Oshkosh Grand Opera House exterior (black and white)The Grand Opera House opened its doors on August 9, 1883 with the production of 'The Bohemian Girl' by the C.D. Hess Opera House Company. William Waters, a local architect, was chosen to design the new opera house. Waters had designed over 100 buildings in Oshkosh, including the public library and museum. Theatergoers experienced lavish and modern Victorian design, from the hand-painted drop curtain to the elaborately detailed wall and ceiling artistry of local artist J. Frank Waldo. Roman influences, evident in the huge curved ceiling beams and columns rising up on either side of the proscenium, combined with the Queen Anne style in the auditorium, reflected the opulence of the era. Although the official capacity of the new theater was 921, additional chairs could comfortably accommodate crowds of more than 1,000 people. 'Jump seats,' which folded out from the walls and from the ends of the seats, brought the total possible seating capacity to 1,224.
The new theater attracted acts from around the country, from Grand Opera to Broadway Musicals and, in the 1920s, Vaudeville. The unique acoustic quality of the hall, which some had said to rival that of the huge Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, brought considerable fame to Oshkosh. Vincent Price, Harry Blackstone, Samuel Clemens (as Mark Twain), John Phillip Sousa, Harry Houdini, Sarah Bernhardt, Maude Adams, Celeste Holm, and President William Howard Taft were among the performers who performed at the Grand Opera House. In more recent years, The Smothers Brothers, Debbie Reynolds, and most recently, Jeff Daniels have graced The Grand's stage.
In 1918, the opera house was purchased by W.G. Maxcy and W.D. Cummings. In the late 1920s, Mrs. Isabel Maxcy, widow of the previous owner, took over the theater and it was closed for several months for remodeling and redecorating. Improvements included modern heating and ventilation, lighting and plumbing systems. Mrs. Maxcy sold the opera house, then known as the Granada, to Sol Winoker for $40,000 in 1948. Winoker changed the name to Civic Theater and reopened it as a motion picture house.
In 1950, the building was renamed the Grand Theater by the new owners Frank Bluhm and Mary Vetter. In order to achieve the appearance of a modern movie theater, the building's entrance was moved from the center of the façade to the corner of Market Street and High Ave. and nearly eight feet of the stage apron was removed to make room for additional seats. In 1969, F.J. Hauser and L.L. Cook bought the Grand Theater. They replaced the old coal furnace and the roof. In the mid 1970s, two men from Rockford, Illinois, William Seaton and Maurice Goldy leased the building from Hauser. Seaton, with the help from others, removed the plaster coverings that had covered the original features of the Grand's interior.
Local citizens, headed by James and Joanne Alderson, were concerned about the building, which was falling into disrepair, and formed a committee titled 'Save the Grand.' This committee had the building placed on both the state and the national historic registers.