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Opera House and Moose
Lodge of old Woolley, born in the
1890s, now gone for 40 years

(North side of State-1)
      This photo from Dale and Marilyn Thompson shows the north side of the 200 block of State Street in Sedro-Woolley during a Loggerodeo parade sometime in the 1950s. To get your bearings, imagine that the old J.C. Penney/present Bus Jungquist furniture building is to the left. The woodframe building with the tall, vertical panes of glass is the Pressentin Plumbing shop. Then there is a wooden doorway to the right, between the Pressentin building and the Opera House/Moose Hall, which has the brick front and a sign hanging out front, "Radio Repair." To the right, or east, would be the Huggins Auto Parts shop and then the Sedro-Woolley Laundry, which you may recall had a very tall smokestack. Can any of you remember the exact date that the laundry and buildings around it burned, circa 1965? We hope that by posting these photos, a reader will recall details about all these buildings and specifically the old Opera House, which was apparently raised in 1972. See three more photos below. Unfortunately, these are the only views of the Opera House building and we hope that a reader will scans with a better view of it.

      Journal Ed. note: One of the grandest buildings from the early town of Woolley actually stood on a strip of no-man's-land on the north side of State Street called the Kelley's Strip, which was technically part of Sedro. What became the Opera House started as the open-sided and covered Bowery Hall and was the symbol of civilization in the frontier town, where wives and children were starting to round off the rough edges of the original wild and woolly days. That building has slipped through the cracks of history and we hope that a reader can help us complete the story about both the Opera House and the Moose Lodge. This location is a parking lot today behind Bus Jungquist Furniture. We present below what we have found so far. As you can see from the excellent Ray Jordan profile below, even 35 years ago, the memory of the pioneers was hazy about the birth of this social center. We now know from research that the original structure was in place by 1898. We present for you Jordan's story, our own in-depth research and some newspaper articles that we recently unearthed. This story supersedes the one we originally presented for subscribers on the old domain in 2002.

A eulogy for the beloved Opera House
Ray Jordan, undated "Sense of History" column, unknown newspaper, probably circa 1972
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      Our Grand old Opera House on State street with its high, diamond-shaped windows, long a familiar sight in Sedro-Woolley, has fallen before the wreckers. The venerable building stood on the "Kelley Strip," which was once a sliver of No Man's Land lying between the rival towns of Sedro and Woolley in early days. For a long time it was the cultural center for the growing communities.
      Almost every oldster raised around here remembers attending school graduations, dances and shows put on by professional traveling promoters using local talent for actors and what have you at this hall, which for a period seems to have had the only large stage in town [until the Dream Theater was built in 1913]. It also served as a roller skating rink for a time.
      Just when this building was erected is not clear. Not finding any records on this, we fell back on the memories of old timers, none of whom will be sued for perjury if their mental records fail to check with others, and we hope we will not be shot for giving their various versions.
      Millard Splane, who came here in 1897, recalls a building program going on at the site about 1905, with the lumber coming from the Day Lumber Company mill at Big Lake. He thinks perhaps Wilmarth and Wilbur, early day contractors, did the work. Some finish lumber, though, found in the demolition bearing the Clear Lake Lumber stamp, could have been used in later improvements. Mr. Splane remembers that his 8th grade graduation exercises were held here in 1906, and also the many shows he enjoyed, at some of which he acted as usher.
      Harold Renfro thinks the Opera House possibly dates back to about 1902. Here is where he got his start as an actor at the age of four. His contract called for 10 cents in cash for three appearances. He remembers when it was a skating rink, when the Hay Pounders dances reigned there and also when the Moose Lodge owned it.
      The confusion in dates for the origin of the hall seems to be somewhat cleared up by the memory of Mrs. Minnie Batey, who came here in 1889. She says that an open air installation, that is, with floor and roof and open sides, was built there for a 4th of July celebration long before 1905, but cannot recall the exact date. It was called the "Bowery." At the balls there, some of the boys used to run across the street to Saloon Row for a quick one between dances.
      Whether that building was improved to form the present one just torn down, or an entirely new one built, she doesn't remember. Here she graduated from high school in 1907 in a class of 8 girls. Just what date it became the "Opera House" is hazy, too. The Skagit County Times, dated Mar. 26, 1903, contains an item announcing a benefit ball to be held at the "Opera House," which indicates that it was there then and was so-called. Mrs. Jac (Ruth Shrewsbury) Running, recalls being in plays there as a child and in her teens, and attending dances accompanied by her parents. Her father, H.H. Shrewsbury, once owned or had an interest in the Opera House. Her husband, Jac, once the leader of a prominent dance band, remembers playing for the dances in this hall.
      Lawrence Burmaster, owner of a Sedro-Woolley shoe store, says he used to glide over its smooth dance floor along with many other young bloods in the good old days. Lawrence (Larry) LaPlant recalls acting in plays as a youngster on the grand stage of this town show place. A. Bingham's memory yields incidents connected with the place in regard to its uses and different owners.
      As for this writer, who came in 1901, it seems that the building was always there. It was still being called the Opera House as late as 1910 according to a newspaper account of a "Fancy Dress Ball" held there.
      The Kelley Strip mentioned above, upon which the hall stood, was the result of a misplaced corner during a survey of Sedro, which error caused a problem in land titles on a small piece of real estate just north of State street. From the Courier-Times 1949 [Statehood Centennial edition], "News of 1902," we quote: "Open Kelley Strip — The south end of Murdock street now buried in a jungle of the Kelley Strip, is to be opened in the near future." However, it seems that the matter was not cleared up until the Second Addition to Sedro was signed by Albert Kelley and filed on Oct. 20, 1906 (in county Engineer's plat book).
      While no major attempt has been made to trace out all the various owners and partnerships of the hall, the pioneer National Title Company of Mount Vernon did kindly provide these interesting transfers of ownership of the Opera House property.
      It was deeded by the Sedro Land Company, with J.B. Alexander and H.L. Devin, signing to Bingham-Holland on Dec. 10, 1908. Next, the Opera House Company deeded to Moose Lodge No. 990 in 1918. Here, we dropped the trail until it came into the hands of the Humboldt Company, or Corporation, the present owners [holding company for the McIntyre family interests as they diversified their holdings from Skagit Steel and Iron Books].
      The building demolished was 80 by 40 feet, main floor, with a 32-foot extension out front. If understand Mr. Carlson, the wrecker, correctly, there was 3,600 feet of beautiful maple flooring which came up in find condition and will see service again. Some of the lumber salvaged would make a lumberman long for the old days. The overhead joists in the main building were 40 feet long and the ones on the front extension 32 feet, with no splices. So the "Grand Old Opery House" is now history.

