Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels, part 1

The Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels have not been heard from the stage of the Radnor High School Auditorium for this many a day. But so lusty was their singing, so amusing their skits, so illustrious the names of their members that the memory of their performances still lingers on and on.

Organized in 1918, the Minstrels were the result of an idea on the part of Charles C. Shoemaker, one of Wayne’s most public spirited men of all time, that the then newly organized Men’s Club should initiate a definite form of entertainment for the community, especially for the more youthful element. He immediately enlisted the aid of three friends, A. M. Ware and Jarvis Wood – (What pleasant memories these names stir in the minds of all old time Wayneites!)

Benjamin F. James was made the secretary and with the aid of Dr. Arthur J. Standen soon had a noteworthy organization under way as part of a proud plan of a lively community club as envisioned by Mr. Shoemaker. It was a Club that was great in its day in that it sponsored and promoted so many activities, especially those in connection with Wayne’s part in World War I, such as those inaugurated by the Home Guard, Company B, the Red Cross, the Community Chest and Liberty Drives. Public gatherings and celebrations originated with the Men’s Club. In its building were pool, billiards and bowling facilities. It sponsored the local baseball team. It looked to the interests of children and young people. And what is of particular interest at this Yule-tide season is the fact that the Club saw that the big spruce tree on the Louella Court grounds was always ablaze with lights at Christmas time.

So many activities and yet of all of them, the Wayne Men’s Minstrels were in existence longer than any others of the Men’s Club! The first performances were given on April 12 and April 17, 1918. “Ed” Hunt was musical director; George Allen was stage manager, while “Pete” Allen, his son, and “Bill” Shuster were end men opposite “Ken” Dickson and “Doc” Standen. “Ben” James was interlocutor. On the business side were “Grif” Roberts and “Bill” Hollaway as managers and “Charlie” Mather as property man. Among the performers were also William P. Cochran, A. M. Ehart, John M. Rogan, William Plimpton, F. P. Radcliffe, Williamson Tate and Dr. Charles J. Muttart, all of whom appeared in a sketch entitled “Lake Perhaps, a Tragedy in One Foolish Act”, which depicted the futile efforts of a group of Wayne citizens to use the Radnor High School field for ice skating!

Still others on the stage were Frank T. Adams, William Beatty, Jr., Arlington W. Canizares, William B. Dowdell, Robert G. Hunt, William Holloway, Charles T. Mather, Edward W> Maxwell, William H. McCutcheon, Ridgeway F. Moon, Frederick P. Ristine, E. B. Stanley and George H. Wilson, then superintendent of schools.

In the first part of the show William Beatty and “Chal” Jacob, supported by the minstrel circle, sang a number of well-known ballads. Between the first and second parts of the show the audience was entertained by five “bang-up stunts” – to use the printed words of the program. These were Bert Ehart and his banjo in “Tidings of Comfort and Joy”; Bill Shuster and Frank Adams in a “One-act Scream”, entitled “Embalming Ebenezer”. And last and perhaps most amusing of all these was a parody on the Sextette from “Lucia” by Messrs. Stanley, Beatty, Roberts, Hunt, Ehart and Stillwell.

The musical efforts of the Minstrel Show were supported by an orchestra composed of: Violins, Miss Anna Jackson, James Kromer and Luke Shearer; clarinet, Francis Adelberger; cornet, J. H. Ford; ‘cello, M. Newmyer; flute, Dr. R. P. Elmer; bass, N. Budd; piano, Miss Alice Wilson and drums, Norman Coudert.

So well were these two shows of April 1918 received that other performances were given in 1919 and 1920. Then there was a lapse until 1926, when the minstrel men got together again to resume their activities. The 1926 show and others that followed will be described in subsequent articles in this series.

(To be continued)

For her information in regard to the Wayne Men’s Club Minstrels the writer is indebted to B. F. James, Harry Creutzberg and Albert War for articles they wrote for the Suburban some years ago.

Wayne Opera House fire details

Something of the history of one of the oldest buildings in Wayne, the Opera House, has been given from time to time in this column. Recently some further information concerning it has come to the writer, particularly the details of the devastating fire that occurred there in 1914.

Located at the northeast corner of Lancaster Pike and North Wayne avenue, this structure was one of the landmarks of early Wayne. Built in the early sixties by Henry Askin, one of the founders of Wayne, it was originally known as Lyceum Hall. There debates, lectures and amateur theatricals were held. In 1889 the Wayne Estate enlarged and improved the stage which had been a very small one. New scene shrifts and a new proscenium were added. A few years later the third floor was renovated to furnish quarters for Wayne Lodge No. 581, F. and A. M. Still to be discerned on the northeast corner of the building at second floor height is a keystone with a masonic emblem set in the masonry.

