One hundred years ago, in August 1920, the La Scala Theatre and Opera House opened its doors in Dublin. Patrick O’Neill takes a look at the history of the building that was renamed ‘The Capitol’ in 1927, and hosted so many happy nights out for Irish people.
The ‘La Scala Theatre and Opera House’ opened for business at 4-8 North Princes Street on the former site of The Freeman’s Journal offices opposite the GPO on the 10th August, 1920, taking its name from the opera house in Milan.
At the time, there was a building boom in Dublin after the First World War, and many sites became available around the GPO because of the destruction caused by British shelling during the 1916 Rising.
This led to a great boom in building, especially entertainment venues for the general public to show the new movies arriving from America.
At one point, there were up to 56 cinemas in Dublin and the surrounding suburbs of varying degrees of quality; the Scala was certainly at the higher end of the spectrum, as it was initially built to bring operas to Dublin which proved to be an unsuccessful enterprise.
Thomas F. McNamara, a church architect, designed the theatre in the understated Edwardian style of the pre-war years on a one-acre site stretching to Middle Abbey Street.
However, the interior was a different story, with plush red seating for up to 1,900 in the orchestra, first balcony and upper level, nine private boxes on each side of the stage, and 32 boxes in all.
The entrance foyer boasted marble flooring and wood panelling from the luxury liner the Mauritania, sister-ship of the ill-fated Lusitania, when the former was refitted in Southampton after the war.
Other commentators have suggested that the panelling came from the Britannica, sister-ship of the Titanic, when it was re-commissioned for service in WW1 but the chronology points more favourably to the Mauritania, as the Britannica was torpedoed in 1916.