Hyperion Theater

Friday, January 28, 2022

Have you ever wondered what the significance of the Hyperion Court on Chapel St. is? As indicated by a sign on the side of the Union League Café, Hyperion Court is the original alleyway main entrance to the Hyperion Theater, which was once an iconic opera house dating back to 1880 that ran through the golden age of College St. theaters.

On September 20, 1880 the Hyperion opened its doors in its first incarnation as Carll’s Opera House. The opulent 2,200 seat opera house, which was the largest theater in New England outside of Boston, sat behind the Gaius Warner house on Chapel St. The Warner house had been built in 1860 on what was formerly the Roger Sherman estate. Sherman is known as one of New Haven’s most influential residents. He was a self-trained colonial lawyer that among many things went on to help draft the Declaration of Independence, sign the U.S. Constitution, serve as the first mayor of New Haven and host President George Washington at his home on Chapel St. for tea while Washington was on a national stagecoach tour in 1789. Gaius Warner bought the home and property in the 1850s, tore the buildings down and constructed his new home, which later became the Republican League, and today is home to the Union League Café. The second owner of the Warner house, Peter Carll was responsible for the construction and operation of the opera house behind it until that was sold in 1888 and renamed the Hyperion Theater.

The opera house was designed to cater directly to Yale and the emerging high society of New Haven. The original entrance off of Chapel St. directly across from the Yale campus was intentional, and was only later altered in 1933 to open on to College St. in order to directly compete with the newer Shubert Theatre and Roger Sherman Theater. In the 1880s the “Hyp” was the anchor of the emerging theater district and the country’s largest performing stars graced its stage, along with oratorical celebrities like Frederick Douglass in October 1888.

In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt and writer Mark Twain were among the luminaries that paraded through New Haven and attended the Yale Bicentennial celebration at the Hyperion to receive honorary degrees. In 1912, the Hyperion was purchased by the Shubert Brothers who operated it during the construction of the Shubert Theatre. They then sold it to the vaudeville and motion-picture theater magnate, New Haven resident Sylvester Z. Poli in 1916.

Poli gutted the old opera house leaving only the outside walls intact. The space was redesigned primarily as a grand movie theater as the tides were turning from live entertainment to inexpensive first run film screenings. The building became known as the Poli’s College Theater. Once the main entrance marquee was moved to College St across from the Hotel Taft, the transformation from opera to movie house was complete.

Later both the Roger Sherman and the College Theaters were consolidated under the Loew’s banner. The old Hyperion’s popular run ended in 1978. The building sat dormant and deteriorating until it was demolished in 1998 after the structure began collapsing. Today all that remains is an old alley way with a sign leading to a dirt parking lot, and the location of the College St. marquee lobby is currently B Natural Café operating adjacent to the College St. Music Hall.

Jason Bischoff-Wurstle
Director of Photo Archives

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