In the early nineteen hundreds the Wayne Post Office moved into this building from its former location in what is now Frankenfield’s Fish Market. This was after extensive remodeling and enlargement had been made to the old Opera House. Thirty-five years ago this month, on December 30, 1914, an early morning blaze, the origin of which has never been definitely ascertained, practically destroyed the Opera House itself in addition to the office of the Wayne Plumbing and Heating Company and the Counties Gas and Electric Company located in what is now the Wayne Men’s Store. Welsh and Park Hardware store, predecessors of George W. Park and Son, Hardware, ahd its quarters in a large store on the Pike side of the Opera House. Charles M. Davis , real estate dealer, had his office on this side of the building, also. Both the store and the office were badly damaged by water, especially the large stock of hardware in Welsh and Park.

The fire was discovered about 1:30 o’clock in the morning on the second floor of the gas company office by Robert Tisdale, forman of the company’s power plant, who notified Sergeant Rahill of the Radnor Township Police Department. A general alarm brought out fire apparatus from Wayne, Devon and Bryn Mawr. The Hale Motor Company pump and Merion No. 1 firemen also responded. At one time eight streams of water were playing on the fire.

This was the most spectacular fire to strike Wayne since the old Bellevue Hotel, located on the Pike, near Bellevue avenue, went up in flames one bitter cold morning in January, 1900. A conservative estimate of the loss to all tenants was placed at about $50,000. However, there was but one casualty, that of Miss H. Ada Detterline, clerk in the postoffice, who was severely injured when struck by a falling cornice.

Records of the postoffice, stamps and other valuable matter were saved by Postmaster Milton J. Porter with the help of employes of the office and of volunteers. Temporary quarters were established in the Wayne Title and Trust Company building for a week or so, after which the Post Office was returned to the fire damaged building.

Welsh and Park found quarters in Union Hall (now Masonic Hall) for the time being while the Wayne Plumbing and Heating Company opened up in the second floor of the Wayne Estate Building just north of the Opera House. Mr. Davis moved his real estate office to Philip Di Marse’s barber shop on Lancaster avenue while Counties Gas and Electric Company located temporarily in the Pinkerton house at the corner of Lancaster and Louella avenue. All of the private papers of John L. Mather, then superintendent of the company, were lost in the fire.

The silent movies which had been conducted by George C. and Lawrence Allen on the second floor of the Opera House were discontinued until they could find new quarters in St. Katharine’s Hall. The Allens lost their silver screen and a piano, though the projection machine was saved.

The old Opera House, not too much changed in outward appearance still stands at the corner of the Pike and North Wayne avenue. The large corner first floor is occupied by “My Country Store” while a number of smaller shops are on the Pike side of the building. Above are a few apartments.

Footlighters, part 7 – United Charities Campaign, St. David’s Golf Club

On Sunday, January 4, 1942, just four weeks after Pearl Harbor, a special meeting of the Board of the Footlighters was called “to consider the propriety and desirability of continuing to give performances in war times.” After discussion, it was unanimously voted “to carry on as far as possible, not only to help maintain home morale, but as a definite financial aid to the drives which formed such an important part of the defense effort. From now on, as long as the war lasts, the Footlighters will seek no profit for themselves, but will endeavor to tie in every performance with a money raising effort for the benefit of some worthy cause.”

General plans included a play for the United Charities Campaign in January in order to make a gift to the Neighborhood League which had become affiliated with United Charities by that time; a benefit for the Footlighter’s Red Cross War Fund gift, in February, and a play at the U. S. O. in March. Later on plans were somewhat altered and enlarged. “Skylark,” with Amy Leavitt in the lead, was the first of these benefit performances. In spite of the fact that the Footlighters lost money on this play, a small contribution was nevertheless made to the United Charities. Original dates for the play had to be changed so that members of the cast could attend the Air Raid wardens school.

The February play, “Ladies in Retirement,” was directed by John Hoag, who did not know until the last moment whether he would be called away on a Government job. The programs of this play carried a simple “in Memoriam – Daniel Turner recently killed in action in service of his country.” Dan, who was still a very young man at the time of his death, had been very active in the Footlighters before going into the service.

The March play, “Mr. Pim Passes By,” was given not only at the Saturday Club, but at Fort Dix, where it was done “in the Shakespearean manner, with only the simplest staging.” There was no April play because of “difficulties beyond control, among them scarcity of men due to the war.” In the Spring of 1942, H. Morgan Ruth was elected president, an office which he held for two years.

