Morris Meyerfeld, Jr.

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Morris Meyerfeld Jr.
Morris Meyerfeld.jpg
Morris Meyerfeld ca. 1900s
Born(1855-11-17)November 17, 1855
Beverungen, Westphalia Germany
DiedJune 20, 1935(1935-06-20) (aged 79)
San Francisco, California, U.S.A.
OccupationEntrepreneur and Theater Owner
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Morris Meyerfeld Jr.
Morris Meyerfeld.jpg
Morris Meyerfeld ca. 1900s
Born(1855-11-17)November 17, 1855
Beverungen, Westphalia Germany
DiedJune 20, 1935(1935-06-20) (aged 79)
San Francisco, California, U.S.A.
OccupationEntrepreneur and Theater Owner

Morris Meyerfeld Jr. (November 17, 1855 – June 20, 1935) was a German-born American entrepreneur who through the Orpheum Circuit dominated the vaudeville market west of the Mississippi for nearly two decades.

Early Life[edit source | edit]

Moses Meyerfeld (later known as Morris Meyerfeld Jr.) was born in Beverungen, a small town that occupies both banks of the Weser River in the Westphalia region of Germany. [1][2] As a boy he received his education at schools in Cologne before sailing on the SS Frisia to America in the spring of 1874; [3] the year his father, Herz Meyerfeld, died. [4][5] Morris Meyerfeld was the middle of three brothers who immigrated to America between 1872 and 1876 to settle in San Francisco. [6][7][8] Morris, Joseph (Josef) and Jesse (Jesaja) all went on to be merchants engaged in similar lines of commerce as their uncle Moses Meyerfeld (1829-1892), a San Franciscan cigar wholesaler who came to California from Germany in 1850. [9][10]

Career[edit source | edit]

In 1879 Meyerfeld was asked to take over operation of a successful dry goods store in Vallejo, California by the shop's owner, his maternal uncle, Salomon Dannebaum, [11] At around this time his brothers were employed by L. Siebenhauer & San Francisco, Jesse as a tobacco dealer and Joseph as a foreman. [12][13] A few years later Mayerfeld and his brother Jesse formed a business partnership with John S. Mitchell and Levi Siebenhauer. From their place of business on 116 Front Street, the firm Meyerfeld, Mitchell and Siebenhauer engaged in the manufacturing of cigars and as wholesalers of wines and liquors. [14] Through this enterprise Meyerfeld would be placed in a position within a few years to assume ownership of the city’s financially strapped Orpheum Theatre.

Also known as the Orpheum Opera House, the 3,500 seat venue on O’Farrell Street between Stockton and Powell was built by Gustav Walter in 1887 and was for a time the most luxurious theater in the West. [15] Walter, a native of Prussia, became successful at the Orpheum putting on variety shows that appealed to wide audiences often with exotic acts from the East Coast and Europe rarely seen in the West. With his success in San Francisco Walter began to expand his organization, by then known as the Orpheum Circuit, to include leases on theaters in Los Angeles and Kansas City. In 1897 Walter turned the Orpheum into a vaudeville only venue and shortly thereafter became overextended and was unable to pay the Orpheum's $50,000 liquor bill owed to the firm Meyerfeld, Mitchell and Siebenhauer. [16]

Accounts differ on whether Walter lost total control of his organization at this point or was able to continue with Meyerfeld as a principle partner and investor. [15][17] Meyerfeld did become the head of the Orpheum Circuit the following year when Gustav Walter died in Los Angeles while being prepared for an emergency appendectomy operation. [18] Meyerfeld had the means to purchase the outstanding shares of the Orpheum Circuit from Walter's heirs before launching an aggressive expansion of their operation west of the Mississippi River with the help of Martin Beck, his gifted general manager. [15]

By 1911 the Orpheum Circuit had grown to be the largest in the West, owning outright twelve grand theaters with leases on dozens more. Meyerfeld was credited with bringing “modern vaudeville” to the Western United States with quality entertainment performed in palatial theaters. He was, if not the first, one the first showman in the region to pay his talent's traveling expenses to lure vaudeville acts west. [19] Meyerfeld was admired by his contemporaries as a good manager who ran a model business organization. [20] According to his New York Times obituary, San Franciscans considered Meyerfeld "the Rockefeller of Vaudeville". [5]

In the early 1900s Meyerfeld and Beck formed an alliance with United Booking Offices, an organization that came about following a merger between the B. F. Keith and F.F. Proctor circuits, that gave the Orpheum Circuit, through its booking agency, Central Vaudeville Promotion Co., control over virtual every vaudeville house of that time west of Chicago. [21][22] This arrangement and other similar trust agreements would later lead to antitrust charges from state and federal agencies along with lawsuits from competitors at home and abroad and from groups representing vaudeville talent who felt these types of agreements between competing vaudeville circuits drove down wages. [23][24][25][26]

On December 3, 1919 Meyerfeld in San Francisco and Beck from New York City, announced that the Orpheum Circuit had merged with several Midwestern vaudeville circuits, such as Cole and Castle, Cella and Tate, Fehr and Singer, and the Finn-Himan Corporation. The new company was to be called Orpheum Circuit Consolidated (later Orpheum Circuit Inc.) and would operate some fifty venues including every major vaudeville house west of the Mississippi River between Chicago and New Orleans and as far north as Western Canada In 1920 Martin Beck became president of Orpheum Circuit Inc. and Morris Meyerfeld Chairman of the Board, a largely ceremonial position that ended his day-to-day involvement in the operation. [15]

