Friday, April 6, 2012

Ming Opera House/Consistory Shrine

In celebration of Easter...

Masons have been a dynamic force in Montana since early territorial days, playing key roles in events that shaped the state’s history. Helena Masons first came together in 1865 for the funeral of Dr. L. Rodney Pococke, for whom Rodney Street was named. The fraternal organization has since been closely intertwined with the Helena community. The Masons acquired the former Ming Opera House in 1912. Built by John Ming in 1880 and renowned throughout the Pacific Northwest, the theater followed a circular plan model after fashionable European opera houses. It featured thirty-two sets of elaborate scenery, seating for 900, gas lighting in the house, and state-of-the-art stage lighting which included twenty-six movable border lights. Rubber tubing delivered gas to the house and stage lights from a plant in the stone cellar. The Ming hosted such famous performers as Otis Skinner, Eddie Foy, Marie Dressler, and Katie Putnam. Patrons’ safety was not a consideration until 1887. John Ming renovated the opera house after 100 people literally roasted alive in an opera house fire in Exeter, England. Ming added ample exits and updated the gas lighting system.

Ming Opera House, left, 1898. Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 953-833
In the early 1900s, the Ming hosted the first silent movies. In 1915, noted Helena architects George Carsley and C. S. Haire redesigned the building, transforming the theater into a more functional, modern auditorium. Under the Masons’ care, the original hand painted 1880s scenery remains in occasional use. For the past sixty-three years, the Scottish Rite of the Freemasons have performed an Easter Tableaux, reenacting scenes from the Last Supper to the Ascension. The free performance utilizes the historic 1880s scenery and is the only time the public can view these exquisite remnants of 1880s Helena. The landmark building at 15 North Jackson in Helena survives thanks to the Masons’ stewardship and continues to serve as a meeting place for members of all the Masonic orders.

1 comment:

  1. In the early 1970's I had the honor of being part of Bethel Number 11 of Job's Daughters. I had to be related to a Mason in order to join this organization. Our meetings were held every Wednesday evening at this location. We were only able to wear dresses coming and going from our meetings, we changed into our robes, where we were not able to wear any jewelry. The meetings were traditional, formal, consistant and full of rules and regulations. But with of this said they were beautiful and taught me so much. And how lucky were we all to have such a beautiful building to help us all grow from young ladies to women of today.

    I also remember being able to see all of the beautiful back drops of the theater and the dressing rooms and the costumes...such history, such rich and has always left me in juch ahhhh.