History of the Grand Opera House of the South

The Grand story

DW Griffith's masterpiece Intolerance was a major event at the Grand   

DW Griffith's masterpiece Intolerance was a major event at the Grand 

Tucked away in the heart of historical downtown Crowley, Louisiana sits one of the most unique second-story opera houses still standing. Built in 1901 by David E. Lyons, a livery stable owner and deputy sheriff, the Grand, as it was named then, was referred to by the Daily Signal as a "beautiful little playhouse." Costing a mere $18,000 to build, Mr. Lyons carefully constructed his masterpiece using virgin Louisiana cypress, pine, and oak. This mostly wooden structure was accented with pressed tin tiles and hand-painted angel medallions in the four boxed seats. The Grand was known as the place for entertainment and hospitality. Used mainly for vaudeville and minstrel performances in the earlier days and for silent movies and talkies during the later days, the Grand attracted people traveling through the south, specifically those passing through Crowley via the railroad, which was located just a few blocks from the opera house. For the 39 years it remained open, notables such as Enrico Caruso, Babe Ruth, Clark Gable, Huey Long and Madame de Vilchez-Bizzet of the Paris Opera were just a few of the famous to grace the Grand's "mammoth" stage. Luckily for the 69 years it was closed, the opera house was left nearly untouched and luckily well preserved.

In 2004, Grand Opera House of the South, which is a 501(c) (3) organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors and an Executive Director, was given a truly "GRAND" gift by Mr. and Mrs. Lazar John "L.J." Gielen and family... the 33,000 square foot building which houses this National Historical Landmark. Purchased by the Gielen family in 1999, Grand Opera House is now totally owned and operated by the not-for-profit organization.

Following a $4.5 million dollar renovation and restoration under the direction of architect Donald J. Breaux, this masterpiece was brought back to its original splendor, and the Grand Opera House of the South reopened its doors in 2008. In addition to keeping its historical authenticity and beauty, the opera house now serves as a fully functioning, state-of-the art performing arts venue. And in accordance with its mission, the Grand Opera House of the South is once again bringing stellar performances to its audience using established, emerging, and local artists.

The State of Louisiana's Facility Planning and Control Division, through Capital Outlay, has provided Grand Opera House of the South with more than $1.3 million dollars that was used towards the renovation and restoration of the building. Former State Representative Gil Pinac, former State Senator Fred Hoyt and Lobbyist Charlie Smith secured the initial funding. Presently, State Representatives Jack Montoucet and Dan "Blade" Morrish as well as State Senator Nick Gautreaux have been successful in securing additional funding.

At the national level, former United States Congressman Chris John and Former United States Senator John Breaux helped to secure a $148,000.00 grant from the National Park Service's Save America's Treasures program.

In addition, the Acadiana Arts Council through the Louisiana Division of the Arts has shown overwhelming support every year through their Programming Support and Technical Support grant program. Since 2001, the grants received by Grand Opera House of the South have totaled over $65,000.00.

Grand Opera House of the South is extremely grateful to all individuals, corporations, and foundations that have supported and continue to support the opera house through volunteer work, in-kind donations and monetary donations. 

Banner photograph provided by Philip Gould

Gallery photographs provided by Edward Leger