The Original Opening Night at the Howard Theatre

“Over one thousand of Washington’s elite attending opening performance … Audience one of the most brilliant ever seen at theatre in nation’s capital … best appointed theatre of its kind in the country.” These are quotes from The Baltimore Afro-American, printed on August 27th, 1910.

Howard Theatre
Howard Theatre

The theatre cost $100,000 to construct and was “the largest colored theatre in the world.” It opened to rave reviews on August 22nd, 1910.

Washington, August 23d–Before an audience that packed the enclosure from one end to the other, so that standing room was at a premium, the much-talked of Howard Theatre opened its doors for its initial performance last night. Long before noon every ticket had been sold and at night fully five thousand persons gathered around the entrance and clamored for admission. Whshington [sic] society was out in full, and the many magnnificient [sic] gowns worn by the ladies, made a scene seldom witnessed even in this city of brilliant functions.

The Howard Theatre was erected at a cost of $100,000 by the National Amusement Company, in which most of the money is furnished by Baltimore capitalists, and is the finest theatre in the country catering principally to colored people. The inside is beautifully decorated and frescoed and will easily accommodate one thousand people. In the centre of the ceiling is a fine painting, representing Spring. The droy curtain is also finely decorated with a painting of a snug little bay scene, in which the tall spires of sity [sic] church steeples can be seen in the far background. There are three boxes on either side of the stage. Taken as a whole the little playhouse presents a far more cost appearance than many of those in which colored patrons are forced to take the last three rows in the gallery.

All the colored shows that heretofore been compelled to play in third-rate theatres or stay away from this city, will be seen this winter at the Howard, and white actors of note will appear there.

The audience that attended last night was in a rare good humor, and every one of the performers on the lengthy and well balanced vaudeville bill received a full share of applause. The headliners honors were about equally shared by the Pekin Trio and Miss Abbie Mitchell. Both of these numbers responded to several encores. Miss Mitchell sand among other numbers “The Red, Red Rose” the song with which she made such a hit while leading lady for Cole and Johnson a few seasons ago.

Before the performance, Judge Robert Terrell made a neat address in which he praised highly the men who made the theatre possible. He said that theatres where colored people were accorded every privilege were very scarce, and when one is started for their benefit it should be patronized by every lover of race endeavor. Others who made short addresses were Auditor of the Treasury Ralph Tyler, and City Councilman Harry Cummings. Mr. Cummings said the Howard theatre was a wedge that would break down the barriers of prejudice in other theaters.

Among the Baltimoreans who witnessed the performance were: Messrs. William H. Daly, John Rich, Henry Jenkins and Charles Carroll.

Sorry for the typos, but that’s how the article was written.

It’s wonderful to see such a historically significant theatre gain a second life. I’m also excited to be attending the grand opening this evening with a performance by the grandmaster of funk himself, George Clinton.

The Howard Theatre (via WAMU)
The Howard Theatre (via WAMU)
Statue of Duke Ellington outside Howard Theatre
Statue of Duke Ellington outside Howard Theatre

About Tom

Tom founded Ghosts of DC on January 4th, 2012 as a blog to uncover the lost and untold history of Washington, D.C. He has lived in the city for over a decade and loves exploring every corner of the District.

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  • Edward

    Man now that’s awesome very good old time news for the blacks as well as forth whites who didn’t have a problem with black folks in the first place ! Only in America can this kind of change be praised for and by both sides I’m very happy and glad that this finally after so many hart braking attempts for the blacks finally ended in one night! That’s just awesome to me! It should have never lasted this long but it did it’s about time the amercian people woke up! And gave the blacks some kind of peace even though their flight continued will in to the fifties and sixties and through out the seventies unfortunately and lets not for get about the forties and thirties too! For one night they got the peace they finally deservered! It’s just sad that it still took another sixty to seventy plus years to totally resolve the issue though the American people can be so damn stuberin at times that’s why the civil war lasted so long in this country people here stand up for their beliefs and rights likes its nobodies business and stand firm on it too! Ok I think you got my meaning and that I got my point across as well as I can remember it any way Rory if I made some mistakes here and there but the 52 years I’ve seen and read about has gravely saddened my heart for the way the whites treated the blacks it’s bull crap and now it’s finally over I’m so glad because I loved going into a black church and worth ship the same same :God! That I do and was welcomed with opened arms it was totally awesome and you could feel the Holy Ghost moving in the church too! I love black peoples their no different from us whites other than their skin color the y have the same feelings and hurts as the whites do too God Tells us that we are all His Children in one accord not two groups but all in one group,underGod!