81-91 Church Street
The Howard Opera House
On April 8, 1908 this postcard depicting a snowy view of Church Street was sent to Burlington from a mother in Winooski, Vermont. The attached note informed her daughter that her father was coming to town and wanted to check that she had enough beans and peas to sow. Used to relay a message between family members, this postcard also captured a telling view of Burlington's Church Street. Wooden awnings dusted with snow dot the front and side over the first story. Utility poles weighted with wires loom over the stark street and a lone horse and carriage completing the sparse winter streetscape.
The billboard for 'Paine's Celery Compound' on the Howard Opera House stands out in the scene. Upon opening the 1906 Burlington City Directory the first advertisement one sees is for the Wells & Richardson Co., which specifically mentions their 'Paine's Celery Compound." (1) Established as the Wells & Richardson Co. in 1872, this wholesale drug store was located on College Street (2) but utilized advertising space on the more heavily trafficked Church Street to help attract business. Taking advantage of its four-story height, the Opera House rented billboard space along its brick exterior, helping attracting attention to local businesses, and itself.
The census conducted in 1880 by the U.S. Department of the Interior lists the Howard Opera House under the heading 'Places of Amusement' and points out: "There is one theater in Burlington, the Howard opera-house, with a seating of 1,200. It pays no license as a theater." (3) Praise for this building was also expressed in the Burlington Free Press on July 1, 1885. Here it is touted as "substantial, rather than showy as to its exterior. Its spacious interior rivals the handsomest. Boston possesses no more tasteful and luxurious place of public amusement. The city of Washington has not one half as fine." (4) A playbill from the "Grand Opening of the Howard Opera House, Burlington, Vermont" dates the theater opening to Monday evening, February 24, 1879. (5) The building does not appear on the 1869 Sanborn fire insurance map but is present on the 1885 map. (6) This corroborates that the Howard Opera House was constructed in 1878.
Although it does not appear as a prominent subject in these postcard views of Church Street from the early 1900s, the Howard Opera House is an integral part of the Church Street streetscape. The building was commissioned by local philanthropist John Purple Howard, and designed by architect Steven D. Hatch. (7) When first built, the Opera House brought world-renowned acts to Burlington and was also home to a drug store and clothing store. (8) Today, with extensive interior renovation, its tenants include clothing stores Ecco, Second Time Around and Patagonia. Three Tomatoes restaurant, Bruegger's Bagel shop, Ten Thousand Villages fair trade retailer, and the Vermont State Craft Center round out its tenant list.