Difference between revisions of "Dawson, Colfax County, New Mexico, Opera House"

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==== The Movie Schedule  ====
==== The Movie Schedule  ====
For the 1923 movie schedule, January through June, [[Dawson,_Colfax_Conty,_New_Mexico,_Movie_House,_1923_Jan.-June|Click here]].
For the 1923 movie schedule, July through December, [[Dawson, Colfax County, New Mexico, Movie House, 1923 July-Dec.|Click here]].  
For the 1923 movie schedule, July through December, [[Dawson, Colfax County, New Mexico, Movie House, 1923 July-Dec.|Click here]].  
=== Theatrical Events  ===
=== Theatrical Events  ===

Latest revision as of 22:27, 28 February 2013

To visit the Dawson, Colfax County, New Mexico, main page,click here.


Official Theatrical Guides for 1908-1910, show the population of Dawson to have been 5,000 , increasing to 5,500 within a year. It was then the 4th largest city in the State of New Mexico. It is said, that the peak population reached 11,000. In 1910, the Dawson Opera House was the largest theatre in the State. The Manager of the Opera House was George W. Murdock, followed by T.L. Kinney, a lawyer and later Judge. The seating in the Opera House was listed as 800 Orchestra seats and 200 Balcony seats. The average prices were: Orchestra, $1.50 ($1.50 in 1920 = $35.10 in 2010); Balcony, $1.00 ($23.40 in 2010); Plus, Admission, 50 cents for Children ($11.70 in 2010), and 75 cents for Adults ($17.55 in 2010). The prices were the highest in the state of New Mexico.

The Opera House, was home for the Theatre, a Billiard Hall, Bowling Alley, a Ballroom, Banquet Rooms, Lodge meeting rooms, and offices for the Welfare Department of the Phelps Dodge Corporation, which directed the social welfare of the entire town of Dawson. The Lodge and banquet rooms were on the upper floors.

The Theatre was on the first floor, and was most modern for its time. In 1908-9, Harry Williams was the Stage Carpenter. In 1910, it was H.H. Herrod, and I.W. Marcoux was the electrician. The Opera House was illuminated with electricity. The theatre stage had the following dimensions: Stage opening 34 feet with a height of 24 feet. Depth, footlights to back wall, was 46 feet. Distance between the curtain and the footlights, was 2 feet. The distance between the side walls was 94 feet. The Distance between the fly girders was 32 feet. Height to rigging loft was 30 feet. Height to the fly gallery, was 60 feet. There was one bridge at the rear wall. The advertising printing required for visiting events was: 8 stands, 20 3-sheets, 40 1-sheets, and 60 ½ sheets. They advertised a physician and a lawyer on call. For visiting theatrical companies, the hotel, Dawson House charged $2.00 single ($46.80 in 2010) and $1.50 double ($35.10 in 2010); (3 to 4 times more expensive than Raton). The Railroad serving Dawson was the El Paso Southwestern Railroad, George Smith was the Agent in charge, followed by W.W. Arnolds in 1910. Later, other rail lines also served Dawson.

In order to appreciate the size of the Opera House and the luxury it afforded one can compare the existing theatres in nearby towns and in the State. The same theatre publications show that the theatre in Raton, The Coliseum Theatre, was much smaller, even though the Raton population was listed as 8,000. Hugo Seaberg, a lawyer, was the owner and Elmer F. Oille, was the lessee and manager. Theatre seating was for 800 plus 30 boxes (6 persons in each box). The stage opening was 31 feet by 20 feet, depth of 24 feet, side wall distance was 60 feet; distance to fly girders 35 feet, height rigging 24 feet, height to fly gallery 20 feet. No bridges, no scene room. The Nearby hotels, The Seaberg, The European, and The Palace, were much cheaper. They charged: 50 cents a double, and $1.00 single. The Coliseum Theatre burned down. Raton had other smaller theatres. The Lyric featured a 3 piece orchestra to accompany its early silent movies. The Grand brought concerts, stock companies, boxing, wrestling and lectures. The Princess catered to films. In 1914, after the Coliseum fire, the municipal auditorium was built. After much controversy, it became the Shuler Theatre that survives today as the community movies house and theatre.

