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The Auditorium

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During the winter of 1895-1896, Agincourt reached a benchmark in its maturing culture: The Auditorium was dedicated with considerable celebration and an opening season the envy of Des Moines or Omaha. Knowing the range of entertainment that winter would help us understand a time when even middling communities achieved near cosmopolitan status. In my view, the world has become far too provincial.

The Auditorium — an obvious reference to Chicago which had dedicated its own Auditorium just five years earlier — was a substantial masonry pile with income-generating office and retail space in addition to its 650+ velvet-upholstered seats. Two-hundred-and-forty linear feet of storefront faced east toward the Hazzard House hotel (a happy coincidence, as you’ll see later) and north onto The Square. A rudimentary lobby brought concertgoers to a second floor lounge and promenade, and from there into the main seating area. A small balcony and auxiliary lobbies occupied most of the third floor.

Like many theaters, congestion only became an exiting issue: people arrive in twos and fours, early, on-time, and late. But they exit as a herd. So almost immediately management looked for an economical solution requiring minimal demolition to get people out more efficiently. The solution came when the Hazzard House burned — the last of several fires that justified the hotel’s name — and plans were drawn for an elegant new hostelry, The Blenheim, built in 1899-1900.

I suspect there may have been a few of the Auditorium’s shareholders who incorporated the Blenheim, because a pedestrian bridge was part of the original construction. This new link between the second-floor lounge and the hotel gave patrons access to food and drink during intermission and late-night dining after the concert.

Like the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, the original 140-by-150-foot site left little room for constructing and storing stage sets and props, for building costumes, and administrative space. A brick stable/warehouse across the alley was remodeled for those utilities. Then someone realized that its roof was at the same level as the promenade. Another short bridge  gave access to a roof-top café that became a popular luncheon destination during the summer. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. What entertainments attracted audiences in the fall and winter of 1895?

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