File photo/The Herald-Dispatch This 1939 photograph shows work in progress to convert the former theater building for use as a Montgomery Ward store.

HUNTINGTON - Despite its name, Huntington's Davis Opera House by no means limited its entertainment offerings to opera. Over the years, it presented stage plays, concerts, vaudeville programs, touring minstrel shows, local theatrical productions and other shows.

In 1884, druggist Benjamin T. Davis Sr. purchased a lot from Collis P. Huntington on the southeast corner of 3rd Avenue and 8th Street. There he built a $35,000 brick building that housed his drugstore on the first floor and the Davis Opera House on the second floor. The theater was the first in Huntington to present live stage shows.

The Davis Drug Store fronted on 3rd Avenue, while entrance to the 800-seat theater was located on the building's 8th Street side. Once they gained admission, theatergoers made their ways to their seats by means of a long flight of stairs.

In 1892, the building was remodeled, the seating capacity increased to 1,200, and its name changed to the Huntington Theater. Over the years, some of the biggest names in show business played at the old theater, including Sarah Bernhardt, John Barrymore, Edie Foy, Sophie Tucker, Will Rogers, Helen Hayes and others.

With the advent of motion pictures, the theater fell into disuse and was closed in 1928. In 1932, it reopened for one final gala performance, a minstrel show starring a number of talented local performers. The curtain then came down for the last time.

In 1939, the building was revamped to house a Montgomery Ward store. One of the oldest in downtown Huntington, the building is still standing and over the years has been occupied by a number of different businesses.

To read more articles from this series, go to www.herald-dispatch.com. Click on "News," then "Lost Huntington" series.


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