Embassy Theatre

739-49 Penn Street,
Reading, PA 19601

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The Embassy Theatre in Reading, PA opened April 4, 1931, with the movie “Stolen Heaven” and was owned by Wilmer and Vincent. The Embassy was designed by Philadelphia architect William H. Lee with his associates Armand Carroll and Charles E. Horn. Dazzling, semi-Atmospheric Art Deco style movie palaces designed by Lee’s firm had opened in late-1930 in Norristown, PA (the Norris Theatre) and in Philadelphia (the Erlen Theatre).

Like the Norris and the Erlen, the Embassy Theatre was a movie palace that combined an Atmospheric style with the new decor of Art Moderne and the more lavish materials of Art Deco. Yet this theatre was even more fanciful, and could have been named ‘The Embassy of the Future’. The futuristic design of the theatre appears inspired by Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) and the German Expressionist architecture underlying that movie.

The facade was glazed and polychrome Terra Cotta from Conkling-Armstrong of Philadelphia. The oval shaped aluminum ticket booth had carved glass and a marble base. The copper marquee had a glass ceiling. As if it were a rocket, an illuminated lantern topped the 80 feet tall, copper vertical tower! More than 2,000 feet of glass tubing was used for the neon, red neon for letters, and blue and green for the rest.

The lobby’s movie poster frames were set in a wall of black marble. The foyer had copper walls with aluminum horizontal molding and a ceiling of geometric design. Stairs from the foyer led up to the auditorium’s rear loges. A main lounge was on the lower level. Every last detail was Art Deco, including furniture, oval mirrors, drinking fountains, telephone booths, chandeliers and carpet.

The most amazing feature of the Embassy Theatre was in its 2,246 seat Atmospheric style auditorium, which used rolling metal gates instead of a stage curtain! Instead of the curtain, a metal grille with rolling gates was provided from two tons of carved wood, steel track, and steel draperies. Six grille gates with Art Deco style carvings slowly opened in series. The setting represented an aluminum gateway and arch on a terraced lawn. Silhouettes of tall tree tops faintly illuminated in the shadows of the night appeared in the distance.

In place of the usual stage, a green terrace rose from the auditorium floor with stone steps, such as might be used in ascending from a sunken garden to the heights of an upper lawn. On the stage level, shrubbery and ornamental garden benches furnished a screen at the sides.

The auditorium’s side walls near the stage had large columns to accentuate the screen as the focal point. The balcony, side walls and projection booth simulated an outside garden pavilion connected with arcades. Ornamental sea horses were at the balcony pavilions and front. The domed ceiling had a deep blue sky effect curving down behind the garden gates, and with the tall pillars and lights gave the impression of a still greater vista beyond. On the ceiling, stars twinkled, and there were moving clouds.

There was a section for the hard of hearing, with ear phones.

Heavily damaged by a fire in 1970, the Embassy Theatre was demolished in 1972 for a shopping mall, which was never built.

Contributed by Graeme McBain, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 17 comments)

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on January 23, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Here are some images copied from a 1931 trade journal. Most of the auditorium seats were on the ground floor, but there was also a small mezzanine section at the rear, below the projection booth:
www.i8.photobucket.com/albums/a18/Warrengwhiz/embassypa1.jpg
www.i8.photobucket.com/albums/a18/Warrengwhiz/embassypa3.jpg
www.i8.photobucket.com/albums/a18/Warrengwhiz/embassypa2.jpg

SchineHistorian
SchineHistorian on January 23, 2008 at 11:12 pm

Wow! Totally not what i was expecting. From what i can see in these photos, it looks more like an Art Deco Gotham City Scape. Yes, very futuristic, but completely different from the deco detail in the Auburn Schine. Complimentary, but not the same treatment.

Warren please email me at – i have a question for you!

JohnMessick
JohnMessick on February 14, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Warren…how can I access your photos of the Embassy. The site tells me they are not there? Can you repost them or send them to my email address? Thanks Warren

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on February 15, 2008 at 12:38 pm

John, my scrapbook was closed for repairs. You should be able to view the images now. Enjoy!

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on February 15, 2008 at 12:45 pm

Someone is selling programs from the Embassy on eBay:
http://tinyurl.com/24zbuq

JimmiB
JimmiB on May 18, 2009 at 3:44 pm

When I was an usher at the Astor, across the street, I often went to the Embassy (we could get in for free). It was a magnificent building. I remember the fire. That was a shame. The same company owned the Reading Drive-In Theatre in Temple, PA, the first drive-in in the Reading area, where I also worked as a ramp boy, the drive-in equivilant of an usher. That was like a promotion! I went from an usher at the Astor at 50 cents an hour to the drive-in for 75 cents.

Warren G. Harris
Warren G. Harris on May 18, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Here are new links to vintage photos copied from a now long defunct trade journal. I’m told that the Reading Historical Society has a large collection of photos and other material about the Embassy.
View link
View link
View link

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on August 12, 2009 at 2:27 am

Here is a larger version of the circa 1931 photo posted on 2/26/05:
http://tinyurl.com/qxrw8x

rivest266
rivest266 on February 7, 2010 at 5:17 pm

April 4th, 1931 grand opening ad is at View link

rivest266
rivest266 on June 21, 2014 at 7:16 pm

April 4th, 1931 grand opening ad also in photo section.

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