Reed Opera House To Celebrate 140th Birthday

The Reed Opera House Downtown Salem Oregon

The Reed Opera House celebrated its 140th birthday at a public reception in the Trinity Ballroom Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010.

Reed Stage Play in 1870
The Theater

The Reed was the center of Salem’s early social and cultural life during its first three decades, when touring theater companies, vaudeville and minstrel shows, and such luminaries as Susan B. Anthony, Thomas Nast, Samuel Clemens and John Philip Sousa took command of the stage on the Reed’s second floor.

From 1901 to 1975 the building housed various department stores – Joseph Meyers & Sons, Roberts Brothers and Miller’s – before being converted to its present configuration by architects Phil Settecase and Howard Smith and realtor Coburn Grabenhorst Sr. in 1976.

Roger Yost
Roger Yost

In recent years, under current owner Roger Yost, the Reed has regained much of its original cachet.Yost has invested heavily in the 66,000 sf structure, restoring the rooftop cornices, pediment, and decorative Italianate brackets; modernizing its elevators; dramatically dressing up retail spaces, restaurants, offices and the Trinity Ballroom; and bringing a theater back to the second floor.

The improvements and eclectic tenant mix have obviously paid off.  While much of Downtown is experiencing high vacancy rates, the Reed remains 95% full.

Cyrus Adams Reed
Cyrus Reed

When Cyrus Adams Reed conceived the structure, he was Oregon’s adjutant general and a member of the state legislature, and is said have envisioned his building as a home for the legislature. When a changing administration ruled out that possibility, Gen. Reed had architect G.W. Rhodes design a building with a 1,500 seat theater on the second and third floors, and seven stores and a first class hotel on the first floor.

Reed’s Opera House opened its doors on September 27, 1870, for the inaugural ball of Gov. LaFayette Grover.  The first performance, “Frances Carroll,” a play depicting theater life, opened the following evening.  The stage was illuminated by gas lanterns—Thomas Edison had not yet invented the light bulb.

Reed Opera House - 1870

The Oregon Statesman commented in its 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.”

In addition to being a four-term legislator, Reed was an educator, artist, founder of the state’s Republican party and a proponent of women’s rights.  He was the first president of Oregon Woman’s Suffrage Association, and allowed Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Duniway to use the Reed stage in 1871 as a pulpit to campaign for votes for women.

The Reed not only attracted leading theatrical companies and entertainers, but was host Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes (1880) and Benjamin Harrison (1891) as well. 

E.P. McCornack purchased the building from Gen. Reed in 1885, and converted the structure into the city’s first department store (Joseph Meyers & Sons) in 1902.  The Miller family would acquire the property in 1920 and be Salem’s dominant retail establishment until in the mid-1970s.

When the Grabenhorst-Settecase-Smith interests acquired the property in 1975, they also purchased the neighboring Montgomery Ward Building, constructed in 1936, and made it part of the rechristened Reed Opera House Mall.

The arrival of Nordstrom and Salem Center in the 1980s took an economic toll on boutique-driven Reed, so the owners sold off the Ward building, and turned title to the Reed and so-called McCornack addition to the bank. 

A colorful Englishman, Ian Bourne, acquired the property from the Resolution Trust Corporation in 1993, and successfully resuscitated interest in the historic building before selling the Reed to Yost in 2003.

Yost characterizes his role at the Reed as that of “steward.” 

“One cannot claim to possess this iconic property,” he says. “It is truly a community asset that has shared experiences with generations of Oregonians.  Our responsibility is to help restore the grandeur it once knew, so it can be shared and enjoyed by generations to come.”

More information: Rebecca Maitland (503) 391-4481