Drake Theatre

327 Seneca Street,
Oil City, PA 16301

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Drake Theatre

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The Drake Theatre is located on Seneca Street on the north side of Oil City, in northwestern Pennsylvania. The theatre opened in 1928, designed by Philadelphia theatre architect William H. Lee. The exterior style is Art Deco. A sketch, likely prepared before construction, of the theatre’s exterior is on page 12 of Volume Two of the book “American Theatres of Today” (1930). The theatre was equipped with a Wurlitzer pipe organ. Colonel Drake was Edwin Drake (1819-1880) popularly credited with being the first to drill for oil in the United States.

The theatre has been through several floods. It had a balcony which was no longer open, even when the theatre was. There were two matching staircases, but one was removed to make room for a snack bar. It closed around 1985 when the theatre at the Cranberry Mall expanded from three screens to five.

As of 2013, it appears to be for sale for whoever wishes to turn it into a residence.

Contributed by Von Winger, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 10 comments)

shoeshoe14 on May 30, 2007 at 3:50 pm

This theatre opened in 1928 and was also known as the Colonel Drake Theatre. I think it is Art Deco.

BognarRegis on May 31, 2007 at 8:47 am

I recall the Drake having some Art Deco elements but it had a rounded precinium like French Renaissance. The mystery lies in the lack of information I can find on the Drake. Everyone in Oil City has been obsessed with the Latonia since it closed in the early seventies even though the Drake remained open. It was the only indoor movie theatre in the area. If you lived in Oil City/Franklin/Titusville in 1977, chances are you saw Star Wars there.

Ed Lolley
Ed Lolley on October 26, 2007 at 7:43 pm

I have an ad from “The Announcer” booklet issued by Radio Station WLBW in January 1929. It states the following:

More than 250,000 people living within a 50 mile radius of Oil City depend on this modern new playhouse for their amusement and entertainment. Known for it’s environment, comfort, and safety; continuous programs every day from 2 P.M. until 11:30 P.M. – at popular prices.

Grundge676 on March 9, 2008 at 2:50 pm

How much would it cost to rent the theatre for musical shows

kencmcintyre on December 26, 2008 at 4:57 pm

Here is an ad in the 8/1/29 edition of the Oil City Derrick:

BigEhutch on September 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm

If one compares the 1983 photo against the 2004 photos above, you notice the terra cotta parapet ornamentation and the deco tower capitals above the front entry were removed. This occurred the early 2000’s when the roof was replaced. there was dumpsters full of broken terra cotta scrolls and zig-zag pieces that were simply discarded. The white capitols of the towers reportedly set in some local private garden, but that was 2900 years ago. All of the ornament, except for the glazed white capitols, was the same buff color as the remaining terra cotta on the building. This monochromatic facade contrasts to the colorful terra cotta of the across town Latonia theatre. The Oil City Playhouse briefly reopened the Drake for a year or two in the mid 1990’s as a performance theatre.
I was fortunate to perform on the Drake’s stage in the performance of “Melba, The Toast of Pithole”, a melodrama written about the local oil boomtown and a colorful cast of characters. I played Danny Sweetapple, the hero of the story. I was impressed with the ornamental plater and murals depicting oil, hunting themes each in stylized art deco fashion, which never was too apparent when I watched movies there as a child. All of the lighting including wall sconces throughout and facetted central chendalier were still intact and operational at that time. I am not aware of the state of the interior today, although I am pessimistic. The entire building is vacant now after the departure of a marketing call center which occupied the adjacent office and retail space of the complex. I believe this fantatic historic building is currently for sale.

BigEhutch on October 8, 2012 at 7:50 pm

roof replaced in early 1990’s & 29 years ago, btw

AndrewBarrett on September 23, 2014 at 12:17 am

I hope this theatre is bought and saved! Time for someone to win the lottery.

Does anyone have any info on the “Venango Theatre” located in Oil City? Thanks!

A mention of both the Drake and the Venango can be found in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Sep 14, 1927 (pg. 26, lower right). It states that the Venango had 800 seats.


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