The Santa Fe population at that time was 5,600 and the Santa Fe Opera House was about ½ the size of the one in Dawson. The seating was for 450 and the stage was 16 feet by 18 feet. Albuquerque population was 15,000. The Theatre in Albuquerque was much smaller, but seated 858 persons. The only other theatres in the state: The Duncan Opera House in Las Vegas, Kitchen’s Opera House in Gallup, Elks Opera house in Silver City, Clarks Opera House in Deming, and the Knights of Pythias Hall in Lordsburg were all smaller.

The Dawson Opera House was part of the Inter Mountain Theatrical Circuit. Contracts were signed between J.J. Shubert (New York theatrical producer), A.R. Pelton and F.C. Smutzer (representatives of the Inter Mountain Theatres), in which the Shuberts would book all their productions in more than 100 theatres in New Mexico (8), Arizona (15), Colorado (9), Idaho (14), Utah (34) , Nevada (15), Wyoming (12), Montana (1), Nebraska (5), South Dakota (2), Texas (1), and California (1), controlled by this circuit, and the threatres would accept an “open door policy” to desirable attractions from all producers without reference to their political or religious affiliations. Denver was the western base for the circuit.

From 1921 to 1926, movies as well as plays, operas, and even the famous Enrico Caruso himself were presented at Dawson’s palatial Opera House. 69 Carnivals, circuses and fighting events were also held. In the words of a former resident, the people of Dawson had some place to go all the time right in Dawson.

The first movie theatres, called Nickelodeons, were very basic compared to the luxurious picture palaces, like the Dawson Opera House, that followed the French model of commercial movie houses. Entrepreneurs scurried to build impressive movie houses across North America and Europe including Phelps Dodge in Dawson. Movies were an art form that had universal appeal. Their essence was entertainment; their financial success was enormous. The Dawson Opera House theatre was also used as its Movie hall.

The early silent movies were often accompanied by live piano or organ music and provided enormous entertainment value to audiences. It wasn't until 1923 that a commercially distributed film contained a synchronized sound track that was photographically recorded and printed on to the side of the strip of motion picture film. It would still be seven years before talking pictures gained supremacy and finally replaced the silent era.

New technologies became fashionable. Movies were a big hit. The radio and phonograph became popular. The first radio broadcast was in November of 1920. This decade marked the start of the sound movies, and the first 3-D movie was in 1922. The Dawson Opera House included all these technologies in its offerings.

The Dawson Opera House was multi functional. The building had rooms for other uses. It had a Ballroom, Lodge Meeting rooms and Banquet rooms. Several events could be scheduled at the same time, and not interfere with each other.

Dancing was a popular past time. The Dawson newspaper for 1923 indicated that there were many dances held at the Opera House. It also showed that the Lodges for: the Knights of Pythias. the Sisters of Pythias, Moose, Elks, Masons and Eastern Star, and others used the facilities for their meetings, banquets, dances and other events.

One of the more famous Opera House employees, was Alexander Pantages. The notorious vaudeville and motion picture impressario worked as a banquet room waiter at the Opera House as a youth seeking his fortune.

The Manager of the Opera House, in 1930 was William Cook.



  1. Drawing of the Opera House, click here.
  2. Dawson Opera House with movie posters stands click here.
  3. Dawson Opera House, about the 1930's.click here.
  4. The town view today. click here.

Movies and the Movie House


The movies listed below were obtained from the advertisements found in all the weekly issues of the Dawson News for 1923. It was Dawson’s only newspaper published by a subsidiary of Phelps Dodge Corporation, the owner of this company town.

With the ending of WWI and the final burial of the unknown soldier in 1922, Americans looked towards celebrating life and paying off the war debt. The decade brought: the discovery of penicillin and insulin, the vote to women, the Supreme Court eliminated the minimum wage law, Howard Carter and George Herbert discovered King Tut’s tomb, Atlantic City hosted the first Miss America contest, Emily Post wrote the best selling Book of Manners, and, in 1922, the peanut butter and jelly sandwich became famous and very popular. 1923 was a political year of transition. President Harding died, replaced by Calvin Coolidge. President Wilson died. Coolidge was reelected in 1924. New Mexico had obtained Statehood for a decade. Colfax County attracted Big Business into New Mexico, through its numerous mining camps and railroads. Dawson was the crown jewel of the county.

