Yesteryear History of Southeast Idaho

Yesteryear
Remembering Pocatello’s Auditorium

Editor’s Note: The following recollections of the Auditorium Theater were written by Robert E. Watson and first printed in the Idaho State Journal on April 29, 1951. The Auditorium was built by a company organized by Col. G.A. Hannaford and opened in January 1901. Over the years it was owned and operated by a number of people including Frank M. Watson, owner of the Hub Store and father of Robert E. Watson. “Bob” Watson was an usher at the Auditorium from 1907 to 1908. He later took over his father’s men’s clothing store and died in Pocatello in 1964. This article was edited and adapted for use here by retired Idaho State University history professor Jo Ann Ruckman.

In the early days of Pocatello it wasn’t practical for all devotees of the theater to journey to New York City to view the latest theatrical productions, so arrangements were made to bring the finest shows to Pocatello.

Rail connections between Salt Lake City and Butte and the east and Portland were ideal to break a jump at Pocatello and the Opera House, also known as the Auditorium, located in the 200 block of East Center, received enthusiastic support, not only from the silk-hatted and black-caped occupants of the loges, but also from the ticket holders on the lower floor and the enthusiastic critics who managed to fight their way to the gallery.

There was no camouflage or substitution in those early days and when an announcement was made that Maude Adams would appear in person, supported by the original cast, playing “Peter Pan,” that’s exactly what could be expected. Followers of the theater came from miles to witness these truly great productions.

The four boxes were frequently occupied in those days by what were known as the “painted ladies.” When not in use by the bon ton, one of the boxes was invariably occupied by Lena Cathcart, who had charge of the modern-day version of the “powder room.”

As near as we can learn the theater was built about 1900. We recall a lawn reaching from the structure to the alley, cluttered with lawn chairs, umbrellas and some trees.

Wagner’s “Parsifal” was perhaps the biggest production to be presented. Bug Spillman, stage manager, had to virtually “bend the scenery” to get it on the stage.

Many Shakespearean plays were presented. We recall “The Merchant of Venice,” “Othello,” “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Much Ado about Nothing,” “Anthony and Cleopatra” and “Hamlet.”

There was a lot of melodrama with heroines rescued in the nick of time after being tied to buzz saws and railroad tracks, and suspended from towers or cliffs.

We must not overlook the minstrel shows. One of these companies brought the first automobile seen in Pocatello and paraded it through the streets.

In the early days many productions carried their own orchestras, but the theater maintained its own musicians “just in case,” with Charlie Fetzer as violinist. Charlie always wore a black bow tie and a straight standing white collar. Between acts Charlie used to make visits to nearby points, and as the plays progressed Charlie would sink deeper and deeper into his collar.

In later years the theater was taken over largely by stock companies, notable among them being the Taylor Players and Glendora Players.

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