Friday, August 11, 2006

Opera Alley

This post is a trick. You won’t find this little street any more. But, in the decades before the 1906 quake-fire, Opera Alley ran NW from Mission Street between 3rd and 4th, just next to the –then- Grand Opera House.

Famously, the world’s greatest tenor of the time (or of all times, by some accounts), Enrico Caruso sang Don Jose in Carmen at the Grand Opera House on Tuesday night April 18, 1906. Caruso was touring with the Metropolitan Opera Company here when the quake hit. Earlier in April, when the company was in Chicago, Caruso almost parted ways—Caruso intended to take the train back to New York, and then return to Italy (where the food was more to his liking). He intended to let the MOC end the tour without him. But, alas, Vesuvius started erupting, so Caruso continued on where he’d be safe.

The pre-dawn temblor woke Caruso, shaking him from his bed at the nearby Palace Hotel but not seriously damaging the building. Legend has it that he breakfasted heartily that morning at the nearby St. Francis Hotel on Union Square, but refused to return to the Palace. (He did send his butler back inside for Caruso’s eight trunks of personal items—that’s personal items, not costumes or sets or anything.)

The fires started slowly that morning but by mid-day the Opera House was eaten by flame, and by mid-afternoon, the Palace also succumbed. Caruso (along with his trunks) escaped the city, and kept his promise never to return.

Today, the Opera House is in Civic Center. What was Opera Alley in the 1890s until 1906, is now a cyclone-fenced construction pathway for the building of the Jewish Museum (projected to open in 2007).


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

FYI, it was the night of the 17th as the quake hit 5am on the 18th.

Also the house was at Mission street, between Third and Fourth and not the Civic Center.