It was the decade of entertainment. Movies brought comedy shows, news, live events, sports, jazz, variety shows, drama, opera, everything the theatre did and more. Movies became a big business, slick, commercial and very profitable. It was an era of the greatest output in the US movie market. In 1923, silent movies saw the introduction of synchronized sound, and “natural color“ by Victor. The length of the movie was determined by the number of reels it had, each reel ran about 15 minutes. Many of the movie ads advertised its number of reels.

There was an aura of magic and mystery, of laughter and tears that clung to films. To the sounds of a tinkling piano, Pearl White faced her perils, Francis X. Bushman caused fluttering hearts, Theda Bara wrecked homes, Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle and Mack Sennett set zany standards. Gradually the whole world came to treasure its heroes and heroines and clowns, and to copy them. Movie stars had extraordinary large salaries, the fashions and activities of the Hollywood greats echoed around the world to the extent that 100,000 people gathered in London and in Moscow to greet Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. Her film “Rosita” in 1923 grossed $1,000,000.00. (13 million in 2010 dollars).

Although developments in color and sound were still in the experimental stage a strong demand for movies, and a potential for profit, encouraged the production of "talkies" for commercial release. The great demand was unexpected, and caused other studios to begin to produce sound films to capitalize on what at the time they saw as a fad. Other film technologies in competition to “Vitophone” were: “Movietone" by Western Electric, and "Photophone" by RCA. By 1927, 85% of US new industries grew in conjunction with the film business including: zoos, animal supply companies, costume suppliers, casting agencies, and a great many professions besides actors.

An average of 800 films were produced annually. There were 478 movies exhibited in the Opera House Movie Hall in 1923. The average number of movies per month was about 40, except February due to the disastrous Mine explosion in that month. Most movies played one day only. Serial movies played at the Saturday matinee and again at the Sunday evening show. The Saturday matinee included a movie serial and a comedy. On Tuesdays, from January to July 10, they usually showed Spanish language films, or films with Spanish sub titles. After July 10, there were no listings for Spanish language films. Each week, had at least one “No Show” or blackout day.

The great majority of the miners did not speak English, 2/3 were recent immigrants, mostly Italian, Greek, or Slav. The rest were Spanish speaking citizens. All the Dawson newspaper issues for 1923 did not reveal the showing of any foreign film except for the few Spanish speaking films from March to June. The Dawson Movie House showed “La Banda de Automovil”, a 1919 classic Mexican silent film, shown in 4 episodes. An unnamed English movie with Spanish sub titles; an unknown French movie “Delitos y Pasiones” with English and Spanish sub titles was shown in 7 episodes, and the 4 remaining “Spanish speaking films”, were advertised without title but just “ an excellent film from Mexico”. The Italian movie industry was as vigorous as the American. No Italian or other foreign films were shown in Dawson, even though a few foreign films made the top 50. All of the town support staff were English speaking.

The serial movies shown in Dawson in 1923 were: Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (released in 1922 - 18 episodes), In the Days of Buffalo Bill (released in 1922 - 18 episodes), The Oregon Trail (released in 1923 - 18 episodes), and The Steel Trail (released in 1923 - 15 episodes).

In 1923: Rin-Tin-Tin, a starving German Shepherd dog during the Great War, became most famous dog ever to star in the movies. Metro Goldwyn Mayer film making studio was founded. A new Pooh Bear story by A.A. Milne was a big hit for little children. Mickey Mouse became everyone's favorite cartoon character in Steamboat Willie.

The greatest movies of 1923 were: The Covered Wagon, Bella Donna, Down to the Sea in Ships, Stephen Steps Out, Siegfried, Hexan, Our Hospitality, The Shock, Three Ages, Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Ten Commandments, Why Worry, A Woman of Paris, The Pilgrim, Coeur Fidele, Zaza, The Extra Girl, and Safety Last. The only one that was shown in Dawson in 1923 was Safety Last.

