Cinema 4

3075 W. Liberty Avenue,
Dormont, PA 15216

Unfavorite 9 people favorited this theater

Showing 26 - 50 of 78 comments

pyeske on March 23, 2009 at 11:30 am

I too worked at the SHT, from 1979-1981. The comments above from John the Projectionist’s son and the concession girl really brought back some amazing memories for me. As an usher, I was responsible for managing the crowd- and quite often on weekends this beauty of a theater was quite full. It was always a big deal when we opened up the balcony. The majority of time I had to shoo young amorous couples OUT of the balcony…an interesting job to say the least. A few of my fave memories:

  • “Indian Theater” on Sunday afternoons. For a Dormont boy, this was eye-opening…my first exposure to such a foreign culture. The Bollywood movies were hilarious, and Mr. X the organizer (can see him plain as day, name is gone) would set up a table of Indian food to sell. You know how hard it is to sweep chickpeas with a broom?

  • The marquee. Movies would start on Friday’s, so Thursday night meant changing the letters on the marquee. We had a long pole with finger-like grips to hoist each letter onto the sign. It was tricky, and sometimes the letters fell to their death on the sidewalk of W. Liberty Avenue. Our supply of letters was dwindling in the early 80’s, so either new ones were (finally) bought or dollar signs had to be used for S’s.

  • Popcorn. The supply of popcorn arrived already popped in big yellow bags that the ushers had to store behind the concession stand. John the projectionist taught me the trick of filling a bucket with popcorn, applying a massive dollop of “butter” (whatever it was, it tasted great), setting a second bucket on top and then shaking like hell to disperse the butter. It worked great!

  • Alien. The movie was still popular when we got it and weekend crowds were large. Bored one Saturday night, a few of the ushers decided to use the letter changing pole described above to scare the bejeezus out of an unsuspecting female patron in the last row. It was a well-timed thrust above her head just as the film monster appeared for the first time that elicited a huge scream. Oh my, how we laughed and laughed…

I could go on and on. Mr. Baker was odd, to say the least, but he gave me my first job and it taught me a lot about how to deal with people. Would be great to have a “Friends of the SHT” reunion some day. Wish it could be in the lobby, frozen in time from 1980, but alas…time marches on. Any other former employees around to share?

JBelfast on October 6, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Hi. I briefly lived in Dormont between 2003 and 2005, and often walked past the C4 and everytime I did, I felt regret that it was closed. I often imagined what the place was like in it’s prime. I am from Belfast, Northern Ireland, and live beside a small local independantly owned cinema that is under threat from closure all the time. I just wanted to post as I have vastly enjoyed the history of the South Hills Theatre as well as the heartfelt and moving stories. I hope the place can be restored and not demolished! I don’t know if MoovieBuff still checks here, but that was a lovely story. My dad used to be a projectionist for a small cinema in the town where he met my mother, and I remember him taking us to see The Goonies! If you want to get in touch, feel free, at .uk

theatergeek on September 24, 2008 at 9:44 pm

I’m sorry. My e-mail address is Feel free to message me on there.

theatergeek on September 24, 2008 at 9:44 pm

I’m sorry. My e-mail address is Feel free to message me on there.

edblank on August 15, 2008 at 1:03 pm

Not sure how to establish non-published contact as no information seems to be available on how to reach you.

theatergeek on August 15, 2008 at 12:14 pm

Ed Blank, I just wanted to leave you a message as your name came up in a conversation I had last night with a manager that’s been around for a while. I’m the son of a predominant theater company VP, who used to work as a projectionist/manager around the Pittsburgh area and we were talking about the old days of Cinema World and the other theaters that used to be around the area. I, myself, am only 22, but I miss these theaters that were such an essential part of my childhood. As a child of the movies, I myself have many memories, most hauntedly probably when there was a shooting at the Manor Theater in Squirrel Hill and I went there the next day and could see the blood stains on the walls. All in all, these great theaters seem to be mostly a thing of the past, with the exceptions being the aforementioned Manor, the Squirrel Hill, and the Southland 9, which truly is my favorite place to see movies. I would love to get a chance to talk to you some more about this, as I am now in the theater management business myself as well. It was good, and somewhat coincidental, to see you on here.

edblank on June 17, 2008 at 11:51 pm

This theater should have its location changed from Pittsburgh to Dormont.

edblank on June 17, 2008 at 11:10 am

I don’t want to overload the Cinema 4/South Hills Theatre line with comments about Maxi-Saver, but the word is that it had become dirty and scruffy. Older audiences are too discriminating to settle for that. It’s also what hurt the Denis Theatre’s attempts to appear to the art house crowd in the past decade or so. Middleage and older audiences require higher standards – not lower than average.

