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Old 02-16-2009, 03:21 PM
Location: Universal City, Texas
3,109 posts, read 8,833,105 times
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Built in 1872 and owned by Jack Harris in 1874, the Vaudeville Theatre in San Antonio was the first theatre to use the name "Vaudeville" in its theatre. There is a theatre in Boston that claims to be the oldest Vaudeville Theatre but it was not built until 1884 or 1886.

The owner, Jack Harris was born in Connecticut and ran away at 12 and went to sea. He wound up with William Walker's Nicarauga expidition in the 1850's and was captured and about to be executed. William Walker saved his life.

Afterwards, Jack Harris moved to Texas and was a scout for the Army for a few years and then settled down in San Antonio. He was a police officer. During the Civil War he served in Galveston and was with Ben Thompson when the two and others captured a Union ship and drank the cargo, before turning the ship over to Conferderate officers in Galveston.

After the war, Jack returned to his job in San Antonio. He was also a partner with his boss, Captain Peneloza, and together they operated the Bull's Head Saloon. By 1872, Jack was working for himself and operated the Jack Harris Saloon and it became part of The Vaudeville Theatre in 1874.

He was also head of the Democratic Party at this same time and no one could run for office unless they were Jack's friend. He controlled the Mayor's office, the City Council, the police and the red light district.

In 1880, Ben Thompson was in the 101 Club which was upstairs of the Vaudeville, and also owned by Jack Harris. Thompson was playing faro with Joe Foster who worked for Jack. Ben lost a lot of money and was calling everyone a cheat. Ben hocked his watch which he over valued and still lost. He left in a huff claiming as City Marshall of Austin, he was going to come back and close the place down. Jack intervened and Ben called Jack a thief.

On July 11, 1882, Ben came back to San Antonio and shot and killed Jack inside the Vaudeville Theatre. Ben Thompson later turned himself in and was arrested. In 1883, Ben was acquitted. He returned to a heros welcome in Austin.

On March 11, 1884, Ben Thompson and King Fisher (of Uvalde police department) returned to the Vuadeville Theater and both were ambushed and killed by emplyees of the Vuadeville.

Both shootings made the front page of the New York Times. Jack Harris frequented New York, looking for variety acts for his theatre. He was due to go to New York City on July 13, 1882, the day after the shooting.

It is my belief that the notoriety of the theatre made the term more common and that it became part of the lexicon in the 1890's in New York and also in Boston where it was picked up.

Not taking world credit because Vaudeville root came from France where it was used and its origin goes to Valley of the Vaud. France had a form of Vaudeville going back to the 1830's and Jack probably saw some acts when he went to sea.

There was a traveling company in the U.S. that called itself Vaudeville but the group goes back to 1882.

source: Self(Gary Yantis), studying San Antonio's history for 30 years also, New York Times, San Antonio Public Library, San Antonio Light, San Antonio Express-News, Austin American-Statesman.
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Old 06-25-2010, 04:16 AM
2 posts, read 4,536 times
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FYI, modern day vaudeville theater still going strong today: "Esther's Follies"
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