How and why the Opera House was born

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(North side of State-2)
(North side of State-3)
(North side of State-4)
Far left: This is a slightly different view from the same spot as the photo at the top. The photographer has pivoted to the right and is looking east down State Street. At the far left, you can see signs for "Exhibit" and "Radio" on the front of the Opera House, then an unknown furniture store, Huggins Auto Parts and the Laundry. Does anyone know about the unnamed furniture store there?
Center: This is a slightly different view from the photo at the top, with another float in the photo.
Right: This is a view of the Pressentin Plumbing Shop in 1963, courtesy of Hazel Hubbard, via Barbara Halliday, both descendants of the Pressentin family. We believe that the Pressentin shop is in the building that originally housed the Skagit County Times in 1899, where the Mission Market is today. You can see just a bit of the Opera House to the right and the doorway in between. Does anyone remember a Mr. Carlson, who razed the Opera House building in 1972?.

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, 2002
      A grand Opera House opened in Seattle in the spring of 1890, just months after the fire that leveled the young town. Soon after that in Skagit County, Anacortes erected an Opera House, befitting a town that was booming and was in the running to be the West Coast terminus of James J. Hill's transcontinental railroad. Mount Vernon's downtown burned on July 13, 1891, and 15 of the earliest buildings were leveled. Less than a year later, an Opera House was erected on First Street.
      There is no record of a similar Opera House in Sedro-Woolley before or during the nationwide Depression of 1893-96. Most city newspapers of that period burned in various fires and the first record we have of such construction is in the Skagit County Times of Feb. 12, 1899: the Bowery Company met to consider enlarging the present building for an Opera House. Apparently the New Year's Eve 1898 celebration was held in the open-sided pavilion on the north side of State Street where the city parking lot is today. That area was called the Kelley Strip, a long, narrow triangle that extended from Township Street on the east to the broad end at the north-south Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern railroad tracks. The area between the Murdock Street and Metcalf Street was generally known as the Bowery and the July 1899 and 1903 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show that no other buildings were erected in that part of the block.
      Other Times articles of that year note that the Union Cornet Band played there in February and that the May Day entertainment by the Sedro-Woolley dramatic company was conducted there as well. That event was preceded by a major social event called the Calico Ball, a grand dance on Friday eve at the Bowery with proceeds earmarked for funds for the Catholic Church building. That structure was being erected on the east side of Puget Street, north of State, and was completed near Easter of 1900. Tickets included supper at Charles Villeneuve's Hotel Royal, at Ferry Street and the railroad tracks, admission $1. Those events also celebrated the merger of the towns in December of the year before.
      The GAR or Grand Army of the Republic — Union veterans of the Civil War, met at the Bowery Pavilion on May 25, 1899, and kicked off plans for the first Fourth of July celebration in the merged towns. That must have been quite a celebration since the newspaper reported that $900 was spent for it, a princely sum in those days. Attending a dance of that stature meant that the guests listed in the next week's paper.
      We have not been able to find a newspaper that announced the completion of the walls on the building. The first report that we found about an event at a building named the Opera House was a story in the Feb. 1, 1901, Times, about the "Monday night farce, The Star Boarder, headed by the inimitable Mr. Charles Boyle who imitates John Philip Sousa." Earlier that month, a Times story reported that the volunteer fire department moved the Moore street hydrant to the corner of Third and State to be closer to the Opera House and to provide better protection of the residential areas.

