Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

THE BERTHA THEATER

       


         In the cool dry days of October1913 a century of autumns ago  when Dublin was at the zenith of its boom years, the Bertha Theater came to town, bringing with it big screen movies, Broadway plays, premier wrestling matches and a plethora of pontificating politicians.  In its all too short four-year run, the Bertha symbolized one of the crowning jewels of the Emerald City in the days before the first World War.

The Bertha Theater, constructed by Stephen J. Lord and T.B. Brantley, was designed to replace the Opera House, which had burned in 1911.  In the summer of 1913, the Bertha joined the First National Bank, The Burch Building and the Black Chivers Building in a major building boom.  Little did anyone know that within a few year, the explosive growth which had catapulted Dublin from a tiny, lawless forlorn town into one of the most populated cities of the state would come to a screeching halt with the coming of the boll weevil which singlehandedly destroyed the cotton crop.  

Lord planned to have an opera house, although it appears that few real operas were ever performed in the building.  The three-story building was located on the eastern corner of the Courthouse Square at the corner of South Jackson Street and South Franklin Street.  In his grand dreams, Lord, son-in-law of banking magnate and businessman, C.W. Brantley, hoped that the facility would host the best and biggest stage shows anywhere around this area of the state.



The large auditorium was designed to seat 1200 people on the main floor and 300 in the gallery above.  The ceiling was elaborately finished with pressed metal designs.  The acoustics were pronounced nearly perfect as a Courier Herald reporter stated,  “Persons speaking on the stage can be heard to every corner of the auditorium distinctly.”

Managers T.W. Hooks, H.P. Diggs, E.W. Carswell, W.G. Triplett and others were given the mission to seek out and sign the best and most affordable touring acts along the East Coast.  

Opening night was October 7, 1913.  On the play bill that evening was “The Rolling Stone.”  Headlining the show was singer/comedian Al H. Wilson, one of the best known singing stars of the early 20th Century,  and his comedy company.  At the time, it was the greatest play ever staged in Dublin. 

Between the first two acts, Peter S. Twitty, Jr. spoke to the audience welcoming the visitors to Dublin and saluting all of those who participated in the event.  Practically all of Dublin’s high society were present.  Mr. and Mrs. Lord sat in their special box along with family members including Dr. and Mrs. J.E. New and their daughter Marie.   A reporter described Mrs. Bertha Lord as “queenlike” in her beautiful pink chiffon dress.  

The following week marked the Dublin debut of “Edison’s Genuine Talking Pictures,” which were not the usual laughing, talking and singing pictures. The movie featured the Kinetiphone’s synchronization of sound and film at the afforable prices of 25 to 50 cents a ticket.  The first talkie was “Nursery Time Favorites.” 

Also on the bill in the theater’s second week was a play , “A Bachelor’s Congress,” staring local talent in a benefit for the Children of the Confederacy.  One of the more popular plays was “The Little Millionaire,” written by George “Yankee Doodle Dandy” Cohan, and starring Bert Leigh and Hazel Burgess. Other featured acts were the “The Norman Field Players, The Cambridge Players, Coburn’s Minstrels and the Mack Musical Comedy Company.

During those first few months, the Bertha had its competitors.  Gentry Brothers Dog and Pony Show and a troup of the American Pavillion Theatre Company were all in town.  Kit Carson’s Wild West Circus came to the fairgrounds  with its three ring Wild West Circus.  On November 5, the Courier Herald estimated that Dublin had 20,000 visitors in town, mostly to attend the 12th District Fair. 

Among the most popular movies at the Bertha were  “Quo Vadis”, George Kleine’s 8-reel, 135 minute masterpice and the first block buster film in history and D.W. Griffith’s epic Civil War film, “Birth of a Nation.”

Nearly from its beginning, the managers of the Bertha promoted  wrestling matches.  One of the first featured hometown favorite, Homer Scarborough against Chief Little Bird, who hailed from Minnesota.  One of the biggest was a grudge match between Jack Leon and Mort Henderson in April 1914. 

The fights at the Bertha didn’t last long for in the early summer of 1914, the citizens of Dublin voted to prohibit any matches in the theater. 

The Bertha was often used as a place for public meetings and gatherings. In March 1914, the Dublin Chamber of Commerce was reestablished. Those present were treated to a movie and a refreshing Chero Cola, bottled only a few blocks away. 

The 1914 session of the Chautaugua was held in the Bertha.  With the former Opera House gone and the courthouse and school auditoriums not being conducive to mass meetings which organizers hoped would occur, the Bertha was the perfect place to stage the big event, which featured musical, religious, scientific, educational, agricultural and political events.

When it came to political speeches, the best place in town, other than the courthouse steps, was the stage of the Bertha.  Two national politicians took to the stage to deliver their message to the voters of Laurens County. Just after Thanksgiving in 1915, Speaker of the National House of Representatives, Champ Clark of Missouri, (below) promoted the programs of the Wilson Administration, especially those important to farmers. 


                                                                     Champ Clark



                                                                      John Burke

In one of the last political gatherings at the Bertha, John Burke, the Treasurer of the United States (above) and a former Governor of North Dakota, spoke to an assembly of bankers and businessmen, who were concerned with the economic depression resulting from the coming of the boll weevil to the South.

The grand life of the Bertha Theater came to a fleeting and fatal end early on the morning of September 23, 1918.  A fire started in the 2nd floor auditorium and quickly spread to the stores on the first floor.  In just a matter of minutes $50,000.00 and a a grand dream went up in smoke.


















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