Oswego County Historical Society to Host lecture on History of Richardson Theater

OSWEGO — The Oswego County Historical Society will host the first lecture of the 2016 lecture series on April 17 at 1:30 p.m. at the Richardson-Bates House Museum at 135 E. Third St.

The Oswego County Historical Society will host the first lecture of the 2016 lecture series on April 17. The presentation by will be given by Rick Sivers on the history of the Richardson Theater. Pictured is a vintage photograph of the Richardson Theater's exterior.
The Oswego County Historical Society will host the first lecture of the 2016 lecture series on April 17. The presentation by will be given by Rick Sivers on the history of the Richardson Theater. Pictured is a vintage photograph of the Richardson Theater’s exterior.

The presentation by will be given by Rick Sivers on the history of the Richardson Theater. The event is free and open to the public.

Sivers, vice president of the historical society board of trustees and president of the Oswego Players, will tell the story of the Richardson Theater which opened in January 1895.

Ground was broken on the northwest corner of East First and Oneida streets, now the parking lot of the current Oswego Education Center.

Using his own money, Max Richardson, who had served twice as mayor of Oswego, set out to make Oswego a stop on the national theater circuit.

The four-story brick building measuring 132 feet by 118 feet was anything but plain in the interior.

The auditorium seated 1,400, was lit by both gas and electric lights with a domed ceiling 40 feet in diameter.

Boxes lined the walls on each side of the auditorium nearest the stage.

That stage was 50 feet deep and 68 feet wide and rivaled any in the state.

There were 50 fly lines for scenery on a grid 60 feet above the stage.

A total of 25 permanent sets were available to touring companies that came to play the Richardson.

The stage opening was 32 feet high and 40 feet across.

Opening night on Jan. 24, 1895, brought out Oswego’s finest to get a look at the new theater and see a performance of the opera “Robin Hood.”

The performance was sold out and Max Richardson was lauded by the city for his grand theater.

During the lifetime of the theater from 1895 to 1945, 5,360 performances were given in the theater, showcasing the talents of such notables as Otis Skinner, David Balasco, Ethel Barrymore, Lillian Russell, Maude Adams, George Arliss, Alfred Lunt; as well as musicians, orchestras and bands, topped off by two appearances by John Phillip Sousa and his band in 1896 and 1899.

The first silent movie shown at the Richardson was in 1897 and the first picture with sound in July 1912.

Spectaculars such as “Ben Hur” played the Richardson, but with advent of vaudeville, World War I, the Great Depression and motion pictures, the Richardson Theater was seen as too distant a location for the waning number of touring companies.

That lack of national interest in the Richardson, the proliferation of movie houses around Oswego and maintenance issues at the theater building, resulted in its eventual closing and demolition in 1945.

Sivers will show pictures of the theater from the collection of the Historical Society during his talk.

Following the presentation, those attending are invited to the temporary exhibit space on the second floor of the Richardson-Bates House Museum to see an exhibit on the Richardson Theater.

The exhibit will be in place through the rest of this year.

The Oswego County Historical Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the rich history of the county.

The society maintains and operates the Richardson-Bates House Museum, a historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The museum is open to the public Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 1-5 p.m. and other days by appointment.

For more information call the museum during regular hours at 343-1342.