Redding’s Armory Hall Fell with its Own Fireworks
According to Ed Peterson’s book on Redding's first hundred years, the San Francisco Call described this building in 1890 as “a $60,000 hall to be ready by July Fourth.” Its actual cost was only $6,500 to build and, by all accounts, what it contributed to the community was worth far more. When finished, the framework building was sixty feet wide and one hundred and forty feet long with a large stage at the end of the building. It was located at Butte and East streets where Shasta Regional Medical Center is now.
Armory Hall was built by an association composed of leading businessmen of the day who saw it as a public enterprise. The stockholders dreamed of the dividends it would bring, but only one was ever paid. Up to this point, the local National Guard or militia (Company H at the time) traveled to Chico for training. Since the company was called into service for the Spanish-American War, it made sense to these gentlemen that it would be more convenient for their soldiers to be trained closer to home. In between times of training, Armory Hall could be rented out by various organizations and interest groups.
Before Armory Hall was built, amateur local plays were performed on the second floor of the Craddock Building on the corner of Butte and Market streets (directly across where Shasta Historical Society is now) and the Reid Stable building at Tehama and California streets. Once the Hall was completed, the plays were often put on there because of the large stage and ample room for a larger audience. Soon, word got around that Armory Hall was show-friendly and traveling troupes arrived to entertain Redding citizens, staying anywhere from a night to a week putting on a different show for each night. Judge Albert F. Ross gave a first-hand account of Armory Hall’s shows, writing “One of the plays usually presented each year was ‘Ten Nights in a Bar-room’; others were ‘Camille’ and ‘East Lynne.’”
Besides plays and troupe shows, Armory Hall hosted magic shows with hypnotists, minstrel shows, comedians, local high school plays, dances, and the occasional basketball games. For the basketball games, the chairs would be pushed to the walls around the floor and the basketball hoops put up and then taken down after each game. According to Judge Ross, even professional boxing matches or prize fights came to Redding’s Armory Hall: “I remember one winter when Gus Albrecht put on a series of 20-round fights with two preliminary bouts once each month and drew crowds from as far as Dunsmuir and Red Bluff.”
The local political candidates and their parties also enjoyed using Armory Hall to host their conventions. The two major parties would take turns in holding their events there and on each convention day, delegates from all over the county would show up for the big day. These parties’ conventions would nominate candidates for all county offices and it was an all-day affair that lasted into the evening.
After 35 years of service, on January 10, 1915, a fire of unknown origin razed Armory Hall, causing $20,000 worth of damage. Most of the cost of the damage came from Company D’s military equipment -- including 4,000 rounds of ammunition that exploded into a fusillade of shots as the building burned. A tenant of George Bush’s, Mrs. Jesse Johnson, barely made it out of her house (located behind the Armory) before it went up in flames as well. It was a great loss to the city, but because the stockholders were barely coming out even after paying for upkeep, insurance and taxes, they decided to cut their losses and not rebuild. Among the owners of the shares were E.A. Reid, T.J. Houston, W.H. Bergh, George W. Bush, and R.M. Saeltzer.
Later the same year, the Redding Chamber of Commerce negotiated a deal with M. Leonardini to build the Redding Theatre for $15,000.
Renee McKean feels she has had the best job in the world the past five years working at Shasta Historical Society, helping to preserve and promote our county's rich history. Married to a 5th generation Shasta County resident, she feels the influence of history even at home with the old family photographs and memorabilia her in-laws have cared for through the years.
A News Cafe, founded in Shasta County by Redding, CA journalist Doni Greenberg, is the place for people craving local Northern California news, commentary, food, arts and entertainment. Views and opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of anewscafe.com.
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