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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.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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1891 advertisement. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald
Theater History. Courtesy: Telegraph Herald

DUNCAN-WALLER OPERA HOUSE. In early 1877 Edward W. Duncan, and John Robert WALLER purchased the building containing the ATHENAEUM. An appeal was made to the public for its support in the construction leading to $5000 in tickets being sold for the first performance. (1)

Wallace Hume, an architect from Chicago, refurbished the interior. The ground floor was occupied by stores and the box office. Beginning at the grand entrance, visitors walked up stairs to the 85'x54' auditorium containing 920 chairs upholstered in maroon velvet with iron backs ornamented in bronze. The parquette circle was divided from the parquette by velvet-trimmed railings supported by posts. This area contained five hundred folding chairs. The two box seats, capable of comfortably seating six people each, were trimmed in gold and white with crimson draperies and lace curtains. The 32'x 35' stage was supplied with three rows of top-lights with reflectors and a row of foot-lights inset into the part of the stage in front of the curtain. (2)

Under the stage were nine dressing-rooms. The theater was also equipped with scenery for sixteen settings. The interior was lighted by fifty gas jets and an equal number under a calcium reflector in the dome. (3)


The renamed Duncan-Waller Opera House was opened on December 28, 1877 for a production of the "Chimes of Normandy." (4) In 1893 it was renamed the MAIN STREET OPERA HOUSE.

See further The Duncan-Waller Opera House Advertisements, Preview & Reviews, 1878-1893, Researched and Compiled by Paul Hemmer.

Also Duncan-Waller 1889 Playbills.



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

2. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, p. 668

3. "Theater at Fourth and Main..."

4. Oldt.