The best actors in 1923 were: Lon Chaney in The Shock, Norman Kerry in The Merry Go Around, Harold Lloyd in Why Worry, Ivan Mosshukhin in Le Brasier Ardent, Marion Davies in Little Old New York, Mary Pickford in Rosita, Edna Purviance in A Woman of Paris, Norma Talmadge in Within the Law. The Merry Go Around was the only one shown in Dawson in 1923.

Admission was normally 25 cents including 3 cents war tax.($.25 in 1923 =$3.20 in 2010 dollars) Saturday matinees were 15 cents which included 2 cents war tax.($.15 in 1923 = $1.92 in 2010) However as the year progressed some of the films had a higher admission of 30, 40, 50 to 60 cents. ($.60 in 1923 = $7.67 in 2010). At first the higher price would be about twice a month, towards the end of the year it would be 2 or 3 times a week.

It was relatively easy for a miner to obtain credit, it would be converted into tokens. The miner would then pay his family’s admission into the movies with tokens. The sum of the tokens would be subtracted from his next paycheck. At this time the average miner was paid about $45.00 a month ($575 in 2010). The US Supreme Court abolished the minimum wage law in 1918, so miners were then paid by the weight (tons) of the coal they mined.

Of the top 50 best films of 1922 only 7 were shown in Dawson in 1923: Smilin Through, Blood and Sand, Beyond the Rocks, Grandma’s Boy, Back Pay, The Cradle, Toll of the Sea (1st Technicolor film), None were shown in 1922. So it appears, on the surface, that the people of Dawson were paying top dollar for second rate or old movies.

Thw 1920 US Census, shows that Elizabeth Johnson, born 1895 in New Mexico, worked as cashier; and Elmer McBride, born 1899 in Wyoming was a picture show operator. The 1930 US Census shows that Jules Van Dersarl, born in 1893 in Colorado, was the "Mechanic" for the Movie House.

The movies listed below were obtained from the advertisements found in all the weekly issues of the Dawson News for 1923. It was Dawson’s only newspaper published by a subsidiary of Phelps Dodge Corporation, the owner of this company town.

The Movie Schedule

For the 1923 movie schedule, July through December, Click here.

Theatrical Events

For the 1923 Theatrical Event Schedule, click here.

For the 1923 List of Talented Persons in Dawson, click here.

The Ballroom

The Fraternal Order Meeting Rooms

For a list of Fraternal Orders that held events in the Opera House, click here.


  1. 1909, Julius Cahn - Gus Hill Theatrical Guide, Volume 13, page 580. Google Books.
  2. The Inland Printer, Volume 30 page 589. Google Books.
  3. Julius Cann, Official Theatrical Guide of 1908-1908, pages 579-581, Volume 13. Google Books.
  4. Julius Cann -Gus Hill, Theatrical and Motion Picture Guide of 1910, pages 579-581, Volume 15. Google Books.
  5. New York Times, May 28, 1909. Article on the Inter Mountain TheatricaL “New Theatres for the Shuberts” Circuit.
  6. New York Tribune, May 28, 1909. Page 7. “More Theatres for Shuberts”
  7. Salt Lake Opera Company Records, Folder 16, Items on Intermountain Theatrical Circuit., Special Collections and Archives, Marie Eccles Caine Archive of Intermountain Americana, Utah State University.
  8. Southwest Economy and Society. Volume4 to Volume 6. Page 22. Google Books
    Spirits of the Border IV: The History and Mystery of New Mexico. Ken and Sharon Hudnall, pages 193-195. Google Books.
  9. Celebrity Murders and Other Nefarious Deeds, Max Haines, pages 140-144. Google Books.
    Alexander Pantages, Wikipedia 
  10. The Dawson News, all issues for 1923.
  11. The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Ralph Emerson Twitchell, Volume 3, page 96. Google Books
  12. 1930 US Census, precinct 13, Dawson, NM.