1910 Concert Syracuse 09-12-1910

The Wieting Opera House was donated in the mid-19th century by physician and medical lecturer, John M. Wieting M.D. (1817–1888) and was considered a “world class” cultural institution. Originally, a building called Wieting Hall, which was a lecture hall, was built at 100 West Water Street at the corner of South Salina Street in 1852 and was lost to fire in 1856.

The building was rebuilt and reopened in 1870 as the Wieting Opera House and had a seating capacity of 1,017. The first opera that took place in the house, however, did not occur until 1886 when the American Opera Company made a brief appearance. In fact, opera was never intended as the main venue in the theater. At that time, towns throughout America had opera houses where operas were seldom or never performed. The “opera house” designation simply provided a respectable cover for places that presented a variety of popular entertainments. Often they were called “museums.”

1898. Wieting Opera House, Clinton Square.

On July 19, 1881, the building was totally destroyed by a fire during early morning hours. The theater was one of the finest in Syracuse and one of the handsomest in New York State. It was wholly destroyed within two hours. The fire was the most “disastrous” that had occurred in the city in 30 years, however, two other minor fires had occurred at that same site during the previous 25 years.

The total loss was $398,000, of which $270,000 was covered by insurance. The building was occupied by 50 tenants and “all are losers to considerable amounts.” The tenants owned a variety of businesses in the building including; insurance agencies, clothiers, hardware, boots and shoes, jewelry, agricultural implements and office fixtures. Several professionals such as architects, lawyers, photographers and stock brokers also lost their businesses.

The building was four stories tall and covered half an acre of ground and was still owned by John M. Wieting. The theater was valued at $200,000 and was insured for $80,000. Half a dozen people were severely injured in the fire by the falling walls and debris. The western circuits of the Western Union telegraph lines were interrupted for several hours, and the American Union lines were down in all directions. Intense heat from the fire broke the plate-glass windows in the buildings on the opposite side of the street and did other damage.

The building was quickly rebuilt and opened its doors as a theater in 1882 and had a seating capacity of over 1,200. In 1896, several buildings in Clinton Square burned including the Wieting Building, on the south side of the square which also caught fire in 1856 and 1881 and was rebuilt each time.

By 1897, Wieting’s widow had replaced the building. The third Wieting building which seated 2,140, was a “resplendent edifice” with ornate chandeliers, a floor of Italian mosaic tile, marble walls, a rich gold and rose color scheme, draperies of silk and velvet and bronze doors. “In short, a theatre rather than a lecture hall, museum or opera house” as opposed to the original buildings on the site.

Wieting Opera House.

During its prime in the late 19th century, world premieres and test runs of plays and light operas were held in the theater.

Wieting Block and Wieting Opera House in Clinton Square in Syracuse, New York 1913 from Erie Canal bridge
By the late 1890s, the three theatres in Downtown Syracuse each had their own specialty. The Wieting Opera House became the house of stars in “touring combinations” while the Grand evolved into a vaudeville house and the Bastable, also in Clinton Square, featured stock companies and melodramas and was called the “house of 10-20-30 cent shows.” At one point, the Shubert brothers managed all three facilities.

Today the side is occupied by the Atrium, a hotel and office-convention center.

1905. Clinton Square next to the Erie Canal: Syracuse Savings Bank on left, Gridley Building in center and Wieting Opera House on far right. The tall building (center on right) is the Onondaga County Savings Bank. 

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