State Theatre

212 Locust Street,
Harrisburg, PA 17112

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State Theatre & Locust St., Harriburg, PA.

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The State Theatre was located on Locust Street between 2nd Street and 3rd Street, a little ways down from Capitol Park. The site had been occupied by theaters since approximately 1900. First on this site was the Lyceum Theatre and then the Orpheum Theatre, the latter was demolished in 1925 to make way for the State Theatre.

The State Theatre was housed in a large stone building and featured a wide, narrow rectangular marquee with small display panels on each end. A large vertical sign towered three stories at one end of the marquee.

An ornate stand-alone ticket booth was in a wide but narrow exterior space with several entrance doors. The interior of the State maintained the most overtly theatrical ambiance of any Harrisburg theater.

There were two lobbies, the first a kind of arcade, and the second an elaborate, palatial affair with chandeliers and much architectural detail. Restrooms were downstairs at opposite ends of the second (main) lobby that also included several display frames for posters and a refreshment stand. I seem to recall a second-floor balcony (mezzanine) space over this lobby that led to the actual seating balcony.

The State Theatre had one of the largest auditoriums and screens in the city. It certainly had the largest screen when it was renovated for CinemaScope in 1953. Fox’s "The Robe" kicked off the wide-screen revolution in Harrisburg with a huge curved screen and a state-of-the-art 4-track stereophonic sound system.

During the first phase of this era the State Theatre alternated 20th Century-Fox CinemaScope films with the Senate Theatre on Market Square but they were much more impressive at the State Theatre.

During the 1940’s and 1950’s the State Theatre alternated Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, and Columbia releases. A relative also recalls big bands and stage shows at the State Theatre in the 1940’s. In the 1960’s films such as "The Wild Bunch, " “Barbarella," "Such Good Friends”, and "2001, A Space Odyssey" were screened.

Alas, "2001" did not prove prophetic for the State Theatre which was razed in the early-1970’s to make way for an office building. Poor choice for Harrisburg. It would have made a wonderful downtown performing arts center.

Contributed by Ross Care

Recent comments (view all 30 comments)

1posterfan4sure
1posterfan4sure on November 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Ronn – I also thank you for those photos. I never thought I would ever see any pix of the State, much less in color! I remember that ornate lobby well, with it’s marble staircases leading up to the mezzanine. I always wanted to see what was beyond those staircases but the balcony was always closed. That auditorium photo is fantastic. I was startled by the detail of the proscenium arch. I don’t remember ever seeing it, but it was probably obscured by draperies covering the screen. Looking at those photos made me think again about what a loss to the city the demolition of the State really was. To think Harrisburg had a showplace like that into the 1970s and let it all go.

TheBareWall
TheBareWall on November 22, 2010 at 9:13 pm

I was one of the principals involved in the effort to save the State so I can speak only to that period. I became a resident of the city in 1962 and attended many showings there. At the start of that decade the place was still lively and there were sell-out crowds on the weekends; the balconys were full… The costs to “save” the theater were inflated to discourage our group and the estimate was made by a firm hoping to win the contract to demolish and rebuild. (They didn’t.) A second opinion said the structure was sound and the cost of conversion for stage attractions would be much lower. There was a huge stage space, ample room above for flying flats, and several dressing rooms one flight down from the stage… The Rural Electric Assn. at first promised to turn over the property for a few thousand (doubting our abilities to raise such) but when the funds poured in they quickly reneged and it became a political football of sorts. It became clear to us that the city wanted “taxes” that they hoped a new building would bring… There is much more to the story involving the Historic Harrisburg Assn. and city hall too involved to report here … The photo mentioned above does show the entrance to the men’s lounge on the floor below. If you “mirror image” the picture, the women’s is under the opposite staircase … I am no techie so I don’t know what it means, but the only remnant we found in the projection booth was several yards of very wide film; apparently it was to be used to adjust the dolby sound for “Jesus Christ, Superstar” if we understood the markings correctly. Maybe that means something to someone … The final showing (I was there with a handful of other “preservationists”) was a porno entitled “Naked Lunch.” Sorry, I don’t recall the plot if there was one …