Faced with declining vaudeville audiences, Orpheum Circuit Inc. merged with the Keith-Albee Circuit in 1928 to form a national chain with some two hundred major venues coast-to-coast. Later that year Keith-Albee-Orpheum merged with David Sarnoff’s Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to form Radio-Keith-Orpheum Pictures (RKO Pictures). [27]

The original Orpheum Theatre was destroyed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and was rebuilt three years later near the same site. This venue remained open until 1937 before becoming a causality of talking motion pictures and the Great Depression [28] Today the Palace Theatre in Los Angeles, the third Orpheum built in that city, is the oldest remaining theater in the nation that was constructed under Meyerfeld's stewardship; celebrating its centennial year on June 26, 2011. [29]

Republican Delegate[edit source | edit]

In 1912 Meyerfeld was chosen from California's 4th congressional district as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. A supporter of President William Howard Taft, he was eventually seated after surviving a challenge from backers of former President Theodore Roosevelt. [30]

Marriage[edit source | edit]

In 1886 Meyerfeld married Nannie Friedman (1867-1959), a San Francisco native of German-Scottish parents [31][32][33] and the following year became the father of Elizabeth Leslie, his only child, Elizabeth later married Leon Lazare Roos, a Bay Area merchant [34] and took up residence at a house Meyerfeld had built for the newlyweds. Designed by architect Bernard Maybeck, the Roos home on 3500 Jackson Street cost $36,000 to construct, a princely sum for the time, and is today considered a San Francisco landmark. [35][36][37]

Death[edit source | edit]

On June 20, 1935 Morris Meyerfeld died at his residence in the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Knob Hill. [5][38] He was survived by his wife of forty-nine years and daughter. Jesse Meyerfeld later in life opened a restaurant in San Francisco, while Joseph Meyerfeld remained in the cigar business after relocating to Brooklyn, New York. Both brothers most likely died in the 1920s. [39][40] At the time of his death Morris Meyerfeld's estate was estimated to have a value in the neighborhood of one-million dollars. [41]

Source[edit source | edit]

Source material derived from census records, passport applications, passenger ship manifests, business directories and funeral records scanned by, newspaper articles scanned by, Google News, New York Times Historical and and publications scanned by Google Books.

  1. ^ Passenger Manafest SS Frisia June 4, 1874
  2. ^ US Passport Applications (Morris Meyerfeld Jr.) 1889, 1893, 1902, 1904,1907, 1911, 1920, 1921 & 1924 )
  3. ^ Passenger Manefest SS Frisia June 4, 1874
  4. ^ US Passport Applications (Morris Meyerfeld Jr.) 1889, 1893, 1902, 1904,1907, 1911, 1920, 1921 & 1924
  5. ^ a b c The New York Times - June 21, 1935 pg 19
  6. ^ US Passport Application (Jesse Meyerfeld) August 26, 1921
  7. ^ US Passport Application (Paul Meyerfeld) March 29, 1911
  8. ^ US Census Records 1880
  9. ^ Weekly Gazette And Stockman,(Reno, Nevada) November 10, 1892 pg. 8
  10. ^ US Census Records 1880, 1900, 1910 & 1920
  11. ^ Life of Salomon Dannebaum (memoirs published in 1931 scanned by
  12. ^ U.S. City Directories Record for U.S. City Directories
  13. ^ 1880 US Census Records
  14. ^ San Francisco, California Directories, 1889-91
  15. ^ a b c d The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway, September 1908 - August 1915 - by Will Rogers edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair (2001)pg. 53-55
  16. ^ Vaudeville, Old and New (2007) By Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly pg 84-85
  17. ^ My First Love Wears Two Masks By Dora Barrett, Rose Cordeiro Miller - 1981 - pg.151
  18. ^ The Los Angeles Times – May 10, 1898 pg. 5
  19. ^ The Stage in the Twentieth Century: third volume (1912) By Robert Grau pg. 190
  20. ^ The Overland Monthly – Volume 8 – 1911 pg. 352
  21. ^ The Evening State Journal And Lincoln Daily News 31 Dec 1918 pg 3
  22. ^ The New York Times June 3, 1901 pg. 7
  23. ^ The New York Times June 3, 1901 pg. 7
  24. ^ The New York Times – May 5, 1912 pg. X8
  25. ^ Trust legislation: Hearings before the Committee on the judiciary, House of ... By United States. Congress
  26. ^ The New York Times – Nov 12, 1913 pg. 7
  27. ^ LIFE Magazine - January 25, 1963 - pg. 67
  28. ^ Theatres of San Francisco by Jack Tillmany - 2005 - pg 52
  29. ^ Theater Organ: Journal of the American Theatre Organ Society
  30. ^ Official Report of the Proceedings of the Fifteenth Republican Convention - 1912
  31. ^ US Passport Application (Nannie Meyerfeld) - 1920
  32. ^ 1900 US Census Records
  33. ^ California Death Index - 1940-1999
  34. ^ The Oakland Tribune July 8, 1906 pg 8
  35. ^ San Francisco area Funeral Records - December 27, 1977 (
  36. ^ San Francisco area Funeral Records - November 7, 1956
  37. ^ San Francisco Landmarks
  38. ^ Halsted and Co. Funeral Home, San Francisco - billing record June, 1935
  39. ^ US Census Records 1900, 1910, 1920 & 1930
  40. ^ Printers' ink, Volume 53, Issue 3 (1905) pg. 72
  41. ^ The Oakland Tribune - July 17, 1935 pg B-7