Records of this period are scanty for the first time in Footlighter history. One small newspaper clipping does explain, however, that “due to wartime gasoline restriction” the January, 1943, production had to be indefinitely postponed. The 1943-44 season opened in November, instead of the customary October. At that item the Evening Bulletin’s “Little Theater” column says, “The Wayne Footlighters suddenly sprang into activity with robust performances of that Pennsylvania Dutch hit “Papa is All.” January, 1944, saw the production of “Ring Around Elizabeth,” March had “Craig’s Wife” and May, “Mrs. Moonlight.”

At the annual meeting and election of officers held at a dinner at the Wayne Hotel in June, 1944, Edward Bracken was made president; T. Bertram Genay, vice president; Sally Hill, secretary, and William L. Caley, treasurer. In September of that year a letter from the chairman of the membership committee asked each member of the past season to try to bring in at least one newcomer. The Footlighters in 1943-44 had operated with only 175 in its ranks, a far cry from a membership of 315 its first season, and a further cry from the membership of more than 500 of the season just passed, that of 1948-49.

At this time plans were made also to present each of the five plays of a season on three evenings a week instead of two. The season proved a good one as among its plays were “Claudia,” “George Washington Slept Here,” “The Ninth Guest,” and “You Can’t Take It With You.” A grim reminder of the fact that the war was still on, however, was the fact that on each night of the March plays an announcement was made of Red Cross blood donor days at the Saturday Club Emergency Hospital, and a plea presented for donors.

Edward Bracken was re-elected to the presidency at the annual meeting held June 1, 1945, when the Little Theater had a dinner at St. Davids Golf Club at which roast beef and real butter were served, rare delicacies in the lean years that were not yet over! But in the fall of 1945 F. Ashby Wallace, as membership chairman, could write “Victory and Peace after years of worry and darkness have instilled in us new energy and encouragement to advance from last year’s success to even brighter hopes for the new season.” Five excellent plays were given with an original one, “Every Lass a Queen,” by H. Morgan Ruth closing the season in May. Harry Harris in the “Little Theater” column wrote, “Revitalized by the return of service men and overflowing with vim and vigor, local little theaters are promising a bumper crop of original scripts during the coming months. On May 9 the Footlighters will offer the premiere of “Every Lass a Queen,” a new comedy by H. Morgan Ruth. Advance reports indicate the play concerns a youth overly susceptible to feminine charms who finds himself betrothed simultaneously to the boss’ daughter and to the little girl back home.”

The Annual Dinner and Footlighter Frolic was held that year, June, 1946, at the Merion Cricket Club, at which time Pedro G. Salom, Jr., was elected to the presidency, an office which he held until June, 1949. “Footlighter Chatter,” the pleasant gossip column concerning the actors in each play was inaugurated with “The Late George Apley” given in October, 1946. December was marked by the presentation of “Christmas Carol,” one of the most delightful and charming plays ever given by the Footlighters. The January, 1947, play, “The Male Animal,” ave an extra performance for the benefit of Wayne’s Camp and Hospital Committee, at which more than forty convalescent patients from Valley Forge General Hospital were present. It was received with such enthusiasm that the play was taken to the Hospital itself a short time afterwards.

It was in the Spring of 1947 that a separation took place between the annual business meeting and the annual party. At the forum, now held each year in the Saturday Club, reports of officers and chairmen are given and elections are held, thus leaving the party itself free for an evening of entertainment.

Present Footlighter officers elected last Spring include Richard E. Weinberg, president; Robert H. Kleeb, vice-president; Mrs. Alfred N. Watson, secretary; Edward F. Bracken, treasurer and F. Ashby Wallace, assistant treasurer. Membership last season exceeded 500, with promise of more than that number for this season.

The recent purchase of a large piece of ground on the Gallagher tract at the intersection of Conestoga road and Lancaster Pike provides a site for the long anticipated theater of its own which the Footlighters hope to make a reality in the not distant future.

Footlighters, part 6 – T. Bertram Genay, Tredyffrin Country Club, WWI

At the October 1932 business meeting of the Footlighters, T. Bertram Genay was re-elected to the presidency for the ‘32-’33 season. These were still the years of the depression. Nevertheless Wayne’s Little Theatre Group carried on with energy unabated. Ten one-act plays were given as well as two three act ones, notably “Children of the Moon”, with T. B. Beatty directing. This was one of the Footlighters’ most pretentious efforts to date. Christmas was marked by the presentation of “Maid of France”, followed by much whole-hearted carol singing on the part of the audience. In June came the fourth annual frolic “Happy Days,” when dinner was served at the Saturday Club, followed by skits and monologues.

