Nixon Theatre (new)

956 Liberty Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Unfavorite 8 people favorited this theater

Showing 26 - 40 of 40 comments

edblank on May 29, 2008 at 11:17 am

A slight amendment to my first May 28, 2008, post:

Though the Victoria was the original name for this theater, it held that name before 1912. From 1912 to roughly 1920, it was called the Liberty for the street on which it sat. That gives the theater six distinct identities over three-quarters of a century.

veyoung52 on May 28, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Thanks, anyhow, Ed. Much appreciated. Vince

edblank on May 28, 2008 at 6:32 pm

I regret I cannot answer that, Veyoung. I never acquired inside information on screens and do not know what the Nixon did with its screens between movie engagements.

The longtime manager was a great guy named Leo Carlin, who had the build of a pugilist (which, if memory serves, he had been) and who ran a tight ship. Sometime in the 1970s or maybe early 1980s, Mr. Carlin became incapacitated and retreated to his home in – I want to say – Burgettstown.

In the Carlin era, plays opened on Monday nights. They played two performances on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and the theater was closed on Sundays.

As much as I loved seeing each new theater production that played the Nixon, including Forrest Tucker in “The Music Man,” my favorite time for attending the Nixon was during the 34-week run of “West Side Story,” which I saw very regularly there.

My first visit to the Nixon was for the movie “South Pacific,” but my first play there was “Sunrise at Campobello” with Leif Erickson.

veyoung52 on May 28, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Ed, the Nixon presented the 14th installation of the Todd-AO process opening “Oklahoma” in June of 1956, and, as you mentioned, reverted to stage performances after an engagement of “South Pacific.” Would you know if this screen, which would have had to be moved for shows on stage, was on a curved track or flat, if it was “flyable,” or if it was a temporary fixture? Thanks in advance.

edblank on May 28, 2008 at 5:30 pm

This theater at 956 Liberty Avenue, Downtown, opened as the Victoria, probably designed as a legitimate theater, from 1912 to about 1920.

Then it became the Sam Shubert from about 1920 to about 1927, suggesting it was almost certainlyh a legitimate theater during these early decades.

It was the Loew’s Aldine from Sept. 17, 1923, through 1934. The switrch from Shubert to Loew’s strongly suggests a shift from legit to moviehouse.

I cannot account at this time for the period from 1934-39, but in 1939 it became known at Loew’s Senator, but sometime between then and 1950, the John P. Harris circuit purchased the theater and modified the name to the (Harris) Senator.

It played some second-run features, generally in double features, as if it were a neighborhood house, and some minor first-run features, but more often the Senator picked up “moveover” movies directly after the completion of their first-run engagements at the nearby John P. Harris Theatre, the flagship of the Harris circuit.

These moveover attractions included “The Snake Pit,” “Yellow Sky,” “A Letter to Three Wives,” “Come to the Stable,” “Pinky” and “All the King’s Men.”
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s primary legitimate theater, the 2,160-seat Nixon at 417 Sixth Avenue (or 413 or 423), which had opened Dec. 7, 1903, closed on April 29, 1950 with Mae West in a revival of her “Diamond Lil.”

To maintain the continuity/identity of major national touring companies in Pittsburgh, the Harris Senator changed its name to the (new) 1,760-seat Nixon Theatre in 1950.

For the next quarter century, it functioned as the primary legitimate Pittsburgh theater for touring shows beginning with “Oklahoma” Sept. 4, 1950. Henry Fonda came in in “Mister Roberts.”

The dozens of other live productions included “Darkness at Noon” with Edward G. Robinson, “Bell, Book and Candle” with Rosalind Russell, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” with Carol Channing, “Call Me Madam” with Elaine Stritch and “Porgy and Bess” with William Warfield, Leontyne Price and Cab Calloway. Plus Bette Davis in “Two’s Company,” Julie Harris in “I Am a Camera,” Helen Hayes in “Mrs. McThing” and many others.

Though an occasional movie slipped in, the Nixon didn’t begin a recurring policy of roadshow films until “Guys and Dolls” open in late January 1956 and stayed 10 weeks. From then on, theater and roadshow movies opened in alternating wavess.

The movie “Oklahoma” played for 24 weeks, “Around the World in 80 Days” for 39, “South Pacific” for 26, soon returning for 10 additional weeks after an interruption for plays, and Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” for nine.

The film of “The Diary of Anne Frank” was booked for the summer of 1959 but inexplicably did disastrous business and was yanked after four weeks and four days.

“Porgy and Bess” played for eight weeks, “Can-Can” for 14, “Spartacus” for 13, “Gone With the Wind” for six, “La Dolce Vita” for 11, “West Side Story” for 34 and “Mutiny on the Bounty” for 16.

