Grand Opera House

Grand Opera House The Grand Opera House
651 Mulberry Street
Macon, GA 31201
Phone: (478) 301-5470

Theatre History

The Grand Opera House, often called The Grand, is a historic opera house located in Macon, Georgia. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is currently operated as a performing arts center of Mercer University.

Originally known as the Academy of Music, the Grand was built in 1883 and 1884 with the largest stage in the southeastern United States, outstanding lines-of sight and acoustics (both still notable today), and seats for 2,418, nearly a fifth of Macon’s population at the time. The façade, a building located on Mulberry Street, was renovated in 1902, and the preset seven-story office building façade opened in 1905.

Since that time, the stage has seen numerous historic uses. Live horses and chariots appeared in a 1908 production of Ben-Hur. During World War I, actor Charlie Chaplin led the John Phillip Sousa band for a fundraising effort. According to the Grand’s website, the theater has also hosted, among others, Sarah Bernhardt, Will Rogers, and George Burns and Gracie Allen. Some other famous performers to appear there include Lionel Barrymore, Ethel Barrymore, Bob Hope, the Allman Brothers Band, and Ray Charles.

Magician Harry Houdini was also a featured player at the Grand, leaving a well-known legacy: the stage sports a number of trap doors, one of which remains operational and is used occasionally today in performances such as annual production of The Nutcracker ballet. Local lore claims that the trap doors were installed specifically for Houdini.

In 1936, as the popularity of vaudeville waned, the Grand changed to a movie theater, hosting Macon’s only Hollywood premiere, 1945’s God is My Co-Pilot. However, by the 1960s, the Grand had ceased showing movies and plans were made to replace it with a parking lot.

Those plans were blocked in 1967 by the Macon Arts Council, a group formed to save and restore the Grand. By 1970, the group had held a gala featuring the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and had the property placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Opera House was renovated and reopened as a live theater in 1969. (The second balcony, or peanut gallery, remained closed to the public and was dedicated to lighting equipment at the time, reducing the maximum seating to its current number of 1,095). Fundraising efforts continued through the next several decades, with ongoing physical plant upgrades and other renovation taking place in 1985.

Town Demographics

Incorporated: December 9, 1852     Population: 153,887     Total Area: 250 Square miles

The county, the 54th county formed, was named for Dr. William Wyatt Bibb. Dr. Bibb lived in Elbert County, and served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the U.S. Senate. He was appointed governor of the Territory of Alabama in 1816 and became the first elected governor of that state.

Macon was incorporated in 1823 and named after Senator Nathaniel Macon of North Carolina—the home state of most of the early white settlers in the area. Macon’s City Hall served as the temporary state capitol from November 1864 to March 1865.