May 8, 1920
Page 1

Metropolitan, Built by Oscar Hammerstein, Is Sold for a Small Sum, Thus Eliminating Theater as Home for Gatti’s Opera and Orchestra Forces—Metropolitan Season May Be Held in Academy if This Building Is Not Also Sold to Movie or Theatrical Interests—Stokowki Declares Situation “A Calamity” and Calls for 1,500,000 Fund—Propose a Temple of Music on Parkway

PHILADELPHIA, May I.—Philadelphia has its orchestra and its opera season but it looks now as if they would have nowhere to go next season. The Metropolitan Opera House, built by Oscar Hammerstein for its present purpose, was sold in the middle of the week in satisfaction of a mortgage for $400,000 held by Edward T. Stotesbury, the purchaser being Fred G. Nixon-Nirdlinger, son of the late Samuel F. Nixon, the “Syndicate” theatrical magnate, identified with Klaw, Erlanger, Frohman et al. The historic old Academy of Music, built in 1857, still the city’s standard house for musical attractions and up to the past ten years also the local home of opera, has excited the interest of theatrical managers and movie people, and the week end if rife with rumors of its accomplished or potential sale.
The local opera season of sixteen weekly performances by the Gatti-Casazza forces is housed in the Metropolitan Opera House. The Philadelphia Orchestra makes its home, both for concert and rehearsals, in the Academy of Music. The big recitalists divide their appearances between the two auditoriums, McCormack, Elman and other stars rather favoring the Metropolitan, and Kreisler and some of the vocalists going to the Academy. The latter is also used by the Symphony Society of New York, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and other important visiting organizations, the Choral Society, and other local bodies.
The sale of the Metropolitan netted only 655,000, merely a few thousand dollars above the municipal taxation assessment. Mr. Hammerstein paid $150,000 for the site alone and the cost of the structure, including the site, was authoritatively stated at the time of dedication to be $900,000. At present prices of materials and labor the Metropolitan is conservatively worth $1,500,000. Mr. Nixon-Nirdlinger is himself a theatrical magnate, already owning or controlling several movie and vaudeville houses in various parts of the city. The Metropolitan would give his firm a big uptown house in a thickly populated residential section. This is taking the view that the house will be turned over to moviedom. It is generally assumed that the Metropolitan, on account of Mr. Nixon-Nirdlinger’s association with the Nixon estate, will be used as one replacement unit for booking the attractions of A. L. Erlanger, Flo Ziegfeld, George R. Tyler and Charles B. Dillingham, the factors of the new theatrical alignment.
The bidding for the house started at $450,000 and was jumped by a representative of Mr. Stotesbury and by the realty broker for Mr. Nixon-Nirdlinger by sums of $25,000 and $50,000 till the sale price was reached. Mr. Nixon-Nirdlinger was “dark” in the proceedings at the auction but was revealed later as the purchaser. His broker also said that the Metropolitan would in all probability be added to the chain of theaters consisting of the Broad, Garrick and Forrest. He further stated that Mr. Nirdlinger was anxious for opera to be continued at the Metropolitan if feasible arrangements could be devised.
“As I see it,” Mr. Nirdlinger’s representative said, “there will be much more chance of opera being held in its accustomed place if the directors of the opera season can arrange to have a series of consecutive performances. The present arrangement of one performance a week for sixteen weeks would seriously interfere with the booking of the plays for next season. But I do not go so far as to say that the present arrangement could not be carried out.”
In some informed quarters this statement was interpreted to mean the doom of opera at the Metropolitan for two reasons. One is, of course, the fact that Mr. Gatti could not bring any large enough section of his forces over for say two separate runs of one week each of eight performances, making up the sixteen performances covered by the guarantee of the Philadelphia Grand Opera Committee. All kinds of practical reasons prohibit. The guaranteeing committee which covers the deficits, if any, would not want the opera this way, and certainly would not want it in the form of a fortnight at the end of the New York season. The other reason is, as a theatrical manager pointed out to the writer, that it would be very unprofitable to the new management to give over every Tuesday evening or any evening in the heart of the season as the overhead expenses of the playing company, salaries, etc., would be too great to be compensated by the rental fee per evening. In the ease of the house being devoted to moving pictures the overhead would be smaller and would be easily and profitably covered by the rental.
May Select Academy
T. De Witt Cuyler, vice-president of the Metropolitan Opera· House Company of this city, and one of the two Philadelphia members on the board of directors of the New York Metropolitan, said opera would be given next season in Philadelphia either at the Metropolitan or in “some other suitable place, preferably the Academy of Music.”
