Warner Bros. first theatre to be rebuilt with museum

posted by Michael Zoldessy on October 10, 2012 at 7:40 am

NEW CASTLE, PA — In 1903 the Youngstown, Ohio based Warner Brothers (Albert, Harry, Sam and Jack) traveled from town to town around eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania armed with a primitive projector, a tent and a few reels of film including The Great Train Robbery. Often they would borrow folding chairs while other times people would stand to watch the moving picture marvel they eagerly paid a nickel to see. At that time the industrially-emerging city of New Castle, PA (20 miles from Youngstown) was generating the largest audiences. New Castle was home to many factories including the largest tin mill in the world. Noting these facts, the Warners decided to risk building their first permanent theatre in New Castle. A suitable spot was located on S.Mill Street and E. Washington Street in the heart of the thriving downtown business district.

By 1907 the Cascade Picture Palace opened its doors to an appreciative, eager audience. The theatre featured two rooms. For 5 cents patrons could sit on wooden chairs while the single projector cranked out “specialties” one ten minute reel at a time. For 25 cents “Gentry” could sit on upholstered seats in a more finely decorated room while a violinist or other talented musician accompanied the on-screen action. The following year the brothers opened another theatre, The Bijou, in Youngstown. Similar “nickelodeons” began springing up all over the country. The movies, technology and public taste was changing rapidly.

The Warner family divided its efforts into three distinct directions. Harry and Albert increased the number and quality of their chain of theatres while opening film distribution offices which supplied a constant supply of film features to their theatres and others. Sam was more interested in technology and Jack headed-up film production in Hollywood.

The Cascade Picture Palace, like other early nickelodeons, closed after only a few short years of operation. Other theatres were opened in the then thriving New Castle, although attempts by the Warners to open a truly magnificent movie palace never came to fruition.

The building which once housed the Cascade went through many incarnations, including a five and dime store, offices, and ultimately sat vacant for many years. In the early 90’s an effort was made to commemorate the Warner Brothers and their first theatre as part of a large urban renewal project. The poorly planned and executed multi-building project ultimately failed.

Several people in the community refused to see the Cascade Picture Palace and its important part of movie history fade from memory. A non-profit, 501 c3 corporation was formed and with it a new effort launched to recreate the original Warner theatre along with a museum featuring ever-changing displays commemorating the Warner Brothers, New Castle and the development of the motion picture business.
According to Jerry Kern, President of the Warner Film Center group, “The site is now recognized as a national historic location. Through the efforts of our team of Trustees and advisers, we hope to educate and entertain visitors to the Warner Film Center about the early ‘glory’ days of our unique community as well as the contribution the Warner family made to the area and the world. As our slogan says: New Castle, ‘Where It All Began!’ We are currently in negotiations to secure an appropriately sized portion of the original building, solicit memberships and corporate sponsors. We are also seeking photographs and memorabilia that might be used in the museum displays. This is a true labor of love!”

Other members of the Board of Trustees include, John Meyer, Bill Zeiger and Audrey Przybylski, all of New Castle. “We are also pleased to announce, reported Kern, to have added Mr. Jack Oberleitner, Oberleitner Associates Cinema Consulting, to our Board of Trustees. Mr. Oberleitner completes our Board’s expertise by bringing his 40+ years of experience in the motion picture exhibition business, theatre renovation and charitable foundation work. His company is well respected in the industry and he also brings some fresh ideas, direction and vigor to this project. He was born and raised in New Castle. His company is headquartered near Dayton, Ohio. We will be reporting progress as it develops, and we invite those seeking more information about the Warner Film Center and Oberleitner Associates to visit www.warnerfilmcenter.org (under construction) and www.cinema-consultant.com .”

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Comments (2)

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on October 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm

This is a truly significant project! Anyone in the film business or interested in cinema and early film history should rally behind this important landmark preservation project

garammasala1968 on February 19, 2015 at 7:48 am

Is there anything going on with this project lately? Also, I have some questions about another vintage New Castle theatre. I apologize but I can’t find any other places on it to comment. It is the Coliseum Theatre which eventually became the Liberty Theatre. My great grandfather, Jess Lefevre, was the manager. Does anyone have any info or photos on it? Thanks:)

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