A stream of now-forgotten vaudeville performers passed through Santa Rosa in 1904, with five acts typically booked for a week's run at the Novelty Theatre. No surprise there; every moderate-sized town had an "opera house" or "music hall," and by this year, probably a nickelodeon or two. While some performers (like The Great McEwen, apparently) booked their own engagements directly with theater managers, most singers, dancers, "talking" comedians, jugglers, and whatnot signed up for a tour on a theatrical circuit and trudged from town to town, just hoping the beef stew wouldn't be so watery at the next boarding house on the schedule.

This item reveals that Santa Rosa's vaudeville theater was part of the ultra-small Novelty Circuit. By contrast, Petaluma would be the first stop on the upper Central Valley route of the Great Western Theatrical Circuit, which visited fifteen other towns, including Sacramento and Napa. Although the town of Santa Rosa was larger than Petaluma, Healdsburg, or even San Rafael, its vaudeville hall was cramped, only about 35 x 100 feet with a total stage area about 18' deep. The nearby Athenaeum, which typically hosted drama troupes and minstrel shows, could hold an audience almost three times as large.

Alas, the Novelty Circuit didn't last very long. This theatre along with the San Francisco Fischer's Opera House would be destroyed in the 1906 earthquake (photo on page 80 of "San Francisco in Ruins") and the Novelty Circuit would be absorbed into the Western States Vaudeville Association, which in turn became but a tiny cog in the nationwide Pantages empire. This moment in October 1904, so full of promise, was the launch of their very short heyday.

Fischer's Opera House Bought - McEwen will Pay Return Visit

Manager Joseph Cowen of the Novelty theatre returned from a visit to San Francisco Wednesday night. He brought the news to the lovers of vaudeville that the Novelty Circuit have purchased Fischer's Opera House in San Francisco, which has been noted for its attractions.

The management will conduct it as a first class vaudeville theatre, and place it on the "three L's circuit." They will engage the best acts from the east and Santa Rosa Novelty theatre will get its share of them.

By request of many of the citizens of Santa Rosa, Manager Cowen announces that he has secured The Great McEwen, hypnotist and mind reader for next week, just prior to his trip to Australia, where he will take his own company.

- Press Democrat, October 27, 1904


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