Harris Theater

Harris theater

This little movie house, built as the Avenue Cinema in 1931, became the Art Cinema in 1935; from the 1960s until the 1990s, it showed “adult movies,” which old Pa Pitt assumed meant that all the films were over 21 years old. But it had begun life as an art-film house, and in 1995 it resumed that role under the name “Harris,” after one of the founders of the movie-theater business—John P. Harris, who with his brother-in-law opened the world’s first movie theater, the Nickelodeon, which was on Smithfield Street (a plaque marks the site today). Movies had been shown in theaters before, but the Nickelodeon was the first to show only movies. The idea caught on with amazing rapidity, and “Nickelodeons” sprouted everywhere.

Beechview Theater

Beechview Theater

Some time ago old Pa Pitt took a picture of this silent-era neighborhood movie theater in the middle of its recent renovation. It is pleasing to see it now nicely finished and home to a video-production company. It has had an eventful and oddly circular history. It was built before 1914, since it appears in a 1914 guide to Pittsburgh (which describes Beechview as “beyond the South Hills,” showing how the definition of “South Hills” has moved with the expansion of the suburbs). After some decades as a theater, it was turned into an American Legion post. Then for a while it became a nursing home. Finally it was renovated as you see it now and brought back to its roots in the movie business.

Art Deco Buildings on Washington Road, Mount Lebanon

Uptown Mount Lebanon has one of the best collections of Art Deco architecture in the area. These two buildings sit side by side on Washington Road at the corner of Alfred Street. With some confidence, old Pa Pitt identifies the Gothic fantasy on the right as an old movie theater, although he would be happy to be corrected.

Back of the Denis Theatre

Sometimes the back of a theater bears no resemblance at all to the front of it. That is certainly true of the Denis in Mount Lebanon. The main entrance is on Washington Road, and it looks like a small storefront. Walk around the corner and down Alfred Street, and you will find this massive wall, which the architect has identified as a theater by adding Art Deco stripes in the bricks.

Warner Theatre Sign

The Warner was one of the great silent-movie palaces downtown, but it had the misfortune to be placed far from the theater district along Penn Avenue. In the 1980s most of it was demolished for a shopping arcade, leaving the classical façade on Fifth Avenue and the distinctive lighted sign, with the word “Theatre” replaced by “Centre,” because the shopping-arcade and movie-theater industries share an assumption that British spellings attract more customers. The shopping arcade, like most arcades downtown, gradually transitioned to mostly offices. But the sign still dominates the view down Fifth Avenue.