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Gilroy’s Old Music Hall Written By Elizabeth Barratt L ocated near the southeast corner of Fifth and Eigleberry Streets, the Music Hall was once part of the center of town, occupying an ideal position across from the one-time city offices, jail and the Vigilant Fire Engine Company. Even after 1905, when municipal services moved to the new City Hall at Sixth and Monterey Streets, the Music Hall, later renamed the Opera House, lasted another two decades. For over a half-century, the site hosted concerts, vaudeville shows, educational presentations, speeches, school graduations and political rallies. The first known public function at the Music Hall was a Christmas Ball held in 1874, not long after the building was completed. With removable seating, the interior provided space for numerous large community events. As Memorial Day and July Fourth observances drew to a close, it was the spot where citizens gathered for patriotic literary exercises, as a wrap-up to the day’s outdoor parade and picnic festivities. With a 750-seat capacity, the Music Hall was a draw for touring groups. A typical announcement of the era appeared in the Gilroy Advocate in November 1899. It proclaimed, “At the Music Hall Monday Night, Gorton’s Famous Minstrels of New Orleans will perform new acts and laughable oddities, along with a main 72 street parade scheduled for noon and a grand finale concert. Prices: 35 cents, 50 cents and children 25 cents.” Speakers on cross-country lecture circuits featured such diverse presentations as a 60-member cast performing “Grand Fairy Speciale and Melodrama” in 1883, and in 1892, a mind- reading presentation by Alexander J. McIvor Tyndall. Successful tours sometimes stayed on for three-night performances. Built on the site of a burned-out livery stable in 1873-74 just a few years after Gilroy’s incorporation, the Music Hall endured as a place of public gatherings until the 1920s. Portions of the old red- wood structure were later incorporated into Gilroy’s first American Legion Building and National Guard Armory. Over the years, not all the Music Hall shows received enthusiastic attendance. A February 1900 article in the Gilroy Advocate observed the dreary performance of a well- attended minstrel show, “There are 8 or 9 women, 4 men and a small boy in the company. No musicians among them. The company appeared to be more interested in the merry mood of the audience than with their own performance. The voices of the company were strained and harsh. The men mumbled and were not understood.” Political rallies met at the hall, as did large assemblies held to air public issues. In 1903 eight teachers of the Gilroy Grammar School brought a complaint before the GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN MAY/JUNE 2016 Board of Trustees against the principal, Mr. Denton. Calling him a harsh task- master, the women protested against his labeling of them as “hussies and sluts.” Infuriated Gilroyans met at the Music Hall to demand Denton’s resignation. The Music Hall was the scene of graduation ceremonies and other school events. Bands and youth orchestras per- formed in concerts, such as one held in March 1901 to commemorate the opening of the coastal railroad route connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. On December 9, 1905, Mr. Frederick MacMurray entertained audiences with a violin concert. The son of the local Presbyterian minister, he was the father of future film and television personality, Fred MacMurray. The town’s first films were shown at the Music Hall in 1905, by then upgraded sufficiently to be renamed the Opera House. Moving pictures were shown every two weeks. The Opera House continued to draw audiences until the end of 1921, when the Strand Theater opened on Monterey Street. Besides offering the latest in cinema, the movie house had modern dressing rooms and a full capacity stage for live performances, making it Gilroy’s new, popular entertainment spot. The Opera House building stood silent until 1926, when the local American gmhtoday.com