Do you remember the old DeForest Opera House? The big two-story building stood on South Main Street where it met Commerce Street on DeForest’s old main square.
It was built around 1910 by business people by public conscription and served many purposes. One had to climb three or four steps to enter through the front door. Once inside the main floor was straight ahead or if you took a stairway downstairs there was a bar and a small bowling alley. If I remember correctly, it was just two lanes.
The main floor was used for many different events: public dances, plays and live entertainment shows, bingo parties, movies and roller skating. But to my knowledge an opera never played in the building.
There was a raised stage on the west end of the hall and there was seating in a mezzanine section around the circumference of the building. People could come to the dance and sit in the mezzanine seats to watch the dancers and listen to the music. The masquerade balls were very popular around Halloween. Cash prizes would be given for the best costumes. I only went to one masquerade ball, and I was quite young, but I still remember it.
The high school used the building for high school commencement exercises prior to the new high school building being built in the pre-World War I days. Walter “Boolah” Dahl started a movie theatre in it and built the bowling alley in the basement prior to moving the bowling business into the livery barn behind the Dahl house on Commerce Street.
Every once in a while posters would be put up around town advertising a free movie on a certain date. These were usually sponsored by seed companies. After the movie there was a short sales presentation and folks could put their orders in.
As time went on the building became less popular as a meeting place. John Connor, a tobacco buyer in DeForest bought the building and used it for a tobacco warehouse. He would buy the tobacco crops from local farmers and store it in the warehouse until he sold it. Then it would be shipped by rail to the tobacco companies.
The newly formed St. Ola’s Catholic Parish had been meeting for about two years in the Norway Theatre and decided to buy the building in 1950. It became the catholic church for the congregation until they built a new parish center and school building on Jefferson Street in 1962-63.
The last time I was in the building was in 1962 for the funeral of my grandfather, John Conner.
The building remained vacant after the church moved out and eventually it was taken down to make room for a new building which was the DeForest Post Office. A few years ago the post office moved to a new location on South Main Street and the law office of Marsha Teser is now at the corner of South Main and Commerce Streets.
Dick Emerson is the former publisher of the DeForest Times-Tribune.