The Langdon Opera House
As the American frontier became more settled, towns on the Great Plains were determined to present themselves as refined and cultured. The construction of hotels, churches, and restaurants represented an oasis of civilization and attracted new settlers.
The opera house was the crowning glory for many western towns. Although it is doubtful that operas were performed very often in these venues, the term was preferred over “theater.” The opera was considered highly respectable, while the theater was seen as low-class and disreputable. Opera houses across the American West were often built on the second floor of a structure with shops and restaurants below. Since the opera houses attracted visitors, they were considered good for business.
In 1878, Bismarck opened a facility that included a courtroom, a faro bank, a saloon, and a theater. As one old-timer remarked, "It was thus that without undue exertion one could litigate, speculate, 'irrigate,' or be entertained, according to his own tastes or needs."
Larger opera houses included space for additional recreation. The Homestake Opera House in Lead, South Dakota, offered a large ballroom and bowling alleys.
On this date in 1903, the citizens of Langdon learned that their opera house was almost ready to open. Mr. McEuen had invested $20,000 to build it. The bricklayers and masons had completed their work, and the contractor promised to turn the building over to the owner no later than October 20. Tickets had already gone on sale for opening night, and early sales amounted to over $900. There were eight boxes, each seating six people. These sold for $60 each. Prices for single seats ranged from $3.50 to $7.50.
Opera houses were usually the most lavish and ornate building in town. The Metropolitan Opera House in Grand Forks was described as a wonder of ivory, blue, and gold, with two balconies, velvet draperies, and upholstered seats in baroque style. In Jamestown, the theater curtain of Lloyd’s Opera House displayed a vivid scene of Rome.
The Langdon Opera House is long gone, but it served an important purpose, just as so many others did in small towns across the Great Plains.
Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher
Courier Democrat. “Opera House Opening.” Langdon ND. 17 September 1901. Page 1.
Ronald L. Davis. “Opera Houses in Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas, 1870-1920.” https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1532&context=greatplainsquarterly Accessed 14 August 2019.