14. Pike’s Opera House was the site of a gruesome murder

Grand Opera House, photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Pike’s Opera House, renamed the Grand Opera House, was a theater on the northwest corner of 8th Avenue and 23rd Street in Chelsea. Pike’s Opera House was built on the former site of Clement Clarke Moore’s home “Chelsea,” which gave inspired the name of the neighborhood. Built in 1868, the building survived until 1960 as an RKO movie theater, but it was replaced by the housing development Penn South. The grand auditorium, which could accommodate 1,800 people but often was packed with double the capacity for popular performances, opened with Verdi’s Il Trovatore and followed with seven Jacques Offenbach operettas.

However, just four years after opening, the opera house was the site of a brutal murder. Jim Fisk and Jay Gould bought Pike’s Opera House in January 1869, which led to a more diverse repertoire. However, after Fisk and Gould unsuccessfully tried to corner the gold market — leading to the 1869 Black Friday gold panic — Fisk barricaded himself in the opera house. The opera house had also served as headquarters for the Erie Railway. Fisk was shot by his partner Edward S. Stokes after Stokes found out that Fisk had indicted him for attempted blackmail. A few years after Fisk’s murder, the theater changed ownership a few times, and soon after Buffalo Bill and blackface performances of Uncle Tom’s Cabin were put on.