On January 30, 1889, a brief notice appeared in the Weekly Register: “A New Opera House – Mr. G.W.M. Hooff is converting his new building, on Main Street, opposite his drug store, into an opera house.”
The son of the late Dr. James Hooff, one of the early doctors in town, George William Moore Hooff was a real go-getter. Born in 1860, he was 11 when his father passed and he started work as a clerk in his half-brother Joseph Miller’s drug store. As soon as he was old enough, he passed his pharmacy exams, bought out Miller, and opened his own store. This was in a small building roughly where the River Museum is being built today.
By 1878, when he was only 18, Hooff’s Drug Store was a successful pharmacy selling patent medicines, custom-made remedies, candy, and other odds and ends, yet he didn’t stop there. In 1887, he purchased an old livery stable across from his drug store and began updating and modernizing it by bringing in new carriages and tack from Cincinnati, expanding it to include more room for boarding, and providing a team of horses for rent. Two years later, he bought the neighboring carriage house and began work on what would become his greatest legacy.
Opened with a grand ball by the younger folks in town less than a month after construction began, Hooff’s Opera House could seat 800 and had a 22×30 foot stage, and in the hundred-odd years Point Pleasant had existed, was the first dedicated performance space in town.
Earlier performances had been crammed into the Odd Fellows lodge in Beale Hall or converted the Hanley skating rink for an evening. Neither were safe for such large crowds, as the town learned in 1878 when Beale hall nearly burned to the ground with 200 people inside. Only the quick action of G.W.M. Hooff, who smothered burning oil with his coat, saved the building and crowd. In all likelihood, this event was the origin of Hooff’s work nine years later.
Able to accommodate almost any type of performance, the Opera House was an instant success. Locals turned out in droves to watch shows by the major traveling companies of the time, including The Bostonians, Al G. Fields’ minstrels, actress Etta Reed, and the McGibeny family. Lectures by visiting ministers, photographers, and professors were also huge hits, as were dances put on by the local bands and fraternal organizations.
Such was his success that in 1893, Hooff started on a much larger building to replace all of his business enterprises. The first section was completed in 1894, but in 1895, a disastrous fire tore through downtown, gutting the new building and destroying the old one. This stopped a few projects in town, but not Hooff’s. He even expanded the plan, and by 1898, the new Hooff Block was finished.
Still standing today as Bordman’s Furniture, this three-story building was originally made up of Hooff’s Drug Store, Harper Bros. Furniture, and offices for both Adams Express and Southern Telephone on the 1st floor, the main opera house and stage on the 2nd, balcony seating on the 3rd, an adjoining two-story livery stable with room for 40 stalls, and a carriage house in the back. Aside from the sheer size, the cast-iron storefront and massive plate glass windows ensured that this was the most expensive building on Main Street at the time.
Able to seat at least 1,000 people, this new opera house was outfitted with a 25×50 foot stage, two tiers of dressing rooms, the latest lighting systems, and rolled drop curtains with several different scenes and backgrounds.
Much like before, this new opera house was home to many of the major traveling companies of the day performing hit plays like Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Rip Van Winkle, a variety of vaudeville acts, and of course many local dances, commencements, and conventions.
This continued for another decade, but soon, new technology caught up with rural Mason County. In 1907, the Edisonia Moving Pictures Theater opened at 510 Main Street, and as you can probably imagine, this quickly replaced Hooff’s Opera House as the place to be. This story will be continued next week.
Information primarily from the Weekly Register and 1987 History of Mason County.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at email@example.com.