Myar Opera House El Paso

Wm. J. Carpenter’s stay in El Paso was very short-only one to two years.  While there,   as a junior partner of John J. Stewart he was involved in the design and construction of only two known buildings, the Merrick Building and the Myar (also Myer) Opera house.  Of the two the Merrick Building survived; the Opera house was destroyed by fire in 1905, so there is not a lot of information available on it.

For an internet picture click here.

The Opera House was located at 309-317 South El Paso Street, just a couple of buildings from the Merrick Building.  It was built for Henry W. Myar at a contract cost of $39, 330.00 by contractor Charles E. Fruin.

 Not much has been recorded about the architectural features of the Opera House. Even so, historians report that it played an important role in the history of El Paso for the 18 years of its existence, not only as a  cultural center  but it also had a checkered history, having served at one time as a brothel, which has been often noted in histories of the city and the building.  

 The first reference to the Opera House that I encountered was in the HASB Survey of the Merrick Building.”…Stewart and Carpenter also designed the Myar Opera House which was two buildings south of the Merrick Building.  The Myar Opera House, like the Merrick Building, was an ornate structure with Romanesque features.  It was constructed the same year as the Merrick Building but was destroyed by fire in 1905.  (Sonnichsen, page 254.” <http://lcweb2.loc.gov/pnp/habshaer/tx/tx0400/tx0460/data/tx0460.pdf.

 Google searches for references to the Myer Opera House in El Paso turned up a few short references which are referenced here:

 “Each new theater grew increasingly glamorous. The most charming social center in El Paso before the turn of the century was the Myar Opera House built in 1887. Historian W. H. Timmons says that German immigrant Henry W. Myar “erected a structure which became the pride of El Paso theatergoers for almost two decades.” Used for dramas, musicals, concerts and other live performances, the Myar Opera House was built in Renaissance style and could seat 1,200 people.  Sonnichsen refers to the Myar as “El Paso’s stronghold of culture.

‘Famous actors such as Edwin Booth, Sarah Bernhardt and Lily Langtry performed at the Myar. Italian coloratura soprano Luisa Tetrazzini gave her first American operatic performance at the Myar Opera house. Sonnichsen says the Myar “gave ocular and audible proof that ours was not just another honky-tonk town. … When you saw El Paso at its best, in tails and top hats, it was at the Myar.

‘The glamour came to an end when the Myar Opera House burned down on November 4, 1905, as hundreds of citizens watched El Paso’s volunteer firemen contend with low water pressure and poor equipment. Fire destroyed the entire block.” dnn.epcc.edu/nwlibrary/borderlands/19_theaters.htm 

and another:

“The elegant Myar’s Theater, built in Renaissance style and seating 1,200 people, brought Alexander Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” to El Pasoans. In 1904, Clark began to feel ill and decided it would be easier to run her brothel on the third floor of the Myar Opera House. When the Myar Opera House burned down in 1905, she barely escaped alive and suffered complications from smoke inhalation.’  cc.edu/nwlibrary/borderlands/20_rival_madams.htm

and another:

“Another of early El Paso’s fine social centers burned on November 4, 1905: the Myar Opera House, host to some of the greatest shows and performers in the country. Some say the fire was due to faulty wiring. Others say a misplaced cigar started the blaze. In any case, the fire was out of control by the time the volunteers arrived. Telegraph and electric wires snapped, and the entire block went up in smoke. Firemen used dynamite to help remove standing walls of the Myar. This fire resulted in calls for paid firemen.  Volunteer Fire Department Grew into Professional Company”.  By Karla Marquez, Cesar Gonzalez, Eddie Caldera and Maria Chavez.  http://dnn.epcc.edu/nwlibrary/borderlands/19_fire.htm.

and thus ended the short but exciting history of the opera house.

 The contract between Messers Myer and Fruin called for partial payments during the progress of the construction of the building.  All went well until at the time for final acceptance of the building there was a disagreement as to whether all work had been completed.  The young Mr. Carpenter’s interpretation of the contract was questioned and court action was required to settle the matter. Click here for the case history.  One might deduce from this a reason for the breakup of  the partnership with John Stewart, leading to  Mr.  Carpenter’s short time in El Paso before departing for Spokane.  For whatever reason, the records show Mr. Carpenter last in El Paso in 1888 and appearing again in Spokane, Washington in the same year.  Comments or any other information about this move will be appreciated. 

  

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