Architecture for opera and theater

April 25, 2018
Jerry L McBride
Music Library staffers Kevin Kishimoto and Vincent Kang display volume 1 of Modern Opera Houses and Theatres

Three massive and extraordinary volumes were recently donated to the Stanford University Libraries: Modern Opera Houses and Theatres: Examples Selected from Playhouses Recently Erected in Europe, with Descriptive Text, a Treatise on Theatre Planning and construction, and Supplements on Stage Machinery, Theatre Fires, and Protective Legislationby Edwin O. Sachs, 2nd issue (London: B.T. Batsford, 1897-1898).The volumes measure 58.5 x 42 cm. (23 x 16 ½ in.) and are remarkable documentation of the buildings in their original splendor before some of them were destroyed or severely damaged in World War II. The set contains numerous illustrations and plates, some of which fold out to 126.5 cm. (50 in.) such as the drawing for the Hofburg Theater in Vienna (v. 1, plate 1).

Edwin Sachs surveyed all of the major opera houses and theaters in Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Russia, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, France, Italy, and Spain constructed in the last half of the 19th century. These are some of the most opulent and impressive public performing spaces in the world then and today. The first two volumes contain text and illustrations of the theaters in each of the countries including exact scale architectural drawings at 1/250th of actual size plus photographs of the interiors and exteriors. The third volume is an exhaustive study of theater planning and construction, stage machinery, fire prevention and protection, and legislation related to theater buildings. The text contains exacting detail and measurements of every aspect and all areas of the buildings for both public areas, staff rooms, and technical spaces.

Stanford University Special Collections already holds a copy of the first issue of the set from 1896, whose first volume was published for subscribers to the publication. After all copies of volume one of the first issue were distributed to the subscribers, the author published a revised second issue of volume one. Volumes two and three are identical in both sets. This Stanford University copy was purchased at Paul Wenzel Architectural and Art Industrial Books of New York City by Merritt J. Reid (1855-1932), who probably donated them to a library, as the opening half title page of each volume is inscribed, Gift of Merritt J. Reid. A library call number is written in each volume, but the bookplates have been removed. Reid was part of the architectural firm Reid and Reid that moved to San Francisco in 1889 and operated there until Merritt’s death in 1932. The firm designed a number of important buildings in San Francisco and California including the Fairmont Hotel, the Hale Brothers Department Store, and movie theaters such as the New Sequoia.

Although lavishly produced, the books were coming apart completely due to the type of glue used for the binding. Stanford Libraries Preservation Department meticulously and painstakingly reattached the pages to the binding page by page so that the books can now be handled safely and easily. They can now be consulted in Stanford Libraries Special Collections.

The books are from the Magnificat Music Library of Lim Mark Lai (1934-2013), which was donated to Stanford Libraries as a bequest. He was a world traveler and tremendous lover of all types of classical music with an especial affinity for German opera. He was the youngest son of Chinese immigrants, who arrived at Angel Island in 1923 and worked in the garment industry. His older brother, Him Mark Lai (1925-2009), initially trained as a mechanical engineer but became renowned as a pre-eminent scholar of Chinese American studies, founding the journal of the Chinese Historical Society of America, Chinese America: History and Perspectives. Lim worked his entire career for the City and County of San Francisco, but music and travel were his passions.

Modern Opera Houses and Theatres, cover

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