Orpheum Open House
October 22, 2017 | 1:00 to 5:00 PM
409 S. 16th Street
You're invited to help us celebrate our beloved theater's 90th anniversary at the Orpheum Open House. Take a special behind-the-scenes tour. Explore the theater's grand architecture and artwork, learn about the history of vaudeville in Omaha and view special artifacts on display. Refreshments will be provided.
Late 1800s – Before the theater
The Withnell Building, built by pioneer contractor John Withnell, served as headquarters for the U.S. Army's "Department of the Platte," stretching from Canada to Texas. In 1895, the Army headquarters moved to Fort Omaha near 30th and Fort streets, and the opportunity to develop Harney Street between 15th and 16th streets emerged.
1895 – The Creighton Theater
The first venue was called the Creighton Theater, named after "Count" John A. Creighton, and it seated more than 800. The Creighton Theater opened on August 22, 1895, with a drama, "The Masqueraders," by Charles Frohman's company. It was reported to have been "a gala social event, with a full house, especially in the saloon."
Early 1900s – Omaha and the Orpheum Circuit
By 1898, there was a widening national recession, so the Creighton Theater was sold to the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit. The theater became The Creighton Orpheum, shortened to the Orpheum by 1906. Omaha was then in the company of eight other cities on vaudeville's Orpheum Circuit. Shows were held each day at 2:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Admission ranged from 10 cents for children or gallery seats to 50 cents for adult main floor seats in the evening.
1927 – The "New" Orpheum Theater
The owners of the original Orpheum lost two of their additional theaters in Omaha to a fire. Facing growing audience demand for vaudeville, they decided to replace their last standing theater — The Orpheum — with a new and larger building. This is the Orpheum Theater still standing today, built in 1927 for $2 million and constructed in 16 months. A Wurlitzer Style 235 Special pipe organ was installed for the first performance. The gala opening on Monday, October 10, was attended by nearly 3,000 people, including the Mayor of Omaha and the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben. The program was filled with "laughs, tricks, antics, dances, comics and all other things that go to make a happy evening." The “Fighting Eagle,” a motion picture starring former Omaha Central High student Rod La Rocque, was shown.
Mid-20th Century – The Golden Palace and the Silver Screen
The Orpheum thrived for its first 20 years, but with the coming of motion pictures, vaudeville's popularity waned. Omaha's Orpheum transitioned into a movie house that gradually faced declining revenue, finally closing on April 29, 1971. It showed its last film to an empty house. The theater's Wurlitzer pipe organ's popularity had also changed. Designed to be played during silent movies and used in local broadcasts throughout the 1930s, the organ eventually fell into disrepair.
Early 1970s – Restoring a Cultural Treasure
By 1972, the Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben purchased the Orpheum, to be used as a performing arts center for the Omaha Symphony, Opera Omaha and Ballet Omaha. An eleventh-hour crisis nearly killed the deal — until the Omaha Symphony Association purchased the lobby and gave it to the City of Omaha. Renovations included adding depth to the stage, new stage rigging, air conditioning, electrical and lighting upgrades, enlarging the orchestra pit, updating seats and carpeting, and restoration of the interior's original beauty.
1975 – The Grand Reopening of the Golden Palace
Comedian Red Skelton graced the stage for the Orpheum's grand reopening on January 17, 1975. Opera Omaha performed on the Orpheum stage for the first time that year, with soprano Beverly Sills in the title role of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.
2001 and Beyond – Omaha Performing Arts takes over
The next evolution of the Orpheum Theater took place in 2001, when Omaha Performing Arts announced plans for a complete renovation of the Orpheum. In 2002, the City of Omaha granted Omaha Performing Arts a lease to manage the Orpheum Theater, and thanks to the generosity of private funders, the ornate splendor of this magnificent theater was enhanced to better serve patrons and artists. Improvements included refurbished seats, a new stage that could accommodate the largest productions, new dressing rooms, a heating and cooling system and improved acoustics. Since then, additional improvements have been made by Omaha Performing Arts, including the Skylink between the theater and the parking garage, a new elevator as well was an additional loading dock and women's restrooms, a beautiful patron room — the Anne Thorne Weaver Lounge, new rigging and a new amplified sound system.
ORPHEUM 90TH MEMORIES
Share yours on social media using #Orpheum90Memories.
“Every year, our entire family attends a program there! So much fun!”
"The very first Broadway show I very saw was at the Orpheum, with the man I would later marry. We now have season tickets and will celebrate 30 years of marriage this March." – Pam
“I don't remember a year I have not been to the Orpheum… Took my parents to so many events and feel like the Orpheum is almost a part of my history.” – Teresa
"I saw my very first Broadway musical, Wicked, here back in May 2009. Truly changed my life!! I have gotten so much more involved in theatre because of it!!"
“I took my kids to the Orpheum for their first experiences with Broadway musicals!” – Karen
“I had my grade school safety patrol recognition assembly at the grand Orpheum. Since then, I still marvel at the theater … sharing with friends,