Peabody Opera House
Backstory and Context
Development of the Opera House began in 1923 when St. Louis voters approved a massive $87.4 million bond, the largest bond in the nation at that time, to modernize the city with projects including a Municipal Auditorium complex. The complex opened in 1934 and included a 3,500-seat opera house and a 9,300-seat convention hall. The first performance held in the auditorium was a production of the opera Aida, on April 21, 1934. Many of the events from the Opera House’s early days included operas, musicals, symphonies, and performances from local acts. In 1943 the Municipal Auditorium was renamed the Kiel Opera House, and the Convention Hall renamed the Kiel Auditorium, after former mayor Henry W. Kiel, who had spearheaded the project to build the complex.
The Kiel Opera House hosted many notable celebrities during its heyday. On October 30, 1948, President Harry Truman held his last campaign speech, just four days before winning reelection. On June 20, 1965 Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. held a benefit concert broadcast on closed-circuit television, and hosted by Johnny Carson. On July 11, 1978 the Rolling Stones held a highly-anticipated concert in the Opera House; tickets had sold out in seventy-five minutes following a single radio advertisement. There were performances by other major entertainers such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louie Armstrong, Bob Hope, Johnny Cash, Judy Garland, Benny Goodman, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and The Eagles. From 1934 to 1968 the Opera House was the home of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. It was also used for graduation ceremonies for an estimated 400,000 high school and college students in the local area.By the 1980s the Kiel Opera House and Kiel Auditorium were struggling to remain relevant. The Opera House finally closed in 1991, with the final performance being a concert by the St. Louis Philharmonic on May 4. In 1992 the Kiel Auditorium was demolished to make way for the new Scottrade Center arena. The Kiel Opera House was spared demolition and remained idle for the next twenty years. Various proposals were floated to refurbish the Opera House as an art museum, a Ulysses S. Grant library, and even a Hard Rock Café, none of which came to fruition. In 2009 plans were announced for a $79 million complete restoration of the Opera House, with most of the money coming from government subsidies. In 2010 the Kiel Opera House was renamed the Peabody Opera House after Peabody Energy purchased the naming rights. The Opera House finally reopened on October 1, 2011 with a gala featuring Jay Leno and Aretha Franklin. Today the Opera House continues its original purpose of hosting concerts and other events throughout the year.