HISTORY OF YUBA COUNTY CALIFORNIA
by Thompson & West, 1879, with illustrations
Chapter XXIII - Amusements - Transcribed by Craig Hahn, Dec. 2003
Necessity of Relaxation—Gambling—Attractions of the Gambling Halls—Destructive to Morals—The Round Tent—The El Dorado—The Magnolia—License for Gaming Tables—Raffles—Indictments—The First Entertainment—Music—Acrobats—Canvas Theater—The First Troupe—Bull and Bear Fight—Hand Organ—Minstrels—Banquets—The Chapman Family—Circus—The Need of a Theater—C. E. Bingham—D Street Theater—Dedication—Seventeen Hundred Dollars for One Seat—Theatrical Stars—Burning of the Theater—A Brick Theater—Destroyed by Fire—Erection of the Present Structure
The day’s labor ended, the weary miner or merchant was anxious to throw off business cares, and seek a few hours of rest and amusement in the companionship of congenial friends and acquaintances, there to discuss the situation of political or social affairs and the latest news from the outside world. With few books or newspapers, and none of the comforts of home, he was obliged to go to the general place of assemblage, the gambling house. At that time, the lines of morality were not so strictly drawn, and all classes of citizens could mingle together around and among the gaming tables, without exciting the sharp criticism of the rest of the populace. It was the general place of meeting, and the presence of a person did not necessitate his being a participant in the gaming. At one time nearly every other house in Marysville was used for gambling. It became a feature of California life, and while capitalists, merchants, bankers and others hesitated in the improvement of property, the proprietors of saloons, with a prodigal hand lavished their ill-gotten gains in the elaborate decoration of their apartments. They stinted nothing in their endeavor to make them the most attractive and popular. A person who could manipulate a musical instrument, however poorly, and who was lucky enough to have brought one with him from his home, was sought after, and could command an immense salary for his services. Music had charms to soothe the miner’s breast, and these caterers were aware of the fact. Miners were not at all careful as to the amount of their stakes. Fortunes were made or lost at a turn of a single card. Frequently thousands of dollars were bet on a hand at poker. Gold was readily obtained by digging on the bars, and as easily lost on the tables. It served to amuse the participants, and that was all they seemingly cared to live for at that time. There is no doubt but that this degenerate state of affairs has left its imprint on many a man who came to this State from the moral home-life of New England, full of hope and good intentions, only to throw them aside and join with the throng in wooing the fickle goddess, through the medium of the card. Thus many fell into early graves, with the only epitaph, “Here lies one, who unable to withstand temptation and from suffering from the curse of strong drink and gaming, and is forgotten.” Others whose principles of right and morality were firmly grounded resisted the alluring temptations of those exciting times, and stand now as monuments to denote the character of the larger class of men who came to the coast during the first few months of the mining fever. Very little gambling was carried on in Marysville in 1849, but in 1850, the increase in that business was startling. It was then that the professional gamblers began to arrive and make their preparations for fleecing the unwary miners.
The first regular gambling house in Marysville was the Round Tent, on the south side of First street, between D street and Maiden Lane. It was kept by James Wharton, and was of very rude construction. Poles were embedded in the earth and covered with canvas, forming a structure more primitive than gaudy. At one time Frank Ragsdill was interested in this establishment. This place was started about the time the town commenced its rapid strides, in February, 1850. A little later the El Dorado was erected, fronting on D street and having a L on First street. This, for some time proved to be the favorite resort, about forty or fifty tables being kept constantly occupied during the evenings. It was owned by Plummer Thurston, John Kelley and others. The Magnolia, another large house owned by a man named Smith, was started in the early part of the year. At this time, nearly the entire space on First street, between C and High street, and on the west side of D street, between First and Second streets, was occupied by a gambling house. Some of the buildings were framed structures, but the greater part had board fronts, with cloth sides and backs. A pistol ball could pass through the buildings from one side of the block to the other, almost without interruption. In the first part of August, 1851, the El Dorado closed its gambling department and received its revenue from the sales of wines and liquors. At one of the first sessions of the Legislature an act was passed obliging parties keeping gaming houses in San Francisco, Sacramento and Marysville to pay a license of one thousands per quarter if they kept three tables or less, and the sum of fifteen hundred dollars for any number over three. In other parts of the State the license was thirty-five dollars per month for each table. The cause of this difference in the amount of the license, was due to the fact that the gaming was carried on to a greater extent in those cities, and was suppose to effect a greater injury. February 9, 1852, indictments having been found against Rawls, Nesbitt & Co., and Van Reed and McDuffie, for failure to procure a license, they were brought before the Court of Sessions. A demurrer was entered which was sustained, and they were discharged. The Herald of January 27, 1852, states that there had been lately a great falling off in gambling. There were then only two or three places carrying on games with profit, and they were mostly patronized by professionals; within a few weeks several had closed their doors. In December, 1852, the Court of Sessions fixed the license at thirty-five dollars per month for each table. In the diminution of gambling, raffles were resorted to and this minor hazard proved very popular. Gambling was continued until 1854. The Legislature of 1853-54, passed a law which was to prove the death blow to the games of chance. At first nothing was done under this Act, and no steps were taken to secure its enforcement in Marysville. In 1855, the Grand Jury found fifty-two bills against gamblers and prostitutes. The former were greatly excited and very bitter. They threatened the lives of the members of the jury, particularly Judge O. P. Stidger, who was saved by the City Marshal. The games were carried on in secret, one large establishment being on the corner of First and C streets. The prosecution of the gamblers served to throw greater secrecy around their operations, and lessened the amount of their evil influence. Gambling was carried on in the building on the southeast corner of Second D streets. At present it is carried on in some parts of the city, but its influence is not felt to any great extent.
