Colonial Theatre

280 Market Street,
Harrisburg, PA 17101

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Colonial Theatre exterior

The Colonial Theatre was opened by 1913. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Contributed by Lost Memory

Recent comments (view all 19 comments)

carolgrau on February 17, 2010 at 10:20 pm

I remember coming downstairs one day and dad was sitting at the table actually crying because he had to spend money to get new lenses, and add on to his drive-in screen for this new thing called Cinemascope, 70MM damn near gavee him heart failure, but we dealt with it and all was good..

Ross Care
Ross Care on August 14, 2010 at 2:12 pm

A slightly improved copy the photo of the interior of the Colonial after the wall collapsed in 1983. I believe the first version of this is now deleted from FLICKr. Also just added a new photo of the demolition of the Rio around 1955.

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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 21, 2010 at 2:42 am

The Colonial Theatre is mentioned in a magazine at least as early as 1913, when the January 13 issue of trade journal Electrical Review and Western Electrician said “The Daupin Electrical Supplies Company of Harrisburg, Pa., …recently wired the Colonial Theater, in Harrisburg….”

More interesting is an item in a magazine called New York Topics and International Courier, issue of June 27, 1914:[quote]“‘Local talent is now being enlisted in the 'Moviement,’ according to an advertisement appearing in newspapers of the Pennsylvania Capital:

“‘WANTEDâ€"Motion picture plays, motion picture players. The Colonial Theater announces the formation of a motion picture dramatic company, to be composed of Harrisburg actors and to pose for films made in Harrisburg. Harrisburg comedies, Harrisburg dramas. Harrisburg tragedies. Company will be made up at once. If you want to be a motion picture player, apply now for a position in the companyâ€"no experience required. Scenarios wanted. Cash prizes for the best motion picture stories with scenes laid in Harrisburg. Write your own motion picture and see it played on the screen. Full particulars upon inquiry at the Colonial Theater. If you can act, become a motion picture actor If you can write, become a motion picture author.’

“Well, if Gifford Pinchot wins that Keystone State Senatorship there will be a fine bunch of Penrose machine politicians available as ‘movie actors’ in Harrisburg.”[/quote]I’ve found nothing else about this attempt to launch a local movie production industry in Harrisburg, but it apparently did nothing to help business at the Colonial. The July 31, 1915, issue of The Moving Picture World ran this item:

“The Colonial theater, Harrisburg, Pa., prominent vaudeville and moving picture establishment, recently closed its doors to the public and will remain so for several months to come, according to announcement made by the management. No definite reasons were assigned for the temporary closing of the theater, but it is generally supposed that the closing Is a matter of business policy decided upon to prevent operation at a loss, for at this season of the year the theatrical business is very poor. The coming to Harrisburg of an International League baseball team has had a decided effect upon the attendance of the afternoon matinees at the theaters.”

Ross Care
Ross Care on May 6, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Just found this color slide of the Colonial Theatre:
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Ross Care
Ross Care on May 6, 2011 at 9:13 pm

This is a grainy and not especially good crop of the Colonial marquee. I wish I had a better one.

But my FLICKr caption give a detailed description of the unusual L-shaped entrance/vestibule area which had doors on both Market St. and 3rd St. and enclosed a commercial business which was on the corner of those streets.

It’s also of interest because the marquee is no longer advertising movies, but Harrisburg’s traditional balloon parade (which I remember from when I was a kid) and an “Elvis” concert!

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Ross Care
Ross Care on May 6, 2011 at 10:15 pm

Ar the risk of being compulsive, here is a lighter variation of the Colonial color transparency which shows up the marquee better.
Take your choice:
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Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 10, 2014 at 11:49 pm

I wonder if gremlins got into somebody’s keyboard along the way, and the “Flin, Cla” that the NRHP document (cited in the very first comment on this theater by LostMemory) names as one of the architects or builders of the Colonial Theatre is actually Fuller Claflin? Claflin did design at least one theater in Harrisburg- the Lyceum (later the Orpheum), built in 1903 and reportedly demolished in 1925 to make way for the State Theatre. I’m skeptical that anyone has ever borne the odd name Cla Flin.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 12, 2014 at 1:38 pm

I’ve found a number of errors in the NRHP’s listings, usually misspellings and sometimes wrong dates. I doubt that they’ll ever get around to correcting them. But “Flin, Cla” is one of the oddest things I’ve seen there. It sounds like it would be the name of a character in a bad sword and sorcery novel.

LorinWeigard on September 18, 2014 at 9:20 am

The story I heard about the Colonial from a veteran vaudvillian who had a dance team with his wife (and later was Mae West’s road manager), they loved playing the Colonial; it was a short skip and a jump from the train station with their trunks and props down the alley to the Colonial’s backstage door.

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