After St. Paul’s sold its building on South Pearl Street to Hugh J. Hastings in October 1862, the building sat vacant for a year. In October 1863, Hastings announced that he had leased the theater to John M. Trimble for a period of ten years, with the right to purchase it after five years.[i]
It is [Trimble’s] intention to fit up the place in splendid style, regardless of expense, in order that it may be made worthy of the support and patronage of our citizens. Mr. T. proposes to introduce all the latest improvements; and in point of ornamentation and decoration to make it fully equal if not superior to any place of entertainment in New York, Boston or Philadelphia.[ii]
Trimble hoped to have the building ready by the holidays. Trimble certainly had the skills and experience for the task. He had built rebuilt the Bowery Theater in New York City in sixty days, and in his career had built, renovated or designed thirty-four theaters.[iii] Trimble had been blind for several years, so the task of drawing the plans fell to his colleague Thomas R. Jackson.[iv]
Two early accounts of the renovation of the building claim that when the church floor was removed, the pit and orchestra were found just as in the original theater, and a copy of the program from the final performance was recovered.[v] Given the scope of the 1839 renovation, it is hard to believe that that much of the original structure could have remained.
Just before the theater reopened on December 28, 1863, the Albany Morning Express gushed that Trimble,
as if possessed of the Lamp of Aladdin, … willed the transformation of old St. Paul’s Church into a fairy palace; and presto! the job is done, and done on a scale of liberality and magnificence that far more than realize the wildest expectations of the most exacting and fastidious; all that his vast and various experience, refined taste, and a lavish expenditure of money could produce are centered on this superb edifice.[vi]
The author of this article was also pleased that the new design included “no bar, saloon, or other depot of abomination.”[vii]
An early production at the new theater was a first for the city of Albany: the performance of fully-staged opera. In January 1864, the impresario Jacob Grau brought his company, Grand Italian Opera in America, to Albany, where it presented Lucrezia Borgia. “It was the first time a complete operatic performance, in costume, and with full orchestra, had ever been given in Albany.”[viii]
Later that year, in appreciation of his renovating the theater, Albany presented Trimble with a benefit performance, subsidized by a committee of prominent local figures, including Thurlow Weed, Erastus Dow Palmer, Albert B. Street, Erastus Corning, Jr. and John Tweddle. The resident company donated its service, as did the leading lady, Mary Provost.[ix]
Another highlight of this first season was the appearance of Edwin Forrest, who played in three Shakespeare plays, Hamlet, Othello and Macbeth, in a single week. Forrest had first appeared at the Albany Theatre in 1825 when he was barely out of his teens. By 1864, he was an established star.[x]
The seasons of 1863 through 1867 were financially very successful, with average annual receipts of $15,000.[xi] But John M. Trimble’s health declined in the last year, and his daughter Ada G. Trimble assisted him. When John Trimble died in June 1867, the lease was assumed by his widow, Mary Trimble. Miss Trimble, then only about 24 years old, reluctantly agreed to take on the role of manager.[xii]
The Academy of Music’s 1867 season began on September 2, with Ada Trimble as manager.[xiii] In December of that year, the mortgage (presumably the mortgage on the sets, costumes and props) was paid in full.[xiv] On January 27 and 28, 1868, Charles Barron starred in Hilda, and was scheduled to perform the role the next night.[xv]
Early in the morning of January 29, 1868, a fire was reported in John Burk’s concert saloon, next door to the theater. The fire was contained, and soon thought to be out, but as the firemen were leaving, fire was discovered in the theater. Within half an hour, the entire building was in flames.[xvi] Later that day, a local newspaper reported that “the building was burned to the ground, with the exception of the front wall, which is all that now remains of the original structure of 1825.” Hastings, the owner of the building, had the entire value of the building covered by insurance. For the Trimble family, however, the loss was total.[xvii]
In our next segment, we will see how the theater rose from these ashes, this time known as the Trimble Opera House.
[i] “Fire This Morning,” Albany Evening Journal 29 Jan 1868.
[ii] “An Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express, 13 Oct 1863.
[iii] “John M. Trimble, Architect and Theatrical Manager,” New York Times 9 Jun 1867, quoting the obituary from the Albany Evening Journal.
[iv] “Albany Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express 22 Dec 1863.
[v] H.P. Phelps, The Players of a Century (Albany: Joseph McDonough, 1880), 216 and Collections of the History of Albany, Volume 2 (Albany: J. Munsell, 1867), 37.
[vi] “Albany Academy of Music”.
[vii] “Albany Academy of Music”.
[viii] Collections of the History of Albany, Volume 2 (Albany: J. Munsell, 1867), 182. A notice about plans for the engagement appeared in Albany Morning Express 22 Dec 1863. Grau’s obituary (New York Herald 15 Dec 1877) mentions that he was the manager for Isabella Hinckley, one-time soloist in St. Paul’s choir.
[ix] “Testimonial to John M. Trimble,” Albany Morning Express 15 Jun 1864; “Benefit of John M. Trimble, Esq.,” Albany Morning Express 18 Jun 1864; “Testimonial to John M. Trimble,” Albany Morning Express 20 Jun 1864
[x] “Academy of Music,” Albany Morning Express 27 Oct 1854.
[xi] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House,” Albany Evening Times 17 Aug 1889.
[xii] Jane Kathleen Curry, Nineteenth-century American Women Theatre Managers (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), 122.
[xiii] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House”.
[xiv] Collections of the History of Albany, 329-330.
[xv] Classified advertisement, Albany Morning Express 28 Jan 1868.
[xvi] “Fire This Morning”.
[xvii] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House”.