Community History People & Places Places St Landry History

The Opera Houses of Old Opelousas – Part One

CAROLA LILLIE HARTLEY
Publisher and Contributing Writer

From its humble beginning in the 1700s, Opelousas provided different forms of entertainment for its citizens. In the early days one could find musical performances and other forms of entertainment at ball rooms in the local hotels, at social halls located on the second floor of downtown business places and even local homes.

The Opelousas Varieties

By the 1840s, the town had its own opera house, called the Opelousas Varieties. The Varieties building was two stories, with businesses located on the first floor and the opera house on the second. It was built sometime before 1840 in the area near Landry and Main streets, or Landry and Union streets in the heart of downtown Opelousas. (Note: It is important to remember the layout of the downtown streets was a little different during that time, so the location of that building was somewhere in the area of what today we know as Landry and Union streets and Landry and Main streets.)

Many a story was told about the Varieties. In August of 1840 the Opelousas Gazette reported an unpleasant incident at that theater. It seems Dr. Joseph P. Hawkins, a local resident, stabbed the manager of the place, a Mr. Franklin, in “the most brutal and assassin-like manner.” The story continued, “to mention the circumstances which led to this act of brutality, is more than we can find room for; and they are particularly of such a nature, as would not become the columns of a public journal.” In other words, as some old timers suggested, there was probably a women involved. We know this incident was of a scandalous nature as Dr. Hawkins immediately left Opelousas soon after, never to return.

In the 1850s, J. J. Beauchamp owned the Opelousas Varieties. During that decade, performances were held almost weekly at the venue, including one by Mr. Ries and Mayer on July 21, 1853. Mr. Mayer of that duo was Charles, the brother of Opelousas “music man” Professor Rudolph A. Mayer, who will be discussed in a future article.

1853 Ad for performance of Ries and Mayer at the Opelousas Varieties in Opelousas.

As the name implied, in addition to the building housing the opera house, the Varieties also had a Coffee House and other businesses under its roof. In 1858 Mr. Beauchamp advertised the Opelousas Varieties for sale. Sometime later the building was sold to Julius Meyers who opened his carriage shop called J. Meyers & Co. there. It is interesting to note that the old Opelousas Varieties building that became J. Meyers & Co. was again sold in the late 1890s and housed the Opelousas Mercantile Company operated by the Roos family.

Opelousas Opera House

When the old building was sold, a new Varieties building was constructed. That eventually became a new opera house business that was named the Opelousas Opera House. During the late 1870s and 1880s many events and activities were presented in the new venue that included theatrical performances, featuring famous traveling acts of the time. I am not sure if acts like the Four Cohens depicted in the movie Yankee Doodle Dandy ever graced its stage, but the town’s own Professor R. A. Mayer held many musical concerts in the house over those two decades. And in 1888, that opera house was one of the settings for the Louisiana Press Association State Convention, held in Opelousas from May 1- 4 of that year.

1882 Ad for A Grand Ball at the Opelousas Opera House

Perrodin’s Hall

In the early part of the 1880s, the Opelousas Opera House got some competition when Jules Perrodin and brother August, opened a popular new entertainment venue known as Perrodin’s Hall.

In 1882, the Perrodin brothers purchased a large building that was originally designed for a cottonseed oil mill, near Victor Bourdin’s Steam Corn Mill on Bayou Tesson at the corner of Grolee and Market streets. The building was dismantled and transported to property on the corner of Main and Grolee streets, where it was reassembled. This was near the store of Jules Perrodin, and on the lot where Perrodin’s Lumber Yard stood at that time. Across Grolee Street was the Jules Perrodin home.  

The first floor of the building was used as a large warehouse with a carriage emporium and room for other smaller businesses. The second floor became the new opera house in town.

Perrodin’s Hall was immediately accepted as the place for entertaining. Many plays and musical concerts were presented there, and it also hosted other activities including dances and “hops” for young people, skating parties, graduation exercises for schools, Mardi Gras Balls and more.

In 1886 when a fire destroyed the St. Landry Parish Courthouse, the temporary courthouse was set up on the first floor at Perrodin’s Hall until the new building could be constructed. And according to local legend, Perrodin’s Hall was the first building to have electrics lights in Opelousas.

In 1892, J. B Sandoz opened a new carriage repository at Perrodin’s Hall. Sandoz later purchased the building. Although the Opera House part located on the second story of the building was still used for some time, eventually the building became just a hardware store. It was remodeled and changed over the years and finally, in 1952 the building was demolished and a new J. B. Sandoz Hardware Store was built on the site.

By the end of the 1880s and into the early 1890s, the appeal of the Opelousas Opera House and Perrodin’s Hall was starting to fade. The talk of the town at that time became “a new more modern Opera House is needed.”  

Part two of the Opera House of Old Opelousas will have more of this story.

Although not the best quality, his photo from 1896 shows the Opelousas Mercantile Company on the corner of Main and Landry streets is the building that once house the Opelousas Varieties.
J. B. Sandoz pictured on the corner of Main and Grolee streets in 1896 in the Perrodin’s Hall building.