Cyrus Adams Reed, the builder of Reed’s Opera House, was a man of wide-ranging talents and interests. He played an essential role in the development of Salem and the early Oregon State Government. A jack-of-all-trades, Reed worked at a variety of jobs, from carriage maker and painter to teacher and legislator.

Born in New Hampshire, Reed came west during the California Gold Rush of 1849, but he quickly made his way to Portland at a time when the population was barely over 1,000, mostly Native Americans. In Portland, Reed helped to build the first sawmill in the city. Reed also created Portland’s first library (he raised money to purchase all the books) and served as its first librarian.

Reed’s Opera House Salem
One of the entrances to The Reed, highlighted in stained glass. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

Cyrus Reed Comes to Salem

By 1852, Reed and his family had relocated to Salem, where they lived on a 640-acre farm. He again worked at various entrepreneurial endeavors, from being one of the first druggists in town to owning a mercantile and being part owner of a door, sash, and blind factory. He was also one of the builders of the Willamette Woolen Mills (Salem’s largest employer at the time) and served as an early director of the company. Reed was deeply involved in the new state’s government. He was elected to four terms in the legislature, starting in 1862, and was one of the founders of the Oregon Republican Party. During the Civil War, Reed served as the Adjutant General of Oregon, which meant he was the senior military officer in the state and oversaw Oregon’s national guard and militia.

Reed’s Opera House Salem
The front of Reed’s Opera House, at the corner of Liberty and Court Streets in Salem. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

Building Reed’s Opera House

The building we know today as Reed’s Opera House was initially meant for a very different purpose — the center of Oregon’s State Government. In the late 1860s, Reed was contracted to build a complex that would house the legislature, supreme court, its library, and all state offices. The administration changed, however, and Reed was stuck with a building already started that the state no longer wanted. He pivoted and instead asked his architect to design a facility with retail shops on the first floor, an opera house above, and hotel rooms in the upper stories.

Built at a cost of $75,000 (just over $1.7 million today), the Opera House construction used one million bricks. Following the opening of the Opera House, Reed was in debt and worked multiple jobs to pay it off — from painting all of the sets for the theater to opening a real estate office. He did end up paying off his debts and selling off his share of the building in 1885. He returned to Portland to live until his death at 85.

September 27, 1870, marked the opening of the Opera House, coinciding with the inauguration of Governor Lafayette Grover. That governor’s ball, and all subsequent governor’s balls in the nineteenth century, were held at Reed’s Opera House. The theater had room for 1,500 audience members — more than the entire population of Salem at that point, which was just over 1,100.

From the beginning, the Opera House became a community hub, with touring theatrical events, concerts, and appearances by national figures from John Philip Sousa and his band to Mark Twain.

In 1871, Susan B. Anthony, one of the national leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement, appeared at the Reed along with Oregon activist Abigail Scott Duniway. They had been invited by Reed himself, who was the president of the Oregon Women’s Suffrage Organization. Local opera singer Hallie Parrish Hinges (daughter of Salem pioneer J. L. Parrish) used the opera house as her home base throughout the late 1800s.

Reed’s Opera House Salem
The basement and street level of The Reed, with restaurants and services. Photo credit: Mollie Nouwen

The Reed Today

Reed’s Opera House was the site for all of the major events and theatrical performances in Salem until the Grand Theater opened in 1900, and The Reed closed its doors. The building’s purpose changed again when Reed’s Opera House was converted into Salem’s first department store with Joseph Meyers & Sons. In 1920, Miller’s Department Store moved into the space and stayed until the mid-1970s.

The configuration of the building as we know it now was completed in the late 1970s. The current Reed’s Opera House features retail shops at the sidewalk level and in the basement. From restaurants to a hat shop, barbers to a tattoo parlor, the Reed has a great variety of tenants, most of them in small, funky spaces. The areas above include a 4,500-square-foot ballroom and conference and meeting facilities. Reed’s Opera House has had many lives but continues to thrive and serve as a landmark at the corner of Liberty and Court Street in Salem.

Reed’s Opera House
189 Liberty Street NE, Salem

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