At the annual meeting held in October, 1934, Herbert L. Badger was elected to succeed T. B. Genay as president. There were the usual quota of one act and of three act plays during that season. Milne’s well-known play “Michael and Mary” was given at the Saturday Club for four nights as a benefit for the Radnor High School Fund. Philip Barry’s “Holiday” presented in april was another noteworthy play. In June the fifth annual frolic, dinner followed by entertainment and dancing and “$1.50 for everything” was given with T. B. Genay as chairman.

In October, 1935, Mr. Badger was re-elected to the office of president. Dues were now three dollars a year and a big membership drive was under way with Mrs. Henry Ecroyd as chairman. As a result of the presentation of “Big Hearted Herbert” in the High School auditorium in February, a a check for $450 was presented to the Scholarship fund by the Footlighters. A “tragi-comedy” “Of Things Not Seen”, written by H. Morgan Ruth, was the April offering with W. N. Stilwell, Joan Hodson and Stuard Armour as the three central figures.

The sixth annual meeting held in October 1935 had the following “order of events”, snappy business meeting, conversation, refreshments, cards and dancing to a 7-piece orchestra. Mrs. Y. Parran Dawkins was elected president for the 1935-36 season. There were now 125 members interested in acting, 34 in directing, 40 in various forms of stage management and still others in publicity and membership, costumes and make-up. In January “The Monkey’s Paw” was broadcast over station WIP as the last in a series of amateur theatrical radio programs. Eventually the Footlighters were chosen as one of the three finalists in the contest, though they were not the final prize winners. The February play, “The Late Christopher Bean”, was the most pretentious offering of the season. Two original plays of Footlighter members closed the season “Mugs and Millions,” by John H. Hoag and “Make Mine Rare”, by Margaret Geis.

Wendell Warner succeeded Mrs. Dawkins in the presidency. The Neighborhood League benefited by about $500 from the January play “As Husbands GO”. April was noteworthy in Footlighter history with the presentation of three episodes from Victoria Regina”. It was at this time that the end of the fiscal year was changed from October to May. For the first time it became possible to plan in the summer for the winter program. More money was necessary, and again it became imperative to raise dues.

Thomas O. Haydock succeeded Mr. Warner as the president in a rather gala annual meeting held at St. Davids Golf Club in May, 1938. The new season opened with “Ghost Train” produced by Betty Powell and directed by Margaret Weinberg. In November, “The Nut Farm” was given as a benefit for the Neighborhood League. “Love From a Stranger”, a difficult play, not often attempted by amateurs was the March offering. “Accent on Youth” given in April, was a benefit for the Wayne Art Center.

Mr. Haydock succeeded himself as president in the May 1939 elections. The ‘39-’40 season opened with “The Patsy”, given for the Scholarship Fund, while “Dear Brutus”, given in February, benefited the Wayne Art Center, and “Holiday”, given in April, was for the Saturday Club. A demand for the once popular one act plays resulted in the presentation of three in March.

At the annual dinner, dance and bridge at the Tredyffrin Country Club held in May 1940, Horace B. Montgomery was named president. It was at this time that the Footlighters received “The Boulders”, a large residence on the corner of Conestoga and Audubon avenues as a gift from Mr. and Mrs. John A. Tillotson. An immediate campaign was launched to sell season tickets to augment Footlighter funds for the maintenance of this property, which the Little Theater group hoped to have as its future home. However, since the property was in a Class A residential district, there was considerable opposition to it as a site for a theater. Eventually it was sold, with the proceeds forming a nucleus for a building fund for the organization.

The 1940-’41 season saw the presentation of both one act and three act plays, notably “Outward Bound” and “Captain Applejack”. Mr. Montgomery succeeded himself in the presidency in May. November saw “the first Footlighter Benefit for the Footlighters” in the form of a large card party with Ida Belle Kistler in charge of the large committee working for its success.

December marked the beginning of World War II. Mr. Montgomery immediately announced that “all theatrical productions of the Wayne Footlighters during the remainder of the War will be held for the benefit of was relief and charity organizations”. Just as the Footlighers survived the depression, so it survived the War, in each instance helping to sustain the morale of its members and their friends. There were many difficulties to surmount, chief among them perhaps being the shortage of young men for roles in plays. But this, like every other obstacle was overcome, and the Footlighters “carried on”.