SusanD on June 17, 2008 at 9:37 am

Thank you Ed Blank. You’re right about the younger kids—but I still see them at the Maxi-Saver too. I would have thought that families and the older movie goers would appreciate the lower prices. I would have thought that market would still be strong.

I’ve also thought that the re-naming of the theatre was done rather cheaply. On the marquee, you can still see the “SH” labelscar.

edblank on June 16, 2008 at 9:10 am

Your logic is right, I believe, Susan, but historically, in the past fopur decades or so of prosperity, older people – today’s most reticent moviegoers – are the first to respond to economic downturns.

Young people are the last to change their habits. They’re the most eager spenders, which is why advertisers and film companies court them so eagerly. And young people overwhelming buy, buy, buy the moment as product becomes available, not two months later when it’s cheaper.

SusanD on June 16, 2008 at 8:32 am

Thank you Ed Blank for the information on the C4 (aka South Hills). It’s strange, but with the economy not doing so well, I would think that second-run bargain theatres would be doing well. People don’t want to spend as much when the money is tight. But the past month saw both the Hollywood and the Screenworks close after very brief periods of being re-opened.

edblank on June 13, 2008 at 10:17 pm

The South Hills Theatre opened as a Harris theater with 1,222 seats. (There were far fewer seats once the theater was chopped up into Cinema 4.)

While the nearby Hollywood Theatre on Potomac Avenue for decades had first (South Hills) neighborhood run of films from United Artists, Universal(-International), Warner Bros., Disney and (until 1958) RKO Radio, the South Hills had the first South Hills run of films from MGM, Paramount, Fox and Columbia.

From there, the bigger hits (and a minority of the lesser ones) moved onto the Denis in Mt. Lebanon for a third run.

Business was brisk from the 1940s through the 1960s but began eroding as more of the bigger hits that had played Downtown were booked into the more modernly appointed new theaters such as the Village (now Carmike 10 at South Hills Village, the short-lived Cinemette South and eventually Galleria 6 and Destinta Chartiers.

These newer houses siphoned off so much of the audience that the two Dormont theaters were elbowed into being last-run houses at bargain prices.

In the old days it was not unusual for the South Hills to draw big crowds. I think they even oversold the house on a Friday night in mid-February 1961 when the original “Village of the Damned” (coupled with the tag-on feature “Haunted Strangler”) played to standing room only, with many teenagers sitting in the aisles.

Occasionally the stage was used, as for Saturday morning performances by the Knickerty Knockerty Players, but live performances were rare.

During the mid-1970s the South Hills booked a package of 20 Warner Bros. classics (“Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “Casablanca,” “Marked Woman,” etc.) and ran them back-to-back, four per weekend from midnight to about 8 a.m. on Fridays and possibly Saturday nights, too.

After the South Hills was purchased by Jim Baker, assisted by Bob Stone, the theater tried occasional live bookings, as for the River City Brass Band and for a musical revue featuring district native Karen Prunczik, who had been in Broadway’s “42nd Street.”

Baker even spoke of alleviating the notorious parking problem in Dormont by busing people from neighborhood lots such as the one at Keystone Oaks High School. The plan apparently never materialized or, if at all, only for special performances.

Mode Art Pictures, which may or may not have been affiliated with Baker, was based in the theater while he was the owner.

When “Out of Africa” opened in late 1985 or early 1986, Universal was feuding with one of the local theater circuits, and so Baker’s South Hills, which had been playing late-run films, snapped up the future Oscar-winning Best Picture for a first-run engagement. To the chagrin of purists, Baker inserted an intermission where none was intended.

Eventually the theater was purchased by veteran exhibitor Mike Cardone, who turned it into a quad called Cinema 4 with a new, trimmer marquee.

Cardone sold the quad in 2000 to Key 15 Productions to be run by a young local couple who had no experience in moviehouse management.

A problem involving one of the four small auditoriums led to one of the four being closed almost immediately, never to be used for movies again. The other three screens closed abruptly in 2001. The final three attractions – “Blow,” “Along Came a Spider” and “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles” – lingering on the marquee for years afterward.

Many of us would love to see the South Hills – and it will always be the South Hills to most of us – rehabilitated.

But, like the Hollywood a few blocks away, it was defeated by a number of factors. Dormont is still a nice community, but moviegoers here must rely on street parking, in some cases with meters.

But the bigger problem is that when neighborhood theaters were constructed during the first 60-70 years of the 20th Century, they were designed (a.) to serve an audience within walking distance or convenient public transportation, and (b.) a very significant portion of the movie audience waited until films had played first run Downtown and then filtered through a pecking order of second, third and fourth runs at lower prices at handy neighborhood houses, generally on bargain double bills.

When a dollar was a dollar and a quarter was a quarter, teenagers and children routinely waited a few weeks until they could see films at affordable prices.

