactures National Bank that had been originally located on the first floor of the opera house had gone into voluntary liquidation in 1896 and closed, the space being leased by The National Bank of Pittsburg on 1 March 1896.

 
The National Bank of Pittsburg
- photo 1915, courtesy Dorothy Benskin, Crawford County Genealogical Society

The Bank of Pittsburg, the predecessor of the National Bank, was founded in 1880 by E. G. Chapman and H. Adams of Girard in a small wood frame building between Third and Fourth streets. They only operated the bank for a couple of years before selling it to S. H. Lanyon (president), Frank W. Lanyon (cashier), H. C. Willard and James Patmor (vice presidents). The bank grew rapidly under their leadership, increasing their capital from $10,000 to $50,000 within a few years, incorporating as a national bank in 1886 to become The National Bank of Pittsburg.

S. H. Lanyon was president of the bank till 1897 when he died during his daily walk to the bank from a heart attack. He was succeeded by Josiah Lanyon who retired in 1903 and was replaced by his son E. V. Lanyon who remained president of the bank till 1939. The Lanyon family continued to be associated with the bank till 1979 with the retirement of Robert S. Herman, grandson of E. V. Lanyon, who had worked in the bank for 44 years. James Patmor resigned from the bank in 1903 and opened the First State Bank.

As the bank grew, so did the need for more space. In July 1931 the building was remodeled extensively. The Broadway front was covered in Bedford limestone with a terra cotta trim and the corner entrance was reconfigured. The bank interior and the offices on the second and third floors were also gutted and remodeled. The building was once again remodeled in 1949 and in 1957 the building directly north was torn down and two drive-thru windows were installed to allow for people to do their business needs from their cars.

 
The National Bank of Pittsburg Calling Card
- copy courtesy late Gene DeGruson, curator Special Collections, Axe Library

On October 10, 1965, the bank purchased the entire east side of the block between Second and Third for a new more modern location, tearing down some of the oldest buildings in downtown including the site of the Cissna Hotel, known then as the O’Neal Hotel. Its last day of business in the Fourth and Broadway location was on 24 September 1966, after 70 years, opening on the 26th in their new building address 216 North Broadway. The bank opened a north branch location in December of 1974 at 2805 North Broadway.

During the city’s 4th of July celebration in 1911, the Pittsburg City Federation of Women’s Clubs opened a public lounge for women in the basement of the National Bank building. In those days, coal miners and their wives would come to town after payday and attend to business and do their shopping. The women would get done with their shopping before the men and then would have to wait around for them while their husbands finished their business. Before the ladies lounge opened they would have to either wait on their wagons or stand on the street in the heat, cold or rain. So the need for something comfortable and out of the weather was a true need. The space in the National Bank building was offered to the group free of charge and on that first day had 1500 visitors. The lounge was later located in the Memorial Auditorium closing in 1956.

The old National Bank building has set empty since the mid 1990’s and was recently acquired through donations and a grant in November 2011 by the Colonial Fox Foundation who are currently in the process of restoring the Colonial-Fox Theatre across the street.

 
 
Teller Windows inside The National Bank Building
- photo 1900
courtesy late Gene Degruson, curator Special Collections, Axe Library
Night Deposit Box on front of The National Bank Building
- photo 2007
   
Front of The National Bank Building
- photo 2007
South Side of The National Bank Building
- photo 2007
 
Click on the images or link below to see larger versions and other information:
 
* 1904 Final Season Show Performance List for Opera House
 
Samples The New York Dramatic Mirror Reviews of Opera House 1890 Sanford Insurance Map of Opera House and surrounding area The National Bank Ad from 1914 Pittsburg High School Yearbook The National Bank Ad from 1923 Pittsburg High School Yearbook
 
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