The Bronx Opera House was planned in 1911 by Broadway’s premier procedure, George M. Cohan and Sam Harris. Cohen and Harris at that time controlled a number of legitimate houses in Manhattan. Their plan was to build a theater to be a sister to the old Grand Opera House on Eighth Avenue in which to try out pre- Broadway productions and to bring shows directly from a successful Broadway engagement.
Cohen and Harris contracted with George Keister, one of the city’s foremost theater architects and designer of the Belasco, Selwyn, Colonial, Astor and Earl Carroll. The Resulting house opened August 30th, 1913 with a performance of “Fine Feathers”.
When The Bronx Opera House featured all the major stars of the Stage, it was immediately successful, drawing crowds from other more established houses in the vicinity. As years passed, the house turned to vaudeville then the movies. As a first run, then a grind house, it remained one of the South Bronx’s most distinctive theater up until the present.
The theater building itself has a rather simple façade fronting on 149th Street. The auditorium is reached through a long foyer and backs onto 148th Street. The design of the interior is of a classical motif with boxes surrounding the rectangular 62’ wide proscenium. On either side of these boxes stands a huge Corinthian column above which is a mural. The entire auditorium, seating 1,920 on three levels, is topped by a crystal chandelier. The stage, since equipped for Broadway productions (including the scenery), its full size 39’ deep to the rear wall and 60’ to the loft.
Surprisingly, the years have not fared The Bronx Opera House poorly. The House was never renovated for cinemascope, so it retains the original stage dimensions. The top balcony and sans seats remain intact but closed off. The murals, boxes and even the chandelier still adorn the house.
Though among the City’s theaters, The Bronx Opera House was but one of many. There were other far bigger and more ornate, The Bronx Opera House contains the only unaltered legitimate stage in the entire Bronx. Its neighbors, The National, Royal Bronx and Metropolis have all been demolished one by one. Though repairs are certainly needed, it is in far better condition than many houses taken over and restored by communities in other cities. Its stage facilities (once restored) would be as good as any major Broadway house existent today and built at the same time as The Bronx Opera House.