The Reed Opera House History

The Reed Opera House Downtown Salem Oregon

The Reed Opera House was designed from the start for more than the single purpose its name suggests. In fact, it wasn't going to be an opera house at all.

Cyrus Adams Reed
Cyrus Adams Reed

New hampshire-born Cyrus Adams Reed (1825-1910), who built the Opera House in 1869-70, had a contract with the state to erect a building to house the Oregon State Legislature, the State Supreme Court and the State Library.

When the newly elected officers of a changing administration refused to comply with the agreement, Reed had Architect G.W. Rhodes include seven shops on the ground floor; the Opera House proper enjoyed the center of the building, on the second and third floors, and the balance of the building became the Reed Opera House Hotel.

Reed Stage Play in 1870

The decision to build a 1,500 seat theater was an adventurous one. The population of Salem in 1870 was reported to be 1,139, being served by 11 grocery stores, 15 dry goods stores, three bars and three drug stores. Liberty Street was unpaved and rutted, and fist fights and gambling were nightly events.

Bell's telephone would not be patented until 1876; Edison did not invent the light bulb until 1879, Chief Joseph was still battling U.S. forces in Oregon, and New York's Metropolitan Opera House wouldn't be built until 1883!

The pioneering Reed was not only an optimistic visionary, but a teacher, merchant, builder, industrialist, politician and artist who painted the opera house sets.

Thomas Nast - Self Portrait
Thomas Nast
s "Self Portrait"

Reed's Opera House became the center of Salem's early social life, housing touring plays and opera companies, concerts by John Philip Sousa's band, vaudeville and minstrel shows, revival meetings, and exhibits by political cartoonist Thomas Nast, and other famous artists.

John Phillip Sousa
John Phillip Sousa
Hallie Parrish Hinges
Hallie Parrish Hinges
Benjamin Harrison
Benjamin Harrison

It was the favorite venue for Hallie Parrish Hinges, a singer who performed a concert at the Reed for President Benjamin Harrison on May 5, 1891, and was called "Oregon’s Nightingale" by Theodore Roosevelt a few years later.

Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony

The Reed's stage was a pulpit for Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Scott Duniway at the height of the national drive for women's suffrage, which in 1871 Oregon was headed by Cyrus Reed.

Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes

Another U.S. President - Rutherford B. Hayes - drew crowds to the Reed on September 30, 1880, while seeking to become more than a one-term leader.

Lafayette Grover
LaFayette Grover

The official opening of the Reed Opera House was Sept. 27, 1870, with the Inaugural Ball for Oregon Governor LaFayette Grover. Subsequent inaugurations for Republican Governors W. W.Thayer (1878), Z. F. Moody (1892), William Paine Lord (1895), and T. T. Geer (1899) were also celebrated at the Reed.

In addition to serving as Oregon’s Adjutant General from 1862-1870, Gen. Reed was head of Oregon's Republican Party, served four terms in the state legislature (1862-1878), and was a founding director of Willamette Woolen Mills.

Reed Stage First Performance 1870 "Frances Carroll"

The first performance on the Reed stage was "Frances Carroll", a drama depicting theater life. The Oregon Statesman commented in it’s Sept. 28, 1870 edition that "after a long time without any amusement except the legislature our citizens must, by this time, be in good trim to attend a first-class theatrical performance."

The Reed would be Salem's premier theater for the next 30 years, finally closing with a minstrel show on April 26, 1900, shortly after the opening of the new Grand Theater a block away.

E. P. McCornack, who purchased Gen. Reed’s interest in the Opera House in 1885, converted the theater and the balance of the retail space into Salem’s first major department store, Joseph Meyers & Sons. In 1902, McCornack added a two-story building immediately south of the Reed, at 177 Liberty Street, to house a furniture store.

Reed Opera House 1930

In 1920 the Miller’s Department Store purchased and occupied both buildings, and dominated Salem’s retail scene until the mid-1970s.

Phil Settecase
Phil Settecase

In 1976, the Reed and the Montgomery Ward Building, erected next to the McCornack addition at 155 Liberty in 1936, were acquired by Realtor Coburn Grabenhorst St. and Architects Phil Settecase and Howard Smith, who converted the buildings into their present configuration for an estimated $1 million. Settecase would soon have a major impact on Salem architecture. In addition to the Reed interior, he designed the Salem Civic Center, Salem Public Library, Downtown Fire Station and 17 buildings on the Willamette University campus.

The newly redeveloped Reed - with retail boutiques and restaurants on the lower level, first floor, mezzanine and second floor - prospered until the 500,000 square foot Salem Center opened in the late 1980s. The Montgomery Ward building was sold off, and the owners eventually opted to turn the deed to the Reed and the McCormack addition over to the bank that financed the redevelopment.

Roger Yost Current Owner
Roger Yost

In March 2003 Roger Yost, a former Jantzen Swim Wear marketing vice president and garden center developer, purchased the Reed Opera House from Bourne Properties, which had acquired the building 10 years earlier. Yost has undertaken the historic building's third major makeover in the last century.

The Trinity Ballroom
Trinity Ballroom

He remodeled the newly christened Trinity Ballroom and kitchen at a cost of $50,000; modernized the freight and passenger elevators ($175,000); replicated the original rooftop pediment, corona, and architectural brackets after winning a contest sponsored by Salem's Urban Renewal agency to replace a missing historical feature. The city prize funded $100,000 of the $185,000 costs.