GREAT WESTERN STAGE EQUIPMENT CO. CATALOG (1928)
Oscar Hammerstein wrote "Everything's up to date in Kansas City" and the Great Western Stage Equipment Company ("Great West") was the perfect example. Wendy Rae Waszut-Barrett, founder of Historic Stage Services, graciously allowed us to scan her 1928 catalog, possibly the sole surviving copy. The cover design above, such as would adorn an asbestos, depicts The Lido as seen from Venice.
Great West, founded in 1925, had what New York City firms only dreamed about: a building of their own design. In their studio at 817 Holmes Street, "a few blocks from the busy downtown, you will find us planning, designing, and producing scenery, Draperies, and Stage Lighting Equipment..."
"Here towering walls make it possible for us to handle the largest curtains" and to fly scenery as well.
Left, the carpenter department and right, draperies, with IATSE bugs in plain view.
Clients were treated to dry technical rehearsals on a miniature stage built to 1/2" construction drawing scale. The stage held eighty-two sets of scenery, which in real life flew on four-inch centers, and to the hinterlands trooped a duplicate portable "miniature stage," the ultimate salesman's kit.
Their deluxe borderlight featured glass filters and was a scale version of the Hub Electric unit, which burned 300 and 500 watt lamps.
Unlike any other manufacturers, Great West equipped their standard unit with a cage to prevent igniting the closely spaced permanent scenery.
The four-color catalog captured the Great West footlights, but allowing an optional safety cut-off seems foolish. Lacking a cut-off, foots could remain burning full bright in the vanished position for days and hours until the smell of burning trap was detected.
It was always a good idea to alert the architect that there was going to be a LOT OF WIRE.
Another Great West innovation was the introduction of a reflector (instead of white paint) in their "Olivette," a floodlight in general use which got its name from the B'way show of 1881.
The only Great West spotlight, a 250-watt baby, came complete with an Edison screw-base connector, shown here. Spotlights sold without reflectors were the standard until the leko was invented in 1929.
Their cleaner/ghost light seems somehow symbolic of the old West.
The first known published drawing of a conventional counterweight system included a couple of deviations from the norm, namely the double head-block and the ring-less rope lock. Their systems were wire-guide, suitable for grids of 60 feet.
Although their brake design eliminated the "ring nuisance," this method of snubbing could eventually cause the rope to fail under tension, or just when most needed.
A standard headblock with grooves for five-line sets and a haul rope was too wide for tight (4") lineset spacing, so Great West created a narrow double-headblock design.
Their brand was very visible.
"Fire laws permitting" we can build you a hemp house, Great West warned. Here is illustrated the difference between a headblock and a leadblock, which unfortunately do not rhyme.
The largest houses were equipped with H-96, necessary to prop up 24'-0" flats.
No device has yet been invented to make an easy task of trimming hemp, and their "automatic trim clamp" looks like trouble.
For picture houses, they offered a curtain machine of their own design, so that projectionists could operate the house curtain from the booth. Cyclorama Knuckles (collapsing side-arms) allowed "no chance of fouling" or famous last words to that effect.
In 1928, their credits were split evenly between Kansas City and out-of-town, including installations in Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, for a total of seventy-five jobs in three years of existence. Fifty of the installs were in schools, and twenty in theatres.
Great West folded in the early 1960's following the death of their star designer/artist, Don Carlos DuBois.
To view the complete catalog as a PDF, click here.
For Wendy's excellent history of Great West, click here.