TheBareWall
TheBareWall on November 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

P.S. The big street-side box office was preserved and is now in the lobby of Theatre Harrisburg’s offices and occasional theatrical venue on Hurlock Street in Uptown Harrisburg. Ronn

Ross Care
Ross Care on December 23, 2010 at 2:02 pm

BLACK WIDOW/WHITE CHRISTMAS at the STATE:
View link
Happy Holidays to All!
Ross Care

portzguy
portzguy on February 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm

John S in York, you commented that WCMB-TV was in the State Theatre building. Was the theatre building large enough that it included addresses on Court Street (essentially at the north-east of the building)? I have newpaper articles and equipment invoices that indicate that the station was located at 228-232 N Court Street, not on Locust St.

By the way, WMBS, the forerunner of WHP, had studios in the theatre building and a transmitter shack on the roof in the late 1920’s. The station was owned by W.S. “Mack” McCachren. The shack suffered a fire in March 1927 after only two months of operation. The transmitter was moved to Lemoyne later that year, but the studios stayed in the theater building until around 1930 when the Stackpole family bought WHP. (Ironically, the studios only moved one building away to the Harrisburg Telegraph building at 216 Locust.)

1posterfan4sure
1posterfan4sure on February 26, 2011 at 7:53 am

Tim: A good question, and one that someone with access to an old map could probably answer for sure, but I think I have a partial answer.

WCMB-TV was not in the State Theater Building as I had heard many years ago from a now-deceased co-worker at WKBO. Since the address on Court Street would seem to be in the right vicinity, I had no reason to doubt it. However, today I asked a co-worker (I think you know Mr. Kauffman) who had worked at WCMB radio in the early 1960s. He tells me WCMB-TV was located on Court Street between Walnut and Locust behind what is now the Federal Building, constructed in 1964. Court Street, then and now, is little more than an alley, but many businesses had addresses in those little side streets.

I’m not quite buying that location, however, as the 200 block of Court Street is north of Locust, and 228-232 would be about midway between Locust and Pine, well north of the Federal Building. Perhaps someone else could pinpoint that address. If WCMB-TV was not in the State Theatre Building, what building was it in?

While I was originally told the old TV studios were “intact,” I took that as meaning the rooms in which they were located were still recognizable as TV studios but that the actual equipment had been dismantled.

Sorry for spreading misinformation!

portzguy
portzguy on February 26, 2011 at 9:10 am

No problem at all, John!

Dr. Bill is just one block off. A quick search online shows 228-232 N Court St. to be on the west side of Court directly behind the PA Rural Electrical building on Locust St. (where the theatre building once stood).

Judging by nearby buildings, it’s not impossible that the theatre building extended to the Court St. addresses. I’ll keep an eye out for more info.

jgrif96229
jgrif96229 on July 31, 2011 at 10:57 pm

I was the last manager at the State Theatre in Harrisburg, Pa. It closed in October and I want to say 1975. They ran an article in the Patriot News showing myself and “Hop” my assistant manager with the story of the eminate sale. I have been trying to find that picture for years. I am currently 57 years young and live in the West Palm Beach / Palm Beach area. I worked for United Artist Theatres. They leased it from Fabian Management. The Fabian family decided to get out of the movie theatre ownership. The also owned the State Theatre in Allentown as well as a theatre in Easton. UATC acquired the newly completed Camp Hill Twin theatre which was the last Fabian theatre to be built. Unfortunately UATC found a buyer in Alleghany Utilities and negotiated the sale of the property and thus ended their obligation with Fabian on that property. The city of Harrisburg never had the chance to make a move to preserve the property.

Anyone with pictures should communicate to . Thanks Joseph

Ross Care
Ross Care on February 8, 2012 at 3:13 am

I think the Fabians also owned the Colonial Theatre in Harrisburg.

chicagopaul
chicagopaul on December 30, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I have the console from the Marr & Colton Pipe organ that was installed there, it is in excellent restored condition, but not connected to any pipes to play at this time.

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