The Collapse of Marchand's Opera House in Alliance, Ohio - June 2, 1886 - An Engineer's Aspect


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Monday, May 10, 2010

The Collapse of Marchand's Opera House in Alliance, Ohio - June 2, 1886


Title: Opera House.

Description: The elaborate Opera House was built on the northeast corner of Main Street and Seneca Avenue in 1867-1868 by Emmor Crew at an estimated cost of $80,000. The clay used for the bricks was taken from the corner of Glamorgan Street and Union Avenue where the Glamorgan lakes are today.

Image: View looking west of Glamorgan Castle and grounds showing one of its lakes. Alliance, Ohio, circa 1900.

Source: Alliance Memory.

In 1877 it was purchased by C. E. Marchand for only $9,000 because of the decaying condition of the building. The theater was on the third and fourth floors and had seating for 1,000 people.

In 1886, the building had decayed to the point of collapse. This is the only known picture of the original building before it collapsed.

Source: Alliance Memory.


One of the newspaper reports came was a first-hand account published in the Elyria Weekly Republican. The reporter was only half a block away when the opera house collapsed:

The Elyria Weekly Republican, Thursday, June 10, 1886, Page 6.

Opera House at Alliance Tumbles into Ruins.


ALLIANCE, June 2.--About 4 o'clock this afternoon there was heard a terrible cracking, a rumbling sound, and a single brick was seen to fall from the second story of Marchand's opera house, two squares from the union depot, a solid brick block four stories high and eighty feet square. Just at this moment your correspondent, who was but half a square from the building, glanced toward the imposing structure, which, in less than a minute, was a mass of ruins. The southeast corner of the building first fell inward with a crash. Men, women and children passing on the street were first warned by the flying bricks and ran screaming. The east and south walls next fell, and lastly the north and west. Luckily the ruins did not catch fire.

When the building began to fall there were about a dozen people therein, but as far as can be learned all escaped and none were seriously hurt. F. C. Marchand, manager, and son of the owner, Mrs. C. E. Marchand, was in his office on the second floor, and noticed the ceiling begin to crack. He rushed frantically down the front stairway, screaming for everybody to flee for their lives, saying the opera-house was falling.

Image: A Parade on Main Street in Alliance, Ohio, circa 1890.

Source: Alliance Memory.

The building has been condemned on several occasions, but the hall would still continue to be packed. J. F. Weybrecht, contractor, inspected the building this morning, and repairs were to have been begun to-morrow. The loss to the building will be about $30,000. It was built in 1868 by E. Crew, at a cost of $75,000.

Description: The Alliance Opera House was built in 1867-68 at a cost of $75,000. There were doubts as to its safety and arrangements were in progress to put it in a secure condition when it suddenly collapsed about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 2, 1886. No one was hurt. This photograph was taken about 15 minutes after the collapse.

Source: Alliance Memory.

Title: Opera House in Ruins.

Description: The Opera House stood at the northeast corner of Main Street and Seneca Avenue. The first floor contained many stores and offices and the theater was on the third floor. Creaking sounds caused it to be inspected by J. T. Weybrecht the morning of June 2, 1886 who warned all inhabitants to vacate the premises. At approximately 4:30 p.m., the building collapsed. The cause was from defective bricks used for its construction. There was some speculation that vibrations from closely passing railroad trains contributed to the shifting of the bricks. Remnants of the building were still extant until the final demolition in the late 1900s.

Source: Alliance Memory.

The Ohio Democrat, New Philadelphia, Ohio, June 10, 1886.

Alliance, Ohio
Marchand's Opera House Collapse
June 2, 1886


The Alliance, O., Opera House A Complete Wreck

Alliance, O., June 2. – At 4:10 this afternoon there was heard a terrible cracking, crashing, and rumbling noise, and a single brick was seen to fall from the southeast corner of the second story of Marchand’s Opera House, which was a four-story brick block, eighty feet square, located at the corner of Main and Fifth streets, two squares from the depot. The entire imposing, massive structure immediately fell in a confused mass of dusty ruins. Three of the four store rooms on the first floor were occupied by business firms and the fourth room was to be occupied in a few days. In the store rooms were about a dozen people, all of whom escaped, as also did several occupants of room in the second story. Mr. Marchand, the business manager of the block, was sitting in his office on the 2nd floor when he noticed the plastering cracking. He rushed frantically out and down the front stairway, screaming for everybody to run as the house was falling. Harvey Laughlin, attorney, office also on the 2nd floor, hearing the confusion, ran for the side stairway, and rushed down while bricks and mortar fell thick all about him, he being the last to leave the building. The third floor was the opera house, and the fourth floor an attic and storage place. No lives were lost.

Several new coaches standing on the Fort Wayne track in the rear of the building were crushed by the falling wall; while the east wall in falling caught a two-story frame adjacent and crushed it; also damaging the next house east.

