W.R. Gunn, the pre-eminent theatrical architect for the Grand Opera House (originally called the Academy of Music) and more than 100 other theatres in the United States, stated "I am the only theatrical architect and practical builder in the U. S. of A. who will guarantee the line of sight and acoustics when the entire control of the auditorium and stage is under my supervision, and will forfeit $1,000 when my construction proves a failure in either case." Mr. Gunn got to keep his money.
When the Grand was built in 1883-84, its 58' x 90' stage was the largest in the southeast. At the time, the house seated 2,418 - almost one-fifth of Macon's 15,000 population. In 1902 the stockholders of the Academy of Music announced plans for major renovations. The front of the old building was removed and replaced with the seven story Grand Building with shops in storefronts along the street. It was reopened in 1905 as The Grand Opera House.
Over the years the Grand presented minstrels, vaudeville, burlesque, musical comedy, and drama. In 1908, a production of Ben Hur was presented with live horses and chariots on a treadmill installed in the stage. Ten years later, Charlie Chaplin conducted the John Phillip Sousa band to raise money for the war effort. A memorial service for President McKinley was held on the stage. Other famous performers at the Grand included: Madame Sarah Bernhardt; Houdini; Pavlova; Will Rogers; George Burns & Gracie Allen; The Gish Sisters; Robert Downing; Lillian Russell in "The First Night;" James O'Neill in "The Count of Monte Cristo;" Maude Adams in "The Legend of Lenora;" and Marylin Miller in "The Zigfield Follies."