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.