“Lawrence of Arabia” had played just four days of its third week when the Nixon suffered a fire. “Lawrence” moved over to the Fulton a couple of weeks later to resume a reserved-seat engagement, but the momentum was lost, and it lasted just seven more weeks.

Stage plays continued to turn up at the Nixon, but more and more the balance of the theater’s schedule was given over to movies.

Oddly, when the theater played regular continuous-performance films such as “The Prize,” “Sunday in New York” and “Kelly’s Heroes,” it under-performed. The Nixon was off the beaten path of ordinary moviehouses and tended not to benefit from impulse ticket purchasing.

“The Fall of the Roman Empire” returned the theater to a roadshow policy but lasted a lean six weeks. “Mary Poppins,” though, did 16 hardy weeks before having to vacate the premises for a run of plays.

“The Sound of Music” then blasted all previous hose records with a 106-week run that was still going gangbusters when the theater switched to another Julie Andrews musical, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” for 30 weeks, giving Andrews 136 consecutive weeks here.

“Far From the Madding Crowd” limped through eight weeks. After a few months of plays, “Finian’s Rainbow” moved in for seven weeks and “Sweet Charity” for 13.

Many more plays played before “Patton” settled in for 16 weeks.

Aidst a flurry of plays, the Nixon tried a couple of blaxploitation films that died.

The many plays that followed included three engagements of “Godspell” totaling 13 weeks.

The theater’s subscription base for plays, so often interrupted for long stretches of movies, eroded over the years. By 1974-75, subscribers had become wary of an extremely irregular play schedule, with promised productions being canceled and name players backing out of tours. Business was terrible. The shows that came in were small and tacky.

The theater closed in November 1975 and was leveled. It became a surface parking lot.

One distinctive feature of the exterior had been a marquee that stretched over an alleyway adjacent to the theater.


Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 19, 2007 at 9:22 pm

There’s quite a bit of information about the original Nixon Theatre on this web page and two linked pages, all apparently part of some sort of local oral histories collection.

From what I’ve read at that site, the original Nixon Theater was always a stage house, right up until its closing in 1950. However, on this page at rootsweb, the caption of a photo scanned from the September 28, 1924 issue of The Pittsburgh Press reveals that Cecil B. DeMille’s production of The Ten Commandments was playing at the Nixon Theater. I’d say that qualifies the original Nixon for its own page at Cinema Treasures.

jeffsinclair on February 8, 2007 at 9:02 am

I have two programs from the Nixon. One features The Duncan Sisters in Catherine Chisholm Cushing’s “Topsy and Eva” beginning Monday, September 28th 1925 and one featuring George White’s “Scandals” beginning January 18th 1926. Pretty neat one page programs detailing casts and scenes.

jeffsinclair on February 8, 2007 at 9:01 am

I have two programs from the Nixon. One features The Duncan Sisters in Catherine Chisholm Cushing’s “Topsy and Eva” beginning Monday, September 28th 1925 and one featuring George White’s “Scandals” beginning January 18th 1926. Pretty neat one page programs detailing casts and scenes.

raydeane on August 10, 2006 at 4:25 am

I have a wonderful old 1920 postcard from the Nixon Theatre that I will be posting here later today.

Thanks to all for some history into this wonderful memory

jimkastner on October 30, 2005 at 6:08 am

Lost Memory,

Thank you so much for all the great info. on the [2] Nixon Theatres.
You have really done your homework
I would like to keep in touch with you. I have a great affection for the former theatres of Pittsburgh, PA were I live. My Great Grandparents home was torn down in the early 1900’s to make way for the Nixon Theatre. It sat at 3 Miltenberger Way. That’s the former name of the street that runs along side of the former Alcoa Building. If you would care to keep in touch, my e:mail address is:

Jim Kastner

TomBryant on August 17, 2005 at 11:15 am

The original Nixon Theatre (and adjoining Nixon Restaurant) was located in Downtown Pittsburgh on Seventh Avenue on the site of what was the Alcoa Building and across from what is now Mellon Square Park.

It was demolished in the late 40’s or early ‘50 and the Senator Theatre on Liberty Avenue eventually became the “new” Nixon Theatre.

teecee on August 3, 2005 at 2:36 am

This theater goes back to the 1920s:

In 1931, it hosted the world premiere of Oscar Hammerstein’s “East Wind”.

veyoung52 on January 21, 2005 at 9:29 pm

I believe this was the original Todd-AO house in Pittsburgh.

pinback on October 10, 2004 at 7:13 am

The Nixon also held concerts. I saw Howlin' Wolf and Willie Dixon together in teh mid 70’s. It was fabulous.

jimkastner on October 9, 2004 at 7:23 pm

The curtain caught on fire on night in 1969 during a screening of SWEET CHARITY. I was in the audience that evening. The theatre was evacuated and I ran back inside to retrieve the Sweet Charity souviner program which was under my seat. I still have the program!