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The Academy of Music

"The need for a first-class opera house was long recognized, and in 1883 the Academy of Music Company was organized and a new brick theatre building was erected, John H. Qualmann, contractor, at the northeast corner of Washington and William (Janes) Streets. William L. Webber was president, Wellington R. Burt, vice-president and William C. McClure, secretary of the company."

History of Saginaw County Michigan by James C. Mills 

Located on the northeast corner of South Washington Avenue and Janes Street (then named William Street), the Academy of Music opened on Dec. 16, 1884. For more than three decades it was a local landmark, one of the region's main venues for entertainment and considered one of the finest theaters in the state. 

Constructed of brick, it was 70 x 140 feet in size and seated 1,200 people. A drop curtain, painted by Michigan artist Robert Hopkins, depicted the ruins of a castle and was one of the noted features of the building.

Musicians, actors and local performers all graced the Academy of Music's stage. During its peak, some of the period's most notable artists performed at the venue. Author John Jezierski details in his book, Enterprising Images: The Goodridge Brothers, the March 10, 1892 arrival of actress Sarah Bernhardt in Saginaw, "With six coaches and baggage cars and her pets: St. Bernard dog, 10 Paris snakes, and Australian Kangaroo, Tilda."  It is difficult to imagine a performance that would equal her arrival in town. 

Although the completion of the Saginaw Auditorium in 1908 - located directly across the street - provided competition, the Academy of Music operated until it was destroyed by fire on the night of April 17, 1917. An office building for the Standard Oil Company, complete with a gas station were constructed on the site (this building is now occupied by Spicer engineering).

Besides photographs, the Castle Museum's collection includes a number of objects documenting this local landmark that includes:

  • Invitations to the building's dedication performance

  • Programs for performances

  • A chair believed to have been salvaged from the building's ruins. 

Detail from a 1916 Goodridge Brothers' panoramic view of South Washington Avenue. The Academy of Music is on the right.

Note: This was not the first theater named the Academy of Music constructed on this site. According to History of Saginaw County Michigan published by the Charles C. Chapman & Company in 1881, East Saginaw's original Academy of Music was owned by Charles Lee. However, that is another story and one that needs to be explored after the museum reopens and we have access to our research materials.


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