Stroud Theater born out of an idea of an opera house

August - Stroud Theater 001
The Stroud Theater was built in 1913 on North Sixth Street and Quaker Alley Stroudsburg.
The building burned in 2006, and is now a vacant lot.
By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

In 1910, several citizens of the Stroudsburg community created the Stroudsburg Industrial Club to “cultivate the social side, as well as to look after the business welfare of our town. The idea being to rent and furnish suitable quarters, where the members can meet for recreation or business.”

The officers of the new endeavor were Robert Brown Sr., president; S.E. Shull, Esq., first vice president; R.H. Kintner, second vice president; J.C. Bensinger, recording secretary; H.E. Sweeny, corresponding secretary, and; C.B. Keller, treasurer.

Within a year’s time, the members of the Stroudsburg Industrial Club had come up with their first idea to help better the community. They wanted to erect an opera house within the borough limits of Stroudsburg. While there were entertainment establishments, including small moving picture rooms, there was no such venue for some forms of live entertainment.

Members of the Stroudsburg Industrial Club formed an Opera House Committee. This special task force included Robert B. Keller, W.W. L’Hommedieu, Dr. N.C. Miller, Ernest Wyckoff and Joseph Shiffer.

The Opera House Committee presented their vision at a May 12, 1911 meeting of the club. The task force had conducted extensive research, and with the assistance of Harry F. Weaver, a Honesdale architect, they offered their preliminary plan for a convention center and theater that could hold 1,000 seats. Staying true to their mission to promote downtown Stroudsburg, the Stroudsburg Industrial Club stated that Stroudsburg, “needed an Opera House” and that “…the need is greater than ever before. If the town is to keep step with progress, it must meet the demands of those it would bring to the industrial plants. If we are to have a beautiful Stroudsburg and invite conventions to visit us, we must have a place where such conventions may assemble.”

The Opera House Committee moved forward by fine-tuning construction plans, by promoting the idea of an opera house, and by selling stock to pay for the project’s construction. The committee and architect chose “the Smith estate” on which to build. The property was located on Main Street, two lots east of the Stroudsburg Methodist Church. The cost of the lot was $5,000. While pricey, the location was desirable because it had access to Main Street in the front and Ann Street in the rear.

The design for the opera house included a 1,000 seat theater/auditorium, a basement for balls and social events, a bowling alley, and a gymnasium. The second floor would serve as a meeting space for members of the Stroudsburg Industrial Club. Other smaller rooms would be used to play billiards and cards while a special room was dedicated to quiet reading. The building would also intended to house a swimming pool.

Local citizens embraced the idea of this all-in-one entertainment venue. It was agreed around town that if any group of individuals could bring the idea of an opera house to fruition, that group would be the Stroudsburg Industrial Club. Their members had numerous contacts and business relationships as well as strong public relations that would be able to attract investors excited to get in on the ground level of this community project.

Members of the Stroudsburg Industrial Club boldly began selling subscriptions for stock in the project while architect Weaver interviewed prospective leasees. This all occurred before any construction began. In June, The Record’s headline read, “The Opera House Money Rolls In; No Trouble To Sell the Stock; Progressiveness of the Local People.”

By August, all of the shares in the endeavor had been sold, and members of the Opera House Committee anxiously awaited construction bids. It was announced that “the Stroudsburg Theatre will be commenced at once,” and one month later, newspapers reported “there is no reason why the structure should not be built.”

At their October 24, 1911 board meeting, President Keller announced that while the opera house project was on the agenda, there was no news on the progress of the project and that it was “too late in the fall season” to begin building. The Opera House Committee members and their supporters became nervous, and they stressed the importance of the project, arguing that “the people here have realized more and more the necessity of a place of entertainment of this sort and that are anxiously awaiting the day when one is built here.”

The fall and winter seasons passed. By the spring of 1912, discussion of the proposed opera house seemed to stop. It is unknown why progress halted on this project, and no explanation was given by the club.

The following year, another community-minded group, the Huston Realty Company, began to discuss the opera house, and decided to pick up where the Stroudsburg Industrial Club had left-off. The company had land on North 6th Street in downtown Stroudsburg on which they wanted to build an opera house.

On July 1, 1913, it was reported that the Huston Realty Group was selling stock and “meeting with financial success.” Nine days later, construction began.

Interestingly, every member of the Stroudsburg Industrial Club Opera House Committee became involved with the planning of the 6th Street Opera House. Architect Harry Weaver oversaw the Huston Realty Company’s construction while Joseph Shiffer, who was a member of the special Opera House Committee, was awarded the construction contract for the new theater building.

The December 18, 1913 edition of the Morning Press reported that “everything is about completed at the Stroud Theatre for the opening show ‘Excuse Me’ which will show this evening. The house scenery has all been hung and all the upholstery work in the boxes was completed on Wednesday afternoon. The chairs are expected early this morning and will be placed in position by a small army of men.”

Unfortunately, the chairs did not arrive in time and had to be borrowed from the Castle Inn in Delaware Water Gap.

The Morning Press reported the following day that the opening night was a huge success with roughly 1,000 guests in attendance. Patrons were pleased with the interior of the theater including “the terra-cotta and cream-colored walls, the simplicity of the decorations [and] the handsome curtains.”

There was never any additional mention about the original plans for an Opera House which was to be located at the Smith estate on Main Street. The Stroudsburg Industrial Club eventually evolved into the Stroudsburg Chamber of Commerce.

The theater building burned in 2007, and the site is now an empty lot. It was last used as a church.