Considered to be the finest performance hall between Omaha and Denver, the Kerr Opera House was admired for its magnificently ornate grandeur. The dream to build this unique structure became a reality in 1884 when William Kerr, a wealthy Hastings businessman and Scottish immigrant, funded the opera house's construction at a cost of $61,000. C.C. Rittenhouse of Hastings was the architect.
The interior was royally decorated in brown and ivory, with accents of gold and silver. Lustrous brass railing wound around the orchestra pit, stretching between the parquet and the dress circle. Imported Austrian chairs welcomed the wealthiest patrons to the grand boxes.
The curtains were officially drawn back on December 23, 1884, when Grau's Traveling Repertory Company performed the light operas "The Queen's Lace Handkerchief," "The Little Duke" and "Oliver." Grand opera came to the Kerr in 1916 as the San Carlos Opera Company performed Rigoletto, Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci. The Kerr also provided center stage for several political figures including William Jennings Bryan, Presidents William H. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt.
By 1928 Hastings motion picture theatres were attracting audiences. Tragically, the once mighty Kerr could not compete with Hollywood movie stars on the big screen. The opera house was converted into office space and small shops during the 1930s. In 1949 the Kerr was demolished to make room for the J.M. McDonald Company department store.