Image: The Alliance Fire Department, circa 1890.

Source: Alliance Memory.

The roar of the falling building was heard a mile away. The noise and the alarm of the fire bell bro’t [sic] many people from the surrounding country.

The west wall still stands to the 2nd story, and thus to a great extent protected two of the business rooms below. Everything else was entirely destroyed, including the fine scenery, etc., of the opera house.


The building was erected in 1868 at a cost of $75,000. During the erection a heavy rain storm materially affected the walls, but they were fixed as best they could and the work completed. Architects and builders have often pronounced it safe, while others did not consider it so. Within a few weeks the east wall began to sag out and the doors of the building closed with difficulty. Only yesterday morning J. T. Weybrecht, builder and contractor, examined the house and informed Mr. Marchand that repairs would be necessary to make it safe. Those repairs were to have begun tomorrow.


On Tuesday evening the Board of Education decided to have the annual commencement exercises of the city schools in the opera hall on June 25th, notwithstanding the protests of the parents of the graduating class. Had the building stood up until that day, and the proposed repair not been equal to the weight of humanity that would then have assembled there, what a heart-rending tragedy might have occurred. It makes one shudder to think of it.

Transcription: GenDisasters.

Description: Alliance Opera House after its collapse on June 2, 1886. Businesses that can be seen include London & Lancashire Insurance Company, Bargain Shoe House, Royal Insurance Company, J. McClain & Company, and W. H. Rickard & Company.

Inscription on photo mounting board: The Opera House was on the third floor. Second floor there were offices and a couple of apartments. First floor was occupied by stores.

Source: Alliance Memory.


Historical Collections of Ohio, Vol. II, By Henry Howe, ©1888, Pages 622-623.



"In 1867-68, there was built in Alliance an opera house at an estimated cost of $80,000. Even at the time of its completion the building was considered unsafe, owing to the use of poor material and hasty construction. Indeed, so well was this understood, that its property value was very materially affected thereby and the building was sold in 1877, for $9,000. At this time, some $14,000 to $16,000 were expended in improvements, but without permanently securing its safety as subsequent events demonstrated.

The frontage of the building was eighty feet, by the same depth; it consisted of four stories, containing stores, offices and assembly rooms with the third floor entirely occupied by the opera house auditorium, stage, etc., with a seating capacity of one thousand, although fifteen hundred were sometimes crowded within its doors.

On June 2, 1886, two of the offices on the second floor, and three of the four stores on the street floor were occupied by business men. An adjoining two-story frame building east of the opera house, was occupied upstairs as a dwelling, by the family of George MYERS, and downstairs by the grocery of James I. RICKARD. Early in the day they discovered that their doors did not open and shut freely; they at once surmised the pressure of the yielding east wall of the opera house to be the cause and notified Mr. Florian MARCHAND, manager of the building. Later in the day, Mr. MARCHAND in company with J. T. WEYBRECHT, an expert builder, made an inspection of the building, with the result that its immediate vacation was ordered. At 4:30 Messrs. MARCHAND and RICKARD were anxiously watching the building, when fragments of brick began to fall.

At once perceiving that the end had come, they raised the alarm. The frightened inmates of the stores and offices came rushing out, none too soon. A long gap opened in the east wall, an awful roar swept over the startled city, a cloud of dust rose slowly against the slanting rays of the afternoon sun, and the stately pile fell crushed like an eggshell into utter and shapeless ruin.

The fire bell rang out clear in the awful silence that followed. Men and women stood for an instant spellbound with horror; they a cry arose on all sides: “The opera house has fallen!” Every mind instantly rested on the occupants of the ruined structure. Women screamed and fainted, men shuddered and turned pale, and all rushed to the scene, dreading the worst, scarcely daring to hope. As if by magic, the streets were black with people, with blanched faces and fast beating hearts. The general and intense relief can be imagined when it was definitely ascertained that positively no person was killed, or even injured. The families of the persons whose various occupations were conducted in the opera house block were naturally frantic with fear and terror, only equaled by the joy caused by the unexpected good news that all had escaped.

By a combination of circumstances peculiarly fortunate the great ruin became the tomb of no living being. Had those falling walls, sinking floors and crashing timbers engulfed, as well they might, hundreds of happy, unsuspicious pleasure seekers, the mind shudders at the awful picture.

That such a risk of terrible calamity as menaced the people of Alliance for a term of years was permitted in the State of Ohio, is evidence that our laws on the construction and maintenance of public buildings are not such as should satisfy the people."


Ironically, the interior of Chuck's Inn collapsed during remodeling on March 2, 1971.

Chuck's Inn, located at 604 East Main Street in Alliance, Ohio, was built in the same location as the Opera House that collapsed on June 2, 1886.

Source: Alliance Memory.