Old Montgomery Theatre

Old Montgomery Theatre

at the corner of Perry and Monroe Streets, is one of the three pre-war buildings still standing in the City Hall neighborhood. When it was built (by female slave masons) in 1860, the Post Office occupied the street floor, and the upper two floors were taken up by the theatre company. Later on, the first level became a saloon, attesting to the bawdy change in the character of Monroe Street. When I arrived in 1951, this was Webber’s Department Store. But back in its heyday, the theatre auditorium could seat 900, and because Montgomery was a way-station between Atlanta and New Orleans, traveling theatre groups made this a routine stop. Many famous actors of the day performed here, including John Wilkes Booth who appeared in several productions prior to the start of the war. The Montgomery Theatre company survived until 1907, when it was put out of business by the lavish Grand Theatre over on Dexter Avenue.  The structure itself has stood empty for the last 20 years, and finding a suitable occupant has proved most difficult.  I have been involved in several of the ill-fated attempts.

Theatre AdShortly before the Civil War started, a traveling minstrel played at the Montgomery Theatre, and performed a new piece composed by one of the players named Dan Emmett. The song, called DIXIE, was a rousing success, but when asked for a copy of the music, Emmett was forced to admit he could neither read nor write music. Ergo, he played the composition for the theatre band director, Herman Arnold, who wrote the music on the plaster wall of the auditorium with charcoal. Subsequently, the song was played at Jefferson Davis’ inauguration by Arnold’s band, and it became the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy. Montgomery has such wonderful history.

-Charles Humphries

The theater, or more commonly known as the Webber Building now, recently underwent a renovation to add a restaurant and apartments. However, in June 2014 the exterior wall collapsed halting construction. Luckily no one was hurt, but the $3 million project was no more. Last I heard, the Webber building was purchased by the same folks that bought  the old Kress building two doors down. The city wants the now eye-sore demolished, but tale has it all the bids came in way over the budget because of its instability.

-Cyle Conoly

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