Tag: Theaters

  • Oaks Theater, Oakmont

    Oaks Theater

    Pittsburgh architect Victor A. Rigaumont designed dozens of movie houses, large and small, all over the Northeast. Most of them are gone, but a few remain, and this is one of them. It’s still open and still showing movies on a single screen.

    Oaks
    Fujifilm FinePix HS10.
  • August Wilson African American Cultural Center

    August Wilson Cultural Center

    Old Pa Pitt nursed a secret grudge against this building for years, for the very petty reason that it replaced the old Aldine Theatre, which he had hoped to see restored as part of the revival of the theater district downtown. But on its own merits, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center is a striking building that makes the most of its triangular site, and certainly no Pittsburgher better deserves the naming rights to the first theater to meet our eyes on Liberty Avenue. San Francisco’s Allison Grace Williams was the lead architect, and she made the building into a kind of announcement for the Cultural District: here, it tells us, you are entering a place where great things are happening.

  • The Liberty Theater As It Was Built

    Update: Once in a while old Pa Pitt has a chance to boast about his architectural instincts, and here is one of those occasions. In the original article, he wrote that he suspected Edward B Lee of having designed the remodeling of the theater into an office building. He was right. Source: The American Contractor, December 15, 1923: “Store & Office Bldg. (remod. from theater): $150,000. 5 sty. & bas. H. tile. Liberty av. & Strawberry Alley. Archt. E. B. Lee, Chamber of Commerce bldg. Owner The Fidelity Title & Trust Co., Wilson A. Shaw, chrm. of bd., 343 Fourth av. Gen. contr. let to Cuthbert Bros., Bessemer bldg.”

    The original text of Father Pitt’s article follows.


    Edward B. Lee was the architect of the Liberty Theater—or Theatre, as theatrical people often insist on spelling it—when it was built in 1912. These pictures were published in The Brickbuilder in 1913, so they show the theater as it was when it was new. Either the theater failed or the owners decided it would be more profitable as an office building, because only eleven years later, in 1924,1 it was remodeled into the Baum Building, and it still stands today.

    The shell and outlines are the same, but quite a bit was changed externally. Old Pa Pitt suspects that Lee was the architect of these changes, too, and they were accomplished so elegantly that we would never know the building had not been planned that way from the beginning.

    These small drawings (orchestra, first balcony, second balcony) show the aggressive adaptations Mr. Lee had to make to the irregular shape of the lot—a common difficulty for buildings on the southeast side of Liberty Avenue, where the two grids of the irrationally rationalistic eighteenth-century street plan collide.

    Detail over the entrance. These decorations disappeared when the building was converted to offices.

    Corner detail. The cornice and pilasters survive, but the elaborate terra-cotta decoration between the pilasters vanished in 1924.

    1. In the original version of this article, Father Pitt had given the date as 1920, following a city architectural survey. The listing from the American Contractor proves that the date was actually no earlier than 1924. ↩︎
  • 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.

  • Stephen Foster Memorial

    Stephen Foster Memorial

    One of the cluster of Gothic buildings by Charles Z. Klauder at the heart of the University of Pittsburgh, this looks like the baptistery for the Cathedral of Learning. It houses a museum of Stephen Foster, two theaters, and the Ethelbert Nevin Collection. There was a time when Ethelbert Nevin might have got a museum of his own, but he missed his chance, and now he is an appendix to Stephen Foster.

  • Art Deco Masks

    The auditorium of Allegheny High School on the North Side was built in 1936, at the height of the Art Deco era. There are three exits, and the architect’s scheme demanded a relief over each one. So we have Art Deco interpretations of the three masks of the classical theater: Comedy. Tragedy, and Meh.


    Map

  • Pittsburgh Playhouse

    The Pittsburgh Playhouse building on Forbes Avenue is a harmonious addition to the streetscape. It manages the unusual feat of looking 21st-century and classical at the same time.

  • Liberty Theater (Baum Building)

    Like many buildings on the southeast side of Liberty Avenue, where the two grids of our eighteenth-century street plan collide, the Baum Building is forced into a triangle. It began its life as the Liberty Theater, but it lasted for only a few years before being turned into offices. Now, under the ownership of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, it has gone back into the entertainment business as an art gallery.

    Addendum: The architect was Edward B. Lee. The theater was built in 1912; the conversion to offices was done in 1920, and Father Pitt suspects Lee supervised that as well. See this page in The Brickbuilder from 1913 for a picture of the building as originally built.

  • Stanley Photoplays

    The Stanley was the most magnificent theater ever built in Pittsburgh, and as the Benedum Center it continues to be one of the busiest. It was built to designs by the Hoffman-Henon Co. of Philadelphia at the very end of the silent era, opening in 1928. The old animated sign on the Penn Avenue side is lovingly maintained.

    Maurice Spitalny directed the house orchestra here in the late 1930s and into the 1940s. His brother Phil was more famous nationally for his all-girl Hour of Charm Orchestra, but Maurice had a long and successful career. He wrote one song that everyone in America has heard: “Start the Day Right,” which is used in at least a dozen different Warner Brothers cartoons.

  • Chandelier at the Benedum Center

    The chandelier at the Benedum Center, which began life as Pittsburgh’s most splendid movie palace, the Stanley.