The Great Southern Fireproof Hotel and Opera House
After fire destroyed five downtown theatres between 1889 and 1893, an assembly of businessmen decided to enhance the city’s south side with a new-and-improved, fashionable hotel. Designed by the prominent local architectural firm of Dauben, Krumm, and Riebel, construction on the Great Southern Fireproof Hotel and Opera House began in 1894.
The Southern Theatre opened on September 21, 1896, and the hotel the following summer. Constructed of "fireproof" tile, brick, iron, steel, and concrete, the theatre -- which originally seated 1,723 on three levels -- was praised for its plush seats, stylish boxes, excellent sight lines, and absence of posts or other obstructions. Its ample stage dimensions proved more than up to the challenge of the 1903 touring production of Ben-Hur, which featured a cast of 350 and a chariot race in which two teams of horses galloped on treadmills for a mile!