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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Theater History. Courtesy: Telegraph Herald

COATES OPERA HOUSE. The Coates Theater, formerly been the site of BARTELL'S DRAMATIC AND VAUDEVILLE THEATRE, received its name from J. C. Morris, a man with experience as a theatrical manager. Morris came to Dubuque in 1900 and negotiated with the managers of RHOMBERG PARK to allow him to present his vaudeville show. When the opportunity arose in June, he leased the Bartell's Theatre building. Morris then convinced the park managers to allow him to move his performers and staging to his new venue--the Coates Opera House. The show returned to the park for Sunday afternoon and evening shows. Vaudeville continued until September when dramatic productions were scheduled. During the winter, Morris announced that comic opera would be presented. (1)

To encourage attendance, Morris had electric fans installed through the theater to ensure cool temperatures in the summer. On announced days, ladies were admitted to any part of the theater for ten cents. Children could attend for five cents. (2) On December 22, 1902 one lady was admitted free for each paid reserved ticket. (3)

Morris opened the theater to other events as well. In 1901 the Iowa Dairymen Convention was held there in November. (4) However, not even the Military band which drew a crowd outside, could persuade their audience to attend a political debate in November 1902. Better luck attended a performance of the Fays, a group of mindreaders, who performed in January 1903.

The announcement was made in July, 1903 that the Telegraph-Herald Company had signed a lease on the building. It was the intention of the management to move into the building during the fall. Plans called for extensive renovation including additional floors in the four story building and new machinery. Breaking with the tradition of having the presses in the basement, the new office of the newspaper would install the presses on the main floor. (5) This never took place.

Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

The building, however, sat empty until 1904. Jake Rosenthal secured the lease for the building from its owners Harker Brentnal SPENSLEY, Sr., Charles H. EIGHMEY and James WOODWARD and began the process of constructing a vaudeville business. Rosenthal, known nationally for his business success, introduced talking movies to Dubuque, with a movie starring Al Jolson. He was also on a first name basis with such international stars as Joe FRISCO and escape artist Harry Houdini.

In 1908 the DUBUQUE OPERA HOUSE COMPANY was incorporated. It purchased and renamed the building the BIJOU THEATER.



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

2. Ibid.

3. "City in Brief," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, December 20, 1902, p. 5

4. "The Second Day," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, November 13, 1901, p. 3

5. "Gets a New Home," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, July 2, 1903, p. 3

6. "New Bijou Theatre Building Which Was Destroyed by Fire at Early Hour Thursday Morning," The Telegraph Herald, April 8, 1910, p. 1