INTRODUCTION


On July 9th, 1851, a group of local businessmen in Charlottesville, Virginia, decided to form a corporation dedicated to promoting culture and the arts in their small town. Valentine W. Southall, James Cochran, Thomas Wood, S.W. Ficklin, James W. Saunders and John Jones formed the Town Hall Corporation (note) and purchased the corner of Park and High Streets as the site for their shelter for culture from Samuel Leitch, Jr. for $750.00. The neo-classic Town Hall towered over many of the other buildings in downtown Charlottesville upon its completion in 1853.

Purchased by Jefferson Levy in 1887, the Levy Opera House (Town Hall) remained the center of culture for Charlottesville - a virtual museum of talent from the entire world - until the turn-of-the-century. In its small yet elegant chambers Charlottesville residents could hear and see the cultural highlights from the United States and Europe. Minstrels, Brass Bands, Operas, Ballets, etc, graced its stage. New York, the locus for theatre entertainment in nineteenth-century America, introduced to the United States performers such as the phenomenal opera prodigy, Adelina Patti, and the violin virtuoso, Ole Bull. Such performers would then conduct tours to different locations throughout the country to small-town audiences in their Town Halls, and Charlottesville provided no exception.

The dissemination of culture through the theater circuits to the smaller localities of America rose during the nineteenth-century. The desire for knowledge and the arts even effected even Charlottesville, a small college town, which held Mr. Thomas Jefferson as its cultural claim for fame. From the middle of the nineteenth century until the beginning of the twentieth, American theater culture slowly became more and more sacralized. The diverse appeal opera and Shakespeare possessed at the beginning of the century gradually moved out of the hands of the many and into the hands of the few. By the early 1900's Charlottesville's Levy Opera House could no longer attract the large crowds it once did. Popular entertainment was transforming.

At the beginning of the twentieth-century, American theater confronted its most fierce opponent - motion pictures. Charlottesville's small, antiquated, opera house proved to be unable to fight against the Jefferson Theatre, which housed a stage for live performances and an area for viewing motion pictures when it opened its doors in October, 1912. By the end of that year, Charlottesville's center of culture, the rumored building where the beloved University of Virginia chant, "Wah-Hoo-Wah," began and Adelina Patti sang, lost the battle for popularity to the motion picture industry and closed its doors to the theatrical arts.




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