133 W. Main Street,
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The Norris Theatre opened on December 22, 1930 in Norristown, the county seat of Montgomery County, a suburb of Philadelphia. The first feature film was the romantic comedy “Fast and Loose” starring Miriam Hopkins and Carole Lombard. Opening prices were 20 to 35 cents for matinees, and 25 to 50 cents for evenings. The theatre was designed by Philadelphia architect William H. Lee. Nearby, in what are the Main Line suburbs, other theatres that were designed by Lee and continue to show movies include the Anthony Wayne, Bryn Mawr, and Narberth. The Norris Theatre was opened by the Sablosky brothers, Norris Amusement Company, who were instrumental in the formation of the Stanley Company of America in Philadelphia. The Sablosky’s operated a chain of movie theatres in Norristown, with the Norris being the flagship.
The Norris Theatre was an Art Deco fantasy. The 1950 square foot foyer was decorated with two murals, 50 feet long and 8 feet high, a fountain filled with fish, and six 8x4 foot stained glass windows. Jesters, skyscrapers, musicians and dancers were depicted in these stained glass windows. There were oval mirrors. The auditorium had a sky blue ceiling with twinkling lights that resembled the night sky and a pipe organ.
When the theatre opened, Norristown was one of the largest towns of the Philadelphia suburbs, with many retail stores and entertainment. With the introduction of television and construction of nearby shopping malls and movie theatres at King of Prussia and Plymouth Meeting, neither the town’s retail shops, nor the theatre were doing well. By 1965, the Sablosky’s leased the Norris to another company. Philadelphia theatre operator Budco operated the Norris in the 1960’s. The balcony was closed then. A four year effort to play bargain priced movies and rock and classical concerts was not successful. The last movie was shown in April, 1982. In 1978, Norristown had hired planning director Richard Schmoyer who wanted to preserve the theatre. It did not happen, despite the interest of a developer who wanted to invest in Norristown and who viewed the preservation of the Norris as a pivotal to the future of Norristown.
The Sablosky’s sold the Norris and the theatre was demolished in March 1983 for the construction of a McDonalds. A last minute request by borough officials that the theatre’s facade be saved for incorporation into the McDonalds was declined. The fast food restaurant itself has since been torn down and turned into a parking lot. Norristown has lost all its historic theatres and the opportunity for revitalization that reopened theatres have brought to other county seats of suburban Philadelphia. In the seat of Delaware County, the Media Theatre was restored for live shows. In the seat of Bucks County, the County Theatre in Doylestown was saved and shows arthouse movies. Other towns in Montgomery County, such as Ambler, Bryn Mawr, and Narberth benefit from the 1920’s movie theatres that have survived to show movies.
The 20 foot tall Art Deco window grille, glazed and gilded Terra Cotta was salvaged from the facade of the Norris Theatre. The grille was dismantled and brought to Miami in 110 boxes. The grille was reassembled, and is on display, as an icon of 1930’s Art Deco design, as the centerpiece of the lobby of the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach, Florida. The museum’s conference room is decorated with Art Deco stained glass panels from the theatre’s foyer. The Wolfsonian is in Miami’s famed Art Deco district.
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