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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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COATES OPERA HOUSE. Located on Fourth and Main STREETS, the Coates Opera House could trace its history back to the ATHENAEUM. In 1900 J. C. Morris, who had a reputation of operating "first class" theaters, leased the Coates in early June. A show that was being presented in RHOMBERG PARK was moved to the theater. Plans were then made to present dramatic productions. During the winter, comic opera was planned. The installation of electric fans promised to keep the building cool in the summer. (1)

The Coates Opera House was the scene of many activities. In 1886 DUBUQUE HIGH SCHOOL commencement was held in the building. (2) In 1901 the Democratic County Convention and business meetings of the Iowa State Dairy Association used the facilities. (3)

In 1904 A. Siegfried, who owned theaters in other cities including La Crosse, bought the building with plans of creating "The Crystal." In October, the construction was planned to end in three weeks with admission being the same--ten cents. (4)

Jake Rosenthal secured the lease for the building and began the process of constructing a better vaudeville business. This became the BIJOU THEATER. Rosenthal, known nationally for his business success, introduced talking movies to Dubuque, with a movie staring Al Jolson. Rosenthal was on a first name basis with such international stars as Joe FRISCO and escape artist Harry Houdini credited Rosenthal with their success. (5) A few months later, the theater was leased to the Western Vaudeville Association of Chicago. (6)

In 1908 the Dubuque Opera House Company was incorporated. It secured control of the theater which had been owned by Coates, Spensley, Eighmey, and Woodward. Immediately after the close of the vaudeville season. The entire interior was removed and the theater was lowered from the second floor to the first floor, two balconies were installed, four boxes were put in on each side, and everything to modernize the theater was done. It was named the New Bijou. (7)

The fifty-year old structure was destroyed on the morning of April 8, 1910. Less than an hour after the audience had left, fire broke out and within fifty minutes had done $60,000 in damage. (8)




1. "It is Now Riverside Park," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 7, 1900, p. 3

2. "Commencement Exercises," Dubuque Daily Herald, June 25, 1886, p. 4

3. "Democratic County Convention," Dubuque Daily Telegraph, Sept. 20, 1901, p. 3

4. "Many Are Coming," Dubuque Telegraph Herald, Nov. 10, 1901, p. 14

5. "Suffers Fatal Heart Attack in Hotel Room," Telegraph Herald, Sept. 22, 1926, p. 1

6. "Coates Theater Will Be New House," Telegraph Herald, Oct. 25, 1904, p. 3

7. "Theater At Fourth and Main: A Rich and Vivid Tradition," Online: http://fiveflagscenter.com/AboutUs/History.aspx

8. "Bijou Theatre Lies a Heap of Smoking Ashes," Telegraph Herald, Apr. 8, 1910, p. 1