McIntosh Opera House

By Beacon Staff

If ever walls could talk.

Basketball. Boxing. Rodeo Dance. Sheridan’s Orchestra. The Flathead County Six. The Boneless Wonder. County Fair. Oil Prospecting. Temperance!

These are a few remarks the McIntosh Opera House could mention.

In 1891, Canadian immigrant John McIntosh moved to Kalispell and founded the first hardware store. Later, he built a house in town and then began working on the opera house – just above the location of his hardware store. It is now known as 48 Main Street above Norm’s News and Western Outdoor.

Upon completion in 1896, the McIntosh Opera House played a long and varied role in the history of Kalispell and the Flathead Valley.

From the 1890s through the 1930s, the McIntosh Opera House was the epicenter of culture in early Kalispell. There was hardly a group, speaker or troupe that did not pass through its doors.

The Opera House is where Kalispell shared its ideas, entertained its souls and helped its neighbors.

And its memory is many things.

It is the rally speech of Eugene Debs in 1902, the Socialist candidate for the President of the United States, passionately casting reform aloft.

It is the box of stationary won by the best lady waltzer on February 2, 1917, showing the pride of community.

It is meeting by the fountain in the early 20s outside the Kalispell Grand Hotel.

And it was attacking the despair of the day at the Home Products Show of 1927. A time also made for taking in “hot-dog sandwiches” while listening to the Somers Male Quartette singing “Land O’ the Leal.”

Today, much of the original opera house is but a memory. Its shell is intact, but little else is in its proper form.

The once grand entrance (a large metal door) on Main Street no longer leads to a grand lobby.

The 90 new opera seats installed in 1908, if still to be found, would seat an empty stage.

As the prominence of the opera house waned in the 1930s, a cigarette butt sealed the fate of the opera house on June 29, 1935.

Behind the curtain, some dancers were having a rehearsal late Friday night. While returning to the set after an early-morning break, one of them tossed a cigarette across the stage.

An intense fire started burning, with flammable gases getting tremendously hot and causing an explosion.

Because of a quick-thinking hotel clerk, a quick fire department and some rain, the opera house and adjacent buildings were spared.

However, the essence of the opera house was lost: the stage burned down.

Perhaps mired in the insurance problems afterward – or perhaps to spite the very loss itself – owner McIntosh never rebuilt the stage.

And for the rest of its days, the once glorious “opera house” became a hollow “meeting hall” never reclaiming its poise or grace. Its afterlife found itself as a wrestling and boxing venue, and the occasional site for community discussion.

So, if you pass by the opera house, be sure to appreciate its brickwork, arched windows, and its false front. Listen to what may still resound (you never know what you may still hear).

And by no means, don’t overlook a true relic or our modern times: the plaque atop the building that reads “OPERA HOUSE.”

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