Today, full-price muiltiplexes/megaplexes around the world cater to a free-spending young audience that not only “must” see heavily hyped movies the first weekend but even the first day. Truly, it’s a different world.

Ane because we have so many screens playing first-run films for so long, there’s no blood left in the turnip by the time it’s available for showing at second-run theaters. (As of this moment, the Maxi-Saver in West Mifflin is the last surviving bargain house in the Greater Pittsburgh area, and it’s grosses are terrible. It can’t keep going indefinitely.)

And so, for all of the integrity and good intentions in reopening theaters such as the South Hills and the Hollywood, they face a nearly insurmountable challenge in drawing an audience regularly. Collectively, we pay fervent lip service to supporting such theaters; in practice, when we go to moviehouses, we go to big sterile complexes while a film’s buzz is hot.

Our ideals and our habits get out of sync.

SusanD on June 1, 2008 at 11:14 pm

I looked at those photos of the Denis. That modern marquee sure was ugly!

I’m hoping that someone could revive the Hollywood, the C4, and the Denis. The Dormont/Mt. Lebanon area could support them. My husband and I went to the Hollywood once during the period it was re-opened and we really liked it.

Paul Fortini
Paul Fortini on June 1, 2008 at 10:30 am

I thought that the re-opening of the Hollywood might also help garner interest in getting this place re-opened. Now that the Hollywood failed, will that hurt this place’s chances too?

thespian110 on July 27, 2007 at 4:06 pm

Hi everyone,
I have updated the South Hills Theatre Group website. Check it out at:

Glndrsn on July 9, 2007 at 7:21 pm


I used to meet your dad every week after we finished our shifts at the theaters we each worked. Your father was a genius, and he designed many innovations which contributed to the excellent quality of the presentation in the old South Hills. Fortunately, I worked there before the fourplexing debacle happened, and it was at thr time, the most beautful and technologically excellent theater in the area, bar none.

CatherineDiMartino on April 4, 2007 at 10:35 am


Thanks for the information on the condition of this place. I don’t live in Pittsburgh, but a friend of mine did for a few years and he’d been to this place.

As you are no doubt aware, restoring a theatre to either performing arts or movies is risky. It has to be done properly by people with deep pockets and a solid business plan (as was done with the Hollywood).

Zandra on April 3, 2007 at 7:23 pm

thesian 110,

I took your advice and went to the Hollywood Theater openning. It was wonderful to walk into the lobby and see so many friends and neighbors…a real community event! The price was right, the seating was spacious, the movie was entertaining and the popcorn was hot. It was a great way to spend a Friday night. I was also heartened to see so many young people out for an evening of wholesome fun. Bravo to the Hollywood and here’s hoping that the South Hills Theatre reopens their doors so that we can also enjoy some live entertainment.

thespian110 on March 30, 2007 at 10:51 am

The Hollywood Theater opens tonight! Hopefully everyone who posts on this site will be there, I know that I will! Dreamgirls at 7:45, $3.00. Let’s show our local support!

thespian110 on March 27, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Unfortunately, the time for general repairs has past. I have spent a great deal of time in the building over the last few months. We have had architects and engineers going over every inch of the buuilding. There are major issues with the “life systems” (fire suppression, electrical, plumbing, sewage)of the building. Also, there is a major leak in the roof, which has in turn destroyed most of the plasterwork in the house and created a major mold occurance. We are estimating the cost of just fixing the roof and bring the building to code at over a million dollars. We know that this will be a long process, but we are ready to roll up our sleeves and do it. It is the right thing for the community and especially our local youth. Take a look at our website at

CatherineDiMartino on March 27, 2007 at 6:26 am

Even if someone could make general repairs, install new seating, etc. and continue to operate it as a “quad” (and do promotions) I betcha it would do well. It wouldn’t as good as a total restoration, but it would be better than demolition.

The LaGrange Theatre in LaGrange, IL is the same vintage as this theatre. It was “quadded” years ago, has somewhat limited parking, but gets good walk-in trade from the community. It does very well and is very crowded on weekends.

pghwurlitzer on March 27, 2007 at 6:08 am

I knew your father well in the 70s and early 80s. John was a nice man and always ready to share a story or two. I was saddenned when I heard of his loss. I was part of the group that presented the pipe organ concerts on the Style D Wurlitzer organ that was in the building since the mid 1920s. Jim Baker and Bob Stone were also great people to have known. They, of course, ran Mode-Art Pictures which was the parent company that was located in the offices upstairs. The movies provided a means to help pay the overhead on the building. Their main business was producing educational and documentary films for industry.

thespian110 on March 25, 2007 at 1:50 pm

Thanks for the support! In updating our website today, I included a link to a weblog. I think it may be really helpful if everyone who sees this page puts a message of support on our blog. Thanks again and I will keep everyone posted on the progress!