The Grand Opera House and Mississippi State’s Riley Center

Riley Center front and side 2


The block containing the Marks, Rothenberg & Co store and their Grand Opera House was constructed 1888-1890, designed by architect Gustavus Maurice Torgerson, an immigrant from either Switzerland or Sweden (depending on which census record is used) (Mississippi Department of Archives and History;  Nomination form for National Register of Historic Places).

Marks and Rothenberg, two half-brothers of a Jewish immigrant family, constructed the huge Marks-Rothenberg department store on the corner.  It was successful, so they built the Grand Opera House next door to their business, and for a brief period, it also enjoyed success, bringing entertainment and excitement to Meridian.

next door Riley Center front elevation

Grand Opera House

Benefitting from its location on the Atlanta-New Orleans circuit, the Grand Opera House attracted vaudeville and minstrel shows as well as opera and drama, and in its relatively brief existence it became known as one of the best facilities of its type in the South. (Maddox, D. 1972. Grand Opera House. National Register of Historic Places nomination form)

The opera house operated until c. 1919 as a live entertainment venue, and then was used as a movie theater until it was closed in 1927 (MDAH), in the midst of a lawsuit involving Rothenberg and Saenger Theatres.  In a seemingly unbelievable turn of events, the grand facility sat empty other than for use as a warehouse and storage until 2006.  The block of buildings was restored and is now the Mississippi State University Riley Center for its downtown Riley Campus.

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4 Responses to The Grand Opera House and Mississippi State’s Riley Center

  1. Beth says:

    Beautiful and just think, it survived not being torn down all those years!


  2. Sheryl says:

    What a beautiful building! Thank goodness that it has been restored. It’s wonderful to know that it is now part of Mississippi State.


    • Suzassippi says:

      I had to update this post, actually–there are so many references that interchange the corner (which was the original store apparently) and the opera house, which was next door. When MSU restored/renovated it, it seems as if everything is now referred to as the Opera House.


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