It was not until the winter of 1850, that Marysville attracted the attention of strolling players. The first entertainment was given in the ball-room of the St. Charles hotel, corner of Third and D streets, by Mr. H. Rossitter, and consisted of a few legerdemain tricks and slack wire dancing. It did not require much of a performance, or any great variety of tricks to please the taste of the merchant and miner at that time. They were willing to pour their “dust” into the coffers of almost anything which bore the name of a show. During the year 1851, Messrs. Grambss, Chaigneau, Leya and a cornetist, Mons. Leon Williez, appeared at the California Exchange. They were fine musicians, far above the ordinary saloon orchestras. In December, 1851 and January, 1852, the Lee family gave acrobatic performances at the Pavillion, on Third street near the St. Charles hotel. A canvas theater was erected in the early part of 1851, by Dr. Robinson, on the corner of Second and High streets, and a Vaudeville company was placed on the stage. The venture proved very remunerative, the entertainment being superior to anything yet given in the city. James Stark, the favorite California tragedian, then gave performances with the support of Mr. Nesbitt, Mr. McCron, and Mrs. J. H. Kirby (afterwards Mrs. Stark.) The season resulted well for all concerned. A bull and bear fight was held October 20, 1851, between the mammoth grizzly bear “Revenge,” and a large Spanish bull, at Buckley’s hay-yard, in the rear of the Oriental Hotel. The bear measured four and one-half feet in height, and six and one-half feet in length. It was as brutal a sight as could have been conceived. While the performance was progressing within, a curious incident took place on the outside. A negro named Martin, who was peeping through an opening in the fence, fell back and died almost instantly, probably from fright. During the last part of January, 1852, the unusual spectacle of an organ grinder, with his monkey, was seen on the streets, and the twain produced no little jollity and amusement. The New Orleans Serenaders, a species of minstrel troupe, gave entertainment of three evenings in February, or March, in the First Presbyterian Church, on the corner of D and Third streets, and were well patronized. There was a good deal of discussion and criticism on account of the church people allowing such a performance in their edifice. It seems they were misled in regards to the style of the entertainment. Sunday, February 22, 1852, was celebrated by Peter Robinson, a flour merchant, by a banquet in his warehouse. Mayor Miles presided, and regular and called toasts were offered and replied to. The public celebration of Washington’s birthday was held in the United States Hotel, on Monday evening, February 23. There were present sixty-one ladies and about one hundred gentlemen. The festivities consisted of an oration by Mr. S. B. Mulford and a grand ball. The bill of fare for supper, as published in the Herald, included sixty-one dishes—a wonderful variety at that day. On the seventh and eighth of May, 1852, the “Rainier and Donaldson Serenaders” gave minstrel entertainment in the United States Hotel. On the twenty-fifth of that month the Chapman family opened the Marysville Theater in Sheppard’s building, corner of C and Front streets. Lee and Marshall’s National Circus pitched its tent in the city, and gave performances on the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth of May, 1852. Signora Elisa Biscacianti gave concerts in the El Dorado Hotel, on the evenings of June 4th and 5th. In December, 1851 the people began to feel the need of a theater to accommodate the larger audiences, and to give ample room for the performances of the more extensive companies which were to visit the city. In October, 1852, the city was visited by a company under the management Mr. C. E. Bingham, which gave a performance in a bath house, corner of D and Front streets. The success that attended this last series of entertainments rendered the erection of a paying theatre a possibility. Forseeing this result, Seymour Pixley and William W. Smith, the former an architect and the latter City Clerk, commenced the erection of a wooden structure, on D street, and by December had a comfortable and nicely decorated theater in operation. The opening of the first edifice which could properly be called a theater was an event worthy of celebration, and accordingly the new “Temple of the Muse” was dedicated with great formality. An address was delivered, and Mr. C. E. Bingham, the manager, read a poem composed for the occasion by Colonel R. H. Taylor. The play “Honeymoon” was produced by Mr. Bingham and his company. That gentleman was a fine act, but the troupe possessed no great merit. For the season of two months, an unusually long one, the new theater was filled nightly with large audiences. At a concert given July 9, 1853, for the benefit of Miss Ella Bruce, the seats were sold at auction, and the Mutual Hook and Ladder Company the first for one thousand seventeen hundred dollars. From this time dramatic representations were given every few days at the theater by the best artists to come to the coast, including Mr. Murdock, Mr. And Mrs. Wallack, Matilda Herd, Mr. Booth, Mr., Stark, and many other of nation reputation. Frequent entertainments were given in the city by minstrel troupes, circuses and concert companies. In the fire, in May, 1854, the wooden theater was destroyed. In 1854, a new brick theater building, 70 x 70 feet, was erected by Mr. R. A. Eddy, on the west side of D street, between Second and Third. The structure cost thirty-eight thousands dollars and was equal to four stories in height, the lower portion being used for stores and the upper part for the theater. In 1855, the property was owned by Mr. S. T. Watts, and in 1858, by Mr. J. S. Eshom. The theater was destroyed by fire, November 17, 1864, and the present structure was erected the following year, at a cost of thirty-three thousand dollars. It was built by Swain and Hudson, in whose possession it is at the present time. The floor of the room is adapted for dancing, the seats being easily removed. Of late the number of visiting theatrical companies has greatly decreased, until a performance has become somewhat a novelty.
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