Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts

600 Penn Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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johnbarchibald1
johnbarchibald1 on November 21, 2013 at 6:15 pm

I saw a lot of movies at the old Loew’s Penn, including the original roadshow release of “Cleopatra” (1963), which I saw there several times, sometimes when there were only maybe 20 or 30 people, at most, in that cavernous space, clustered in the central section of the orchestra seats downstairs. Perhaps the last hurrah for business there was the Christmas 1963 release of Disney’s “The Sword in the Stone,” which was very popular. After that, it played mostly reissues. I think I saw “South Pacific” there, sometime in early 1964. After that, it was empty, with the name of its last attraction, “Ensign Pulver,” lingering on the marquee for years.

Handle55
Handle55 on November 11, 2013 at 6:53 am

Although I am late in responding to your question, I worked as an usher for the manager, Larry Knee and Asst. Manager Ron Mc Clellan from 1960 to 1961 when I went in the service. As you entered the theatre, directly in front of you was the concession stand which was the center of the lobby. There was a water fountain but is was off to the left of the concession stand. Working at the Loew’s Penn was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. I was working there when the Musketeer’s appeared. Rest in Peace Annette.

bill ayoob
bill ayoob on July 21, 2012 at 12:37 pm

does anyone remember the lower lobby portion (downstairs) of the Penn Theater? I seemed to remember going to a few films there in the early 60’s, and seem to recall a pretty good sized water fountain in the middle of the lower lobby—not a fountain you drink from, just a decorative flowing one. Any information? Or, am i confusing this with another downtown theater in the 60’s?

Brad Smith
Brad Smith on May 5, 2012 at 11:02 am

Click here for an exterior view of the Loew’s United Artists Theatre in 1931.

WarnerChatham
WarnerChatham on April 19, 2012 at 8:24 pm

I am not old enough to ever see a movie here. However, I did see several live shows. I recall hearing a story that the premiere of the made-for-tv movie “Fighting Back: The Rocky Bleier Story” (1980) was shown here. It was embarrassing however because one of the projectors broke down that night, and they had to resort to showing most of the movie with just one projector. This meant bring the house lights up for several minutes in between reels while the next part was threaded.

rivoli157
rivoli157 on November 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I love this theatre. As a member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera I had the pleasure of performing here from 1975-1980. One of the most beautiful theatres I have ever performed in. Front of house, backstage, perfect. Returned to Pgh in 1999 for a visit and was given a tour of the theatre so that I could stroll down memory lane

Gerald A. DeLuca
Gerald A. DeLuca on August 9, 2011 at 3:06 am

Lupe VĂ©lez appeared here in person in March 1929 along with the film she starred in, D.W. Griffith’s last silent film which was also a part-talkie, Lady of the Pavements. NEWSPAPER AD from March 30, 1929.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on June 27, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Nice history and photos.

edblank
edblank on March 8, 2010 at 11:52 am

The J. P. Harris chain never owner nor operated the Penn.

Like the MGM films, virtually all major United Artists movies had their Downtown engagements at Loew’s Penn with the obvious exceptions of roadshows such as “Judgment at Nuremberg” and “West Side Story” and the minor films that opened on double bills at neighborhoods and drive-ins.

One US film of great consequence that went straight to the nabes was “Dr. No.” Ironically, when the Bond series caught on, “Dr. No” played Downtown repeatedly on reissue double bills.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 6, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Loew’s was apparently leasing the Penn out as early as 1955, when an item in the February 19 issue of Boxoffice said that the former manager of the Penn had been transferred to Loew’s Ohio Theatre in Cleveland, adding that “The Penn was recently acquired by John P. Harris.” (I’m not sure if they were referring to the Harris circuit or to the namesake grandson of the late John P. Harris.)

Two movies that played the Penn in early 1956 were U.A.’s “The Man With the Golden Arm” and Paramount’s “The Court Jester.” Boxoffice of February 4, 1955, also mentions an invitational preview of Paramount’s “Anything Goes” having been held at the Penn. The earliest specific mentions I can find in Boxoffice of the Penn as a United Artists house come from 1961.

The decline in the Penn’s fortunes during the late 1950s is indicated by the infrequent mentions of it in Boxoffice after 1956. Prior to 1956 the Penn was the theater most often mentioned in the magazine’s reports from Pittsburgh.

edblank
edblank on March 6, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Virtually wevery MGM movie of any consequence opened first-run at Loew’s Penn. A few minor ones premiered at Loew’s Ritz, often on double bills. (The Ritz was used mainly as a moveover house dfrom the much larger Penn.)

You could count on two hands the MGM films that opened at any other Downtown theater (“The Cobweb,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Athena,” the roadshow engagement of “Gigi,” etc.).

