Formally opening on September 27, 1880, English’s Opera House quickly became Indianapolis’ leading theater presenting not only opera but drama, musical comedy, ballet, concerts, minstrel shows, lectures, vaudeville and film. The theatre was built by William Hayden English, businessman and 1880 Democratic vice-presidential candidate, and occupied the entire north-west quadrant of Monument Circle.
Modeled on the New York Grand Opera House, it was four stories of Bedford limestone with tall columns and wide windows, frescoed ceilings and walls, marble pillars and a grand staircase. The English seated 2,500 in crimson plush and leather seats and boasted the largest stage in the city, allowing for elaborate stage productions including a spectacular version of Ben-Hur in 1902 that featured a chariot race with eight horses running at full speed on treadmills!
Anyone interested in the history of Indianapolis will find much to enjoy in this collection. These are not only programs for performances given by actors such as Sarah Bernhardt, Ethel and John Barrymore, George M. Cohan, Helen Hayes, Katharine Hepburn and Laurence Olivier. You will also find ads for city businesses, previews and reviews of productions, even some jokes and commentary.