Traveling road shows, vaudeville, dog-and-pony shows, mind
readers, magicians, bell ringers and boxing matches-they all
appeared live at Helena's Grand Opera House. In the days before
radio, movies and television live entertainment was king.
Seating for 1,000 on Three Levels
Constructed in 1887, Helena's Grand Opera House seated
about 1,000 people. There were five dressing rooms on
each side of the stage and an orchestra pit in front. The
main seats on the floor rose toward the entrance.
Above the main floor, surrounding the stage, stood the
balcony and a third tier called the buzzards' roost. The
upper deck wrapped around the stage, giving the audience
an excellent view of the performers. Music teachers and a
print shop occupied the storefronts near the main
Forty Years of Show and Events
The Grand Opera House was Helena's entertainment
center for nearly 40 years. People came to see live acts,
theatrical productions of all kinds, to cheer at boxing
bouts, and to hear politicians give speeches. It came to a
violent end when a fire tore through the building in the
early morning hours of December 18, 1926.
The blaze gutted the newly renovated building. The fire
ended an era in Helena. The owners decided not to rebuild.
Live shows, vaudeville
and other Opera House mainstays
were on their way out, being slowly replaced by radio,
motion pictures and other new forms of entertainment.
Top left: Helena's Grand Opera House
Middle bottom: American humorist Will Rogers, one of the best-known celebrities of the era, and the Al. G. Field Greater Minstrels were two of the national acts that took the stage in Helena.