BROWNSVILLE, Texas — It was a period of firsts for the culture of 1881 Brownsville. Pierre Vivier arrived from Normandy, France around the time of Brownsville’s foundation. His grandson’s wife played the major focus in the building of the Brownsville Opera House. It was the center of cultural activity for Brownsville and the lower Rio Grande Valley.
If you can imagine William Jennings Bryan on the stage of the opera house giving his oratory in the early part of the 20th Century, as well as the Marx Brothers. All kinds of travelling shows from opera and vaudeville performed in Brownsville at the end of the 19th Century and into the early stages of the next century.
The opera house had a very checkered past because from the very beginning, it had a difficult time sustaining itself. That is when the Vivier’s came into the picture. The grandson of Pierre Vivier, Pierre Joseph Vivier, was married to Annie Mildred Russel. She was the one who carried the burden and the development of the opera house. When the United States entered World War I, the opera house was the center of the activities, as it became an entertainment center for the troops.
When the Great Depression came in 1929 the opera house started to financially deteriorate because it really could not be supported in this area. Annie Mildred Russel Vivier supported it out of her own funds and by the end of the depression into 1933, it was taken over by a consortium of local investors.
The opera house itself was a magnificent structure. Its designer, Samuel Brooks, was a major architect, designer and builder in South Texas for many, many years. He was the one that was involved with the building of the early courthouses all the way up to Starr County. The design was classic in what was called the Border Brick Period.
The Brownsville Opera House was demolished in the 1970’s along with the loss of the Missouri Pacific Train station and the convent. It was a period where modernism took hold and the area suffered the loss of many beautiful buildings.
Historians say many memories were made at the Brownsville Opera House. They carry on throughout our lifetime and for our heritage in the Rio Grande Valley.