Excited chatter filled the air as residents lined the sidewalk in front of Thornton House Furniture Saturday morning to witness a plaque unveiling by the Lodi Historical Society recognizing the former Lodi Opera House.
The bronze plaque was mounted near the front doors of Thornton House.
“We’re here today to celebrate the architectural and cultural heritage of this property, the first purpose-built performance hall in Lodi,” Lodi Historical Society President Loren Perry said.
Lodi businessman Charles Lever Van Buskirk introduced the conception for the Lodi Opera House in an effort to promote music, cultural gatherings, and theater performances for Lodi’s small farming community.
The opera house was constructed in 1905 by local builders Ed and Fred Cary in an Italian Renaissance Revival style, adorned with exposed brick that wrapped around the exterior of the building.
“The total construction cost was $32,000, which would calculate to just under $1 million today,” said Lodi Historical Society member Lisa Craig said. “The original 64-by-95 building was designed with a lower floor for business use, and a second-story performance hall, and a basement.”
The Lodi Opera House was constructed to accommodate 900 people in the performance hall, with an L-shaped balcony above the mezzanine-level seating.
“Based on physical evidence today, the theater had a platform stage. An orchestra pit may have been present, but as can be seen by the volume of the space on the building’s second floor, significant seating made up the lower house that ran under the gallery,” Craig said.
The opera house was the stage for piano recitals, Shakespearean plays, operas, ragtime minstrel shows, concerts, school graduation ceremonies, dances, orations, hypnotists and elementary school plays.
“On its opening night — Thursday, Jan. 26, 1905 — the Tivoli Opera Company of San Francisco performed the operatic comedy ‘King Dodo.’ There were 650 people in attendance at that opening show,” Craig said.
Excitement for the opera house petered out in 1913 when motion pictures became the new source of entertainment.
“The opera house officially closed in 1914. In 1919, Newfield and Sons Merchandise occupied the building until 1988, when Thornton House relocated from Stockton to Lodi,” Perry said.
Since 1905, the building at 6 S. School St. has been a mainstay of the Downtown business district, according to Perry.
“This retail space has served as an anchor for other small retailers occupying the adjacent ground floor retail space over the years,” Perry said.
Mayor Mark Chandler recognized the building’s architectural and cultural significance, which has made Lodi’s historic Downtown a draw for visitors and residents alike.
“The opera house may have had a limited period of use as an entertainment venue, but its contribution as a mainstay business to our historic Downtown is ongoing,” Chandler said.
The Historical Society says the recognition of the opera house is the first of many they have planned for the near future.
“We are hoping to have a building recognized every year,” Craig said.