The Opera House "civilizes" Woolley and becomes a
center of social activity and entertainment

      By 1904, the Opera House had become the center of social activity in the young merged town of Sedro-Woolley. The (Sedro-Woolley) Skagit County Times of Aug. 11, 1904, reported that the new Skagit County Pioneers Association conducted their first general membership meeting at the Opera House a week before that. After oratory and entertainment, those attending retired to a dinner at the "grove near Third Street at the river," located on Joseph Hart's original homestead and near the future Third Street Bridge to Clear Lake. A society note from December 13, 1906, reports that an opera was presented at the Opera House, The Belle of Japan. On Nov. 23, 1910, a masquerade ball was held there, described as a "fancy dress ball. The prize winners were announced and it was described as hilarious.
      In those days before radios and widespread Victrola record players, an opera house was the place you visited to hear the latest songs, operas and musicals. Back then, families bought the sheet music to such popular songs and performed them while gathered around pianos and organs in their parlors. The Opera House was the place where they could perform in amateur musicals or see touring professionals. In December 1906, locals were thrilled to hear Miss Jennie Fletcher, "a famous Scottish Prima Dona," and her "powerful soprano voice of the hitherto unheard-of range of 3 octaves." Two weeks later, "The Belle of Japan" was presented in an evening performance.
      Newspapers for that decade are very scarce. We have found, however, a key reference to the Opera House's role in the worst disaster of downtown Woolley. On July 24, 1911, a fire swept north and east along Metcalf Street, destroying more than a dozen businesses and buildings. One was at the northeast end of the fire in the huge wooden Donnelly building at the southeast corner of Ferry and Metcalf streets. The business in the north portion of that building, J.F. Mott & Co., managed by city leader Paul Rhodius, was totally destroyed. In an "extra edition" of the Skagit County Times printed that day, Rhodius announced that he had already set up shop in the Opera House. Within two weeks, Rhodius moved an old wooden house on log rollers to a site down the block and then rebuilt the Mott shop better than ever, including a $1,175 soda fountain, the first one in town.
      Researcher Roger Peterson discovered a March 1914 Times story that reported the name was changed to the Moose Lodge Opera House. The club may have already taken over the Opera House as their Lodge Hall. We have not yet found records for when Moose Lodges in the county were established, but this article hints that Sedro-Woolley may have been instituted ten years before Mount Vernon's was on February 5, 1924. There are several references before that about the building being a meeting room for various clubs and it probably remained so afterwards. It may have been called the Moose Lodge Opera House after that date, but by the time that old-timers still living here can remember, it was known as the Moose Lodge until at least World War II.