Mr. Stotesbury, who attended the auction, would make no comment on the operatic situation in his official capacity as president of the local opera committee, or give any views in his personal capacity. Charles F. Schibener, secretary and treasurer of the old Metropolitan Opera House Company, which apparently has been automatically extinguished by the sale of the house, said no statement that would be authoritative could be made at this early date.
“I fully expect to see opera in Philadelphia next season,” said a director. “It would be impossible of course to attempt having opera for a week at a time or even for two weeks consecutively, which would be the case under the new managerial system. I expect to see the Academy of Music used again for opera. The Metropolitan of New York has Tuesday evenings open for performances in this city, by virtue of an ancient arrangement with us. Our public has become trained to keep that night open for the social and musical pleasures of the opera. And you know Philadelphia is really very reverent toward tradition and ‘set’ in its habits. So I am sure we will have a season, and that it will be on weekly Tuesdays, and maybe that it will be at the Academy—a consummation that many operagoers have longed for the past ten years.”
Consensus of opinion and planning thus puts the salvage of local opera up to the Academy of Music—and the salvation itself is up against a new and interesting complication which involves more than the weekly opera-giving—for the twenty-five pairs of Philadelphia Orchestra concerts and a wide variety of other musical events are concerned in the menace.
May Wreck Past Efforts
This threatening body-blow at the prosperity of music in this city where a great public has been built up during the past score of years roughly covering the history of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s hard and victorious struggle for prestige and permanency, is the prospective sale of the Academy of Music, with the Metropolitan no longer available for musical events, and with one theater, the Broad, ripe for the movies; another, the Forrest, to be demolished soon; another, the Garrick, likely to be added as an annex to a big merchandising firm adjoining, which has already made an offer for it at the expiration of the lease; and another, the Walnut, the oldest theater in America, having been built in 1808; to be torn down this summer. There will be not enough houses for the regular theatrical attractions, to say nothing of serving for concerts and operas.
The situation is very grave in the opinion of Arthur Judson, manager of the orchestra.
Unless the people of Philadelphia subscribe a fund of $1,500,000 to purchase the Academy there is a possibility that the Philadelphia band will be without a home for rehearsal and a place to give its concerts. Mr. Judson’s view was concurred in by Alexander Van Rensselaer, president of the Philadelphia Orchestra Association for many years.
Theatrical, moving picture and realty interests are all in the market for the Academy which occupies a choice site in the social, theatrical and shopping heart of the city.
Stokowski Is Alarmed
Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, alarmed by the situation, urged that steps be taken at once by the heads of the orchestra association to avert what he called “a calamity to the musical life of the city.”
Dr. Stokowski urged that the directors at once either lease the building at whatever sacrifice, or if possible buy the structure for a home in all futurity for the orchestra. Hundreds of persons called at the offices of the orchestra in the Pennsylvania .Building and offered suggestions for preservation of the Academy as the home of the orchestra and volunteered their aid in saving the situation. One suggestion was a temple of music along the new parkway, though construction costs just now are so high as to bar this idea temporarily at least.
“It is unthinkable,” said Dr. Stokowski in relation to the projected turning over of the building to other uses. “And still from all I can learn that is the fate our organization faces unless something is done. Do not misunderstand me. I do not blame the directors, as I can understand their attitude which must be one of justice to the stockholders whose capital is tied up in the building.
“Nevertheless the consummation of a sale would mean nothing short of a calamity to the musical life of the city. If the building is in the market, the directors of the orchestra should make an attempt to be the purchaser. They should appeal to public spirited citizens to help them to buy it.
Time to Project New Auditorium
“But even if the Academy is saved it does not mean that the orchestra is provided with a permanent home. The present crisis is a good time for looking ahead. As everyone knows, the Academy will be condemned sooner or later. Why don’t the people of Philadelphia get together now and prepare plans for a modern structure there? I do not think of a more suitable place for a concert hall than in the row of beautiful buildings—art gallery, Franklin Institute, library, etc. —devoted to the arts which are to be erected there.”
Mr. Judson said that Dr. Baker would not grant a renewal of the present lease to the orchestra for next season. He estimated it would take from $1,500,000 to $2,000,000 to buy the building. —W. R. M.


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