55 Broadway Street,
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The Capitol Theatre was originally built circa 1933 by the Comerford Theaters Inc. chain. Throughout the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s, Comerford opened a medium sized chain of indoor and drive-in venues. Comerford was well respected by their piers and patrons alike for constructing fairly ornate, well-built facilities even in smaller towns like the 10,000 population Milton, PA.
(Note: Milton was the original home of Chef Boy-ar-dee Foods. Yes, there really was a Chef Boiardi who lived on Boiardi Lane.)
By the late-1960’s and early-1970’s the chain had dwindled to a mere shadow of its former glory. The paint on the marquee was peeling and only a few bulbs burned. It had been a long while since a paint brush had been put to good use. Jack Oberleitner, rising young star of the Pittsburgh based Associated Theatres, pooled his talents and money with Thomas Poling of Piqua, Ohio, Jack Hogan, noted central Pennsylvania projectionist, and others forming the Cinestage Group, Inc. The Cinestage Group search through as much information as possible in an attempt to restore the Capitol Theatre to its original 1933 splendor.
The Capitol Theatre was closed for two months while Cinestage, and some loyal volunteers repaired, painted, bulbed re-wired, and polished the Capitol Theatre from box office to the front draperies. They latterly ate, slept and worked in the theatre. The opening attraction was the original 1933 version of “King Kong” and classic short subjects featuring Shirley Temple, W.C. Fields and Laurel and Hardy. Ushers and other staff members looked sharp in vintage, military style uniforms. Once again the Capitol Theatre marquee twinkled and glowed as it had four decades earlier.
While Oberleitner and the town Mayor prepared to cut the ribbon made of 35mm film, others inside were still taking down scaffolding and making last minute alterations. Outside, a line of eager “first-niters” stretched out for several blocks.
Wide-eyed patrons entered to the sound of organ music, the smell of fresh popcorn and the smiling ushers standing at attention. All ladies received an orchid corsage, and free coffee was available in the mezzanine lobby which was quite resplendent with gold fabric couches and chandeliers that had been rescued from the Capitol Thetare basement. The 350 seat balcony and 850 seat main floor seating filled to capacity in quick order. Hundreds were turned away with promises of a repeat performance the following day. As the lights dimmed and curtain opened, the first short popped on the screen. The entire audience cheered and clapped. On that special evening, August 6, 1972, some magic happened and for three hours, the glory days of the movies lived again.
The Cinestage Group ran both current and classic films, locally produced stage events and occasional road company musicals. Eventually Cinestage operated four theatres and one drive-in before selling out to William Cloninger and others. Two years after the grand re-opening, an historic flood raged through the town. Under the creative expertise of Tom Poling, once again the theatre came back fighting.
After selling to Cloninger, Oberleitner went on to form the Altoona-based Holiday Entertainment company with Louis P. Silverman. He also became fairly well known as a theatre historian and contributed to the saving and refurbishing of several theatres. Poling left the business, Hogan continued as a projectionist. About a year later the Capitol Theatre burned to the ground from an electrical problem. Cloninger valiantly kept the chain alive for several years thereafter.
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