The first two decades of the building
      From Ray Jordan's article above, we learned that the partnership of C.E. Bingham and Albert E. Holland bought the Opera House building from Junius B. Alexander's Sedro Land Co. in 1908. The SLC might have bought it from the Bowery Company, but we have no records of that at this time. The Moose Lodge bought it from Bingham-Holland in 1918. The building still only had two neighbors on the north side of State. One of them was apparently a newspaper office, if various memories can be trusted. When Frank Evans arrived in town on Jan. 31, 1918, to take over the Skagit County Courier newspaper, the Courier office was shoehorned into the alley entrance of a brick building on Metcalf. We have not been able to resolve whether that building was the Swastika block at the southeast corner of Ferry or if it was the Condy Jewelers building south of the alley in that same 700 block.
      At that time, the competing Skagit County Times was located in a wood-frame building at the southeast corner of Third Street and State Street. Dale Tresner began constructing what became the Mission Market at that location in 1919. We think that the old Times building was moved at that time across the street and relocated between the Opera House and the tire shop for Larry Stave's new service station, which opened on the east side of the alley in 1919. By some accounts, when Evans bought the Times and merged the two newspapers in May 1920, he moved the Times out of the State Street building and Charles Pressentin moved their hardware and plumbing business into it. If a reader has a different scenario, we would certainly welcome it.
      f we had a way-back machine, we would love to read the newspapers of the 1890s and early years of the new century that burned long ago in various fires. As we read the book, Orphans, by Ollie Lucero, we learned about the Gillis family of Woolley. And we found an 1896 issue of the Times, where the masthead lists the Gillis brothers as editors and publishers. Sometime in the mid-1890s, Junius B. Alexander — one of the promoters of the town of new Sedro in 1890, recruited two brothers, Walter and Albert Gillis, to run the day-to-day operations of the Times and they eventually bought into the company. The Gillis brothers were also known for their thespian roles in county plays, including productions at the Bowery Square or Opera House, when they were not building houses in William Murdock's new Grand Junction addition. If we could only read more of those old newspapers; we have a hunch that the Gillises promoted the idea of the Opera House during the Depression years of the mid-1890s as a place where they could strut and fret upon the stage, as Willie the Shake might say. Sometime in the summer before Sedro and Woolley merged in December 1898, Walter and Albert opened a newspaper in Issaquah. Did they leave the Opera House as their legacy? Ah, we historians can dream.
      Regardless, we know that by the 1920s the Opera House/Moose Hall was a social center and also a force to be reckoned with. If you wanted to attract a crowd for either political or religious reasons, you chose that venue. In 1919 the promoters of the new American Legion George Baldridge Post #43 advertised a dance at the Moose Hall. Other records show that a Reverend Everett Parrot conducted an evangelistic campaign starting in the spring of 1924 at the Moose Hall. That culminated in the construction of the old Bethel Tabernacle in 1927 at the northeast corner of Metcalf Street and Northern Avenue, next to where the Ronk Brothers business stands today. At the other end of the spiritual spectrum, an April 9, 1925 Courier-Times advertisement touts pretty songs, dances and girls in performance at the Moose Hall. An advertisement in the 1924 Sedro-Woolley High School Kumtux annual features roller skating at the Moose Hall, W.H. King, manager. About 15 years ago, Garry Evans recounted his father and Courier-Times publisher, Frank Evans, talking about how when Garry was a youngster during the 1930s Depression, the Skagit County Fair went broke and moved the affair into the much-smaller quarters of the Sedro-Woolley Opera House. "Of course when it made money again, back it went ot Mount Vernon," he noted wryly.
      We have moved two newspaper stories we found from that period that show how the Moose organization flexed its muscle, sometimes in defiance of the city. You can find them in our feature on the Moose Hall and the firetraps of Woolley.

The building from 1930s to about 1972
      We have not found a follow-up article, so we are unsure of whether the Moose Lodge ever incorporated the motion picture machinery. As far as we know, no other theater operated in town after the Dream Theater bought out the competitors in the Teen years. By at least the 1930s, the maple floor in the Moose building was used as a skating rink. From then on, the result of our research is pretty thin gruel and we hope that a reader can share memories of the building and hopefully a photo of the exterior in the first half of the century. Our photos here show it in the 1960s and by that time, a brick front had been added to the building. The late Howard Miller recalled that sometime in the 1930s, the building was remodeled and the foundation was strengthened, but again, we have no records of such. By World War II, a brick-faced auto parts shop owned by the Huggins family flanked the building to the east and the Sedro-Woolley Laundry, also brick, was at the corner of Murdock Street. Sometime around then, a 32-foot brick extension shell was built onto the front of the hall.
      Just as we want to find citations that will prove or disprove our hunches and assumptions about the building, we also hope that a reader will supply details about when the building was razed. In about 1965 the laundry burned in a roaring fire (a date that has also eluded us), and we supposed that the old Moose building may have been leveled then, too, but .the book, Skagit Settlers, states that it was torn down years later, in 1972. Regardless of when the building was torn down, it was certainly our Grand Ole Opry and we are sorry that its various incarnations have slipped through the cracks.

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Story posted Oct. 18, 2001, last updated May 8, 2006, moved to this domain Oct. 18, 2011
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