The Baldwyn Municipal Opera House

The interior of the Baldwyn Opera House in 1923

In his 1989 book Main Street Movie, Claude Gentry described Baldwyn’s earliest theaters. The photo above, showing the interior of the Baldwyn municipal Opera House decorated for graduation in 1923, is provided courtesy of Jeannette Shackleford.

As early as 1910, there was a live professional stage operating in Baldwyn.  Local historian Claude Gentry described the municipal “Opera House,” using that particular name, in his 1989 book Main Street Movie.  The theater he described was located in a 2nd-floor, 50’ by 80’ space over two buildings on the north side of Main Street.  Those buildings, at 110 & 112 West Main Street, have for the last 16 years been occupied by Quail Ridge Engineering.

Claude GentryGentry wrote, “Baldwyn was the proud possessor of an upstairs opera house.  It was spacious and had one of the most elaborate stages in the country, excluding big cities.  It had a complete array of sets and drops, and a most beautiful front curtain.  Well do I remember the layout of the front curtain.  It was heavy canvas and elaborately painted.”

In his book, Gentry further describes the curtain’s design, and he also lists several local businesses that placed ads on the curtain when productions were being presented.

“‘D.H. Thomas, your grocer, staple and fancy groceries – open between acts.”

“Nelson and Burress, Livery stable, Fast and dependable horses, surry and buggy rigs by the day, hour, or week.”

“Bonds & Youngblood, General Merchandise and cotton factors.”

The Claude Gentry TheatreGentry continued, “When Vaudeville was in its hey-day, many show companies, some company-owned and some-personally owned, came to Baldwyn yearly.  All stayed one week and played to full houses.  The favorite shows were W.I. Swain Co., a tent show, Anderson and Gunn Stock Co., [which] played in the town opera house, and the Chataqua Company, which also used the opera house.”

Baldwyn’s state-of-the-art theater operated with a seating capacity in excess of 300 people.  The performance area was accessed by a stairway which rose from street level.  The doorway and stair to the original Opera House has been recently restored on the western end of the building at 108 West Main.

On March 16, 1942, the upper floors that housed the Baldwyn Municipal Opera House were crushed by the deadly double-tornado attack that destroyed much of downtown Baldwyn.  With the second stories of the buildings never being rebuilt, this classic theatrical venue was lost to the community on that fateful day, now more than 70 years ago.

Note:  A restored “Claude Gentry Theatre,” located at 110 West Main Street, opened on Thursday, August 8, 2013.  The new 90-seat venue is the home of Baldwyn’s community theater group The Main Street Players.

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Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Mississippi History

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