I don’t know anything about any “local stock company” ever operating the Penn.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 6, 2010 at 6:29 am

Boxoffice of August 24, 1964, reported that United Artists would shutter the Penn Theatre on September 30. Operating losses were cited as the reason. UA had operated the Penn in recent years, the item said, and prior to that the house had for some time been operated by a local stock company. That would explain why the Penn didn’t benefit from all those MGM hits in the 1950s. They must have gone to other theaters that were still being operated by Loew’s.

rivest266
rivest266 on January 21, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Pittsburgh press ad from Sept 4, 1927 starts at View link
and for 8 pages after this page at View link

pghwurlitzer
pghwurlitzer on December 18, 2009 at 6:50 am

I have a photograph of the console of the 4/22 Robert Morton organ that was in the old Loew’s Penn prior to the 1936 flood that destroyed it and will include it in a later posting as soon as I find it.

rivest266
rivest266 on March 6, 2009 at 5:33 pm

The UA and Loew’s Penn Grand opening ad is on this page at View link

Ron3853
Ron3853 on July 30, 2008 at 11:01 am

I think that United Artists Theaters owned the Penn in its later years, not Loew’s. But if Loew’s sold it, I don’t know when. Check the Variety boxoffice listings – usually the theater owner is listed with the number of seats, plus a given week’s feature title(s), distributor(s) and gross.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on July 30, 2008 at 10:57 am

I find it interesting that comments on the theatre site said the theatre went in decline in the 1950’s and thats why it closed in 1964. Keep in mind that Loew’s Penn had the pick of MGM films until the split between Loew’s and MGM in 1959. Most Loew’s theatres through the 1950’s were among the most profitable becuase they played MGM films. Downtown Pittsburgh_movie palaces did well through the 1970’s and played most of the big films on an exclusive run.Theatres that were on decline wouldn’t get an exclusive run booking of “Cleopatra” in 1963 as a reserved seat attraction. “Cleopatra” wasn’t the blockbuster they had hoped for but when it was booked it was the big attraction for 1963.Cleopatra was only booked in deluxe theatres accross the county. I think that Loew’s after the less than blockbuster long run performance of “Cleopatra” made a decision to close the Penn then next year in 1964. The Penn was to large for the average roadshow film which would normally play the smaller Warner with 2000 seats and Nixon with 1800 seats. The larger Stanley was still showing films well into the 1970’s. I don’t know if Loew’s owned the Penn and maybe its lease was up and didn’t renew.brucec

raubre
raubre on June 18, 2007 at 2:52 pm

I think this is the rear of the Penn Theater back in the 60s….

http://www.jerryapp.com/arcv2b/ja-t227.jpg

rlvjr
rlvjr on December 30, 2006 at 6:59 pm

PLEASE DON’T believe the auditorium looks awful or gutted. Most cinema palaces have at least a portion of their once-glorious interiors painted over (as was also true 50 years ago). We attended Loew’s Penn (Heinz Hall) on 12-29-06 for “Rat Pack at the Sands” and we found the Penn to be magnificent. Please find a reason to go there. Few of these Cinema Treasures look as fine in 2006 as the Penn.

estott
estott on December 3, 2006 at 12:17 pm

The auditorium was nearly gutted when they converted to a concert hall- just the outline of the organ grilles and the rim of the dome remain. I guess they didn’t want anything that could possibly distract from the stage.

Life's Too Short
Life's Too Short on December 3, 2005 at 2:51 pm

I am glad the building still stands. But the auditorium looks awful painted and lighted the way it is in the photos on the Symphony’s web site. Lobby and exterior look OK.

bruceanthony
bruceanthony on August 29, 2005 at 5:28 pm

Why did this theatre decline and close by the mid 1960’s when Pittsburg Downtown movie palaces were still getting exlclusive run booking well into the 1970’s.brucec

HenryAldridge
HenryAldridge on February 24, 2005 at 12:57 pm

Radio City’s Dick Leibert played here for a time. Does anyone know more about his tenure here? Did he play on opening night?

gmorrison
gmorrison on December 17, 2004 at 4:33 pm

I remember in the Summer of 1963 coming to Pittsburgh from Hagerstown, Maryland with my parents on a business trip (I was 14), and staying at the Manger Hotel downtown. My parents went to see “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” at the Civic Arena (?), while my older sister and I went to the Penn Theatre to see “Cleopatra!"
What a spectacular theatre! Far more spectacular than any theatre in Hagerstown—although we did have the Maryland Theatre (see Cinema Treasures—Hagerstown, Maryland).
I’m so glad the Penn was spared demolition, and is the home of the Pittsburgh Symphony.

Glenn Morrison
Washington, DC