Lockwood Opera House

Originally Published in the March 2007 Entertainment Guide

Lockwood Opera House on Division Street around 1890. Photo courtesy Northfield Historical Society

For 20 years the Lockwood Opera House on Division Street had been the primary place where early Northfielders gathered for entertainment. But by 1892 the grumblings had begun. After the Faribault Opera Company performed there in early March, a reviewer wrote that the size of the audience “emphasized the need for a new opera house in this city…The house now used is uncomfortable for public gatherings and the man who occupies one of the wooden chairs for two hours during an evening generally promises himself that he will not undergo the torture very soon again.”

But five years later Northfielders were still putting their posteriors on those hard wooden chairs. On March 11-13, 1897, audiences shelled out 15 cents, 25 cents or 35 cents to see performances by Japan’s “top spinner and magician” Prince Ogawa, the “remarkable hand balancer and contortionist” Frank Kamekichi, and “the world’s greatest mind-reader and hypnotic sensation of two continents” Professor Click, “more fun than a circus.” It took two more years before A.K. Ware opened his opulent auditorium on Dec. 26, 1899, the building now known as The Grand.

Another site for sociable gatherings was the Odd Fellows Hall, where on March 22, 1900, the Old Settlers’ Association held a banquet for 250. The speaker talked of listening with rapt attention to the accounts of old settlers about “how they shot wolves through the keyhole, hunted bear in the forest or killed prairie chickens with a ten-foot pole and dove into the Cannon River and came out with their arms full of beautiful fish.”

The Ware Auditorium presented a variety of entertainment, including the impressive new technology of moving pictures. “Movies” helped sate the thirst for knowledge which was in Northfield from its founding in 1855. A half-page ad in the Northfield News of March 18, 1905, advertised upcoming features on the St. Louis World’s Fair, the Holy Land and “Hazel, the Great Child Singer.” On March 19, 1912, the movies at the auditorium included inspiring scenes of “Our Navy,” hunting by aeroplane, Italy, hydroplane flights, volcanic eruption, perils of climbing the Alps and many others.” At the same time, the Gem Theater offered the topics of “Insect Life,”“Logging Industry in the Northwest” and three reels of “David Copperfield.” On March 18 thespians presented an Irish play “Shaun Aroon,” promising “no drunkards, no tiresome worn-out prison scenes.”

Northfielders kicked the snow off their boots and gathered at Carleton’s Skinner Memorial Chapel on March 23, 1932, to hear nationally known Carleton Symphony band conductor, Jimmy Gillette, premiere his composition, “Pagan Symphony.” Photo courtesy Carleton College archives

On March 23, 1932, the town was buzzing with excitement over the Carleton symphony band concert in Skinner Memorial Chapel. The group’s nationally known conductor, Jimmy Gillette, was premiering his composition “Pagan Symphony,” the very first symphony ever written for a wind band. The 55 band members then performed the piece at the National Conference of Music Supervisors in Cleveland.

In March, 1955, St. Olaf students were preparing for their Student Chest Carnival, with the theme “2002: Space ships, Rockets, Flying Saucers.” Cartoonist Charles Schulz sent his best wish-es and a cartoon to the Manitou Messenger which showed Charlie Brown and Snoopy wearing helmets with antennas on top.

And, on the last day of the month, the Raider Revue of 1955 at the high school auditorium featured the Madrigal Singers presenting a medley from “Oklahoma!” Among the members were Sylvia Chase, who became an Emmy Award-winning ABC news correspondent, and Marilyn Sellars, now a well-known professional singer.

Remembering the complaint from 1892, we hope that, wherever you go for entertainment this month, the chairs are comfortable.

Information for this article was found in the archives of the Northfield Historical Society.

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