Have you ever wondered where the Opera House was located in Stuttgart? Did you even know there had once been an Opera House in Stuttgart?
Around the turn of the 20th century, the landscape and culture was very different than it is today. Not only was there a performing arts facility in the downtown area, there were actually three.
Originally located at the southeast corner of Main at 3rd, the Opera House opened in 1896. It was operated on the second floor of that building by brothers Clay C. and Ed. M. Williams. This busy duo also operated the weekly Free Press and Clay was the city recorder.
The Opera House offered live performances, including plays, musicals, and concerts, and also showed silent movies. Many of the live performances were written, directed, and often performed by Maude Bethel Lewis. Mrs. Lewis was the wife of local attorney, George C. Lewis, and equally successful in her own right. She was also an internationally published poet and was later instrumental in establishing Arkansas Post as a state park.
Around 1909, the Opera House moved to its own building at 502 S. Main, which is currently a parking area between Gaunt & Co. and Norman Floor Coverings. Entertainment offerings in the new location were expanded to include hosting vaudeville acts and graduation ceremonies for Stuttgart High School and Stuttgart Training School.
Similarly, the Majestic and Strand Theaters were landmarks in the downtown area at that time. Built originally as the Garden Theater in 1917, the Majestic Theater was located on W. 4th Street, between Main and Maple. Considered to be the “Gem of the South”, the Majestic also hosted live performances, including plays and recitals for students of local dance schools, but was primarily known as the premiere movie theater in Stuttgart. Since movies had no sound, the theater had pianos and organs near the front. In 1927, musical accompaniment was enhanced by the installation of a 12,000-pipe organ. Evelyn Horst served as the organist, providing a live soundtrack for silent movies.
A companion theater was constructed just around the corner around 1930. The Strand Theater was located at 312 Main, between what is now Etcetera and The Office Shop. Smaller than the Majestic, the Strand showed lower cost “B-movies” and were considered somewhat questionable at the time.
Sadly, these businesses and the buildings that housed them no longer exist. The Opera House was demolished in 1920 and lumber from that building was used to construct the American Legion building on East 6th Street, which is now also gone. The Majestic closed in the early 1970’s and suffered a slow demolition over the next decade. The Strand operated into the 1950’s and the building was later divided and housed Mode O’Day Ladies Shop next door to Brummit Newstand.
The only remaining landmark of downtown entertainment is the arched façade of the Strand Theater. Still standing in monument of a bygone era, it also stands in hopes of what could again fill the space and continued revitalizing our merchant district.