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Reed Opera House

The Reed Opera House is the only truly monumental building dating from the nineteenth century remaining in the center of Oregon’s Capital City, with the exception of the First Methodist Church and Waller Hall on the Willamette University campus. Architecturally, it is significant as a choice example of commercial Italianate design somewhat typical of West Coast building of its day. G. W. Rhodes, the architect, was also responsible for the castellated brick masonry State Penitentiary of 1870, a structure no longer in existence.

Historically, it is significant as Salem’s early cultural and social center. It was a product of the rapid growth the town enjoyed upon development of the Oregon and California Railroad, which provided (in addition to the Willamette River) another, faster link to West Coast markets.General Cyrus A. Reed, who built the Opera House, had been Adjutant General of Oregon during the later part of the Civil War. He was interested in women’s rights, spiritualism and dramatics. He was a self-taught artist who painted the scenes for his theater.

He built the Opera House from funds obtained through real estate development. At first, he ran both the Opera House and the Reed Opera House Hotel. The project proved to be more costly than planned and he had great difficulty in salvaging his interests.From its grand opening on October 9, 1869, with "The Female Gambler" the Opera House provided a stage for traveling dramatic troupes, the Salem Dramatic Association, the Salem Musical Union, the Firemen's Annual New Year’s Ball, gubernatorial inaugurations, political meetings, community celebrations, and fortnightly dances. Many lecturers and entertainers, and other visitors to the Capital City found a public hall and an audience at the Opera House.

On April 20, 1900 the Opera House closed because the Grand Theater Opera House, also in downtown Salem was more readily accessible from the street level.The Reed Opera House Hotel opened as a first class operation, but quickly became a second class institution in competition with the larger Chemeketa House, later known as the Marion Hotel. On the other hand, the Opera House Saloon was the best in town around 1893 and was the center of the city's heaviest gambling. 

The 1900 redevelopment on behalf of Joseph Meyers and Sons (later Miller’s Department Store) was a most successful economic venture and with the addition of Montgomery Ward and J. C. Penney to the street, Liberty became the retail center, somewhat displacing Commercial Street in that capacity.The introduction of larger stores from Portland after World War II, temporarily ended the vitality of Salem's downtown retail core but close attention from merchants and city government has sustained its viability. Today the Reed Opera House serves as a shopping center, a home for several cafes and restaurants and hosts many community gatherings in its conference rooms.

Researched and written by Paul Porter and Susan Gibby.

Photo Credits
Record Number: PCAB7
Location: Arthur Bates Postcards
Photo Source: Salem Public Library
Date of Photo: 1888

Record Number: SJ544
Location: Statesman Journal photo
Photographer: Poush, Dan
Copyright/ownership: Statesman Journal photo
Photo Source: Salem Public Library
Date of Photo: 1965-1978

Record Number: MJON0224
Copyright or Ownership: Photograph property of the Marion County Historical Society. Copyright restrictions may apply.
Photo Source: Marion County Historical Society
Date of Photo: about 1890


Additional Links
Reed Opera House, 1888
Photo from 1888 of the Reed Opera House
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Reed Opera House, 1965

This 1965 photo shows the Reed Opera House located on the corner on Court and Liberty Streets NE in downtown Salem. The corner store, Scotty's shoes, is no longer in business. The owner of the store was Leon D. Scott. The Reed Opera House has been converted into a retail shopping mall.
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Reed Opera House, 1890
Pictured is the Reed Opera House about 1890. A streetcar is in front of the building.
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