To continue with last week’s article I need to share the Unger Opera House story.
The Unger Opera House was named for Charles Frederick Unger, a native of San Francisco who came to Selma in 1881. He was a rancher, drayman (a person who delivers beer for a brewery), building mover and bookstore operator, but for 35 years, he was Selma’s connection to entertainment.
Unger’s first “Playbill” was held on Dec. 19, 1888 and the play “The World” was presented. In the years to follow, the Unger Opera House became the place to see all of the great entertainment with the best of Broadway. On April 12, 1889, were Tyrone Power and his wife, Ida Burroughs. Frank Mayo, later a New York star, played “Hamlet” on Dec. 3, 1889 and again Jan. 27, 1890 played “Macbeth.” Can you just imagine the excitement of people who flocked to the Opera House for a glimpse of the glamour of the entertainment world? Probably the greatest of the performers was the Shakespearean actor, Edwin Booth, who was the brother of President Lincoln’s assassin.
The Unger Opera House did not attract actors, or shows due to its crude facility but because of the local papers’ positive reviews given before the show moved to larger venues.
A Depression in the early 1890s made entertainment money hard to come by, and the Unger Opera House was dark from 1893 until 1896, when four plays were performed. On Dec. 7, 1896, a new area of entertainment was introduced and movies would end the legitimate theater in cities larger than Selma.
The Unger Opera House was running out of time, only a few stage shows were scheduled during the next few years. In March 1920, Unger sold the building to Martin and Jake Serimian, which sealed the ending of the Unger Opera House as an entertainment stage in Selma. They built and installed the first movie house in Selma and it was torn down in 1957.
The Unger Opera House building at Pioneer Village is not an original Unger Opera House. It was a music building from a Selma school that was moved to Pioneer Village and refurbished to replicate the Unger Opera House.
Thanks to Randall McFarland for providing this part of Selma History in his book, "Centennial Selma: Biography of a California Community’s First 100 Years."