Capitol Theatre

150 N. Queen Street,
Lancaster, PA 17603

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Capitol Theater, Lancaster PA

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Opened as the Hippodrome Theatre in 1916, replacing the 1910-built Hippodrome Theatre which was destroyed by fire. Seating was listed at 1,161. Later it became the Capitol Theatre. This theatre was operated by Warner Bros. and their subsidiary’s.

The Capitol Theatre closed in the mid-1960’s and was later demolished. Any further information on this theatre would be appreciated. I am hoping Dennis Zimmerman will fill in more history.

Contributed by Chuck

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

Ross Care
Ross Care on October 31, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I’d be very interested in anything you might remember about the Hamilton. It was closed when I moved to Lancaster. I remember the entrance was set back from the sidewalk in a kind of arcade. I never got to see the interior unfortunately.
It seemed like it might have been a rather elegant theater in its time. Thanks.

Ross Care
Ross Care on October 31, 2010 at 5:10 pm

I’d be very interested in anything you might remember about the Hamilton. It was closed when I moved to Lancaster. I remember the entrance was set back from the sidewalk in a kind of arcade. I never got to see the interior unfortunately.
It seemed like it might have been a rather elegant theater in its time. Thanks.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on November 1, 2010 at 2:31 am

Trade journal The Moving Picture World reported in its issue of November 18, 1916, that the new Hippodrome Theatre in Lancaster had recently opened. The owners were Mr. and Mrs. George Krupa.

dennisczimmerman
dennisczimmerman on November 1, 2010 at 5:56 pm

The Krupa family opened the first Hippodrome Theatre in Lancaster which was destroyed by a fire some years later. Then they built the 2nd Hippodrome which later became the Capitol Theatre. This was probably “the motion picture palace” in Lancaster. When I first started going to movies here with my parents in the late 1950’s there was an “overhang” over the street entrance. However, there was no marquee as such. Above the front doors was a “framed” velvet wrapped message sign. What appeared to be glitterly wooden letters were tacked onto this board to proclaim the current attraction. Once inside those front doors, the same type of message board was
above inside of these doors and would announce the next attraction at the theatre. I do not remember where the box office was located. However, during the late 1950’s early 1960’s remodel of the Capitol Theatre, the front was totally redone with a lot of plexiglass and neon. As with the Colonial/Boyd theatre also listed on this website, the “message board marquee” was replaced by a half round white plexiglass and neon marquee that was huge. I remember when “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” was showing the marquee was large enough to list the stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and the entire title of the movie on each “side” of the marquee. It’s not that I have a good memory, but I have a framed picture of that block of N. Queen street which was taken before the brilliant idea came along to tear it down and that was the film showing at the time. After the remodel the box office was outside almost at the edge of the inside of the sidewalk. It was attached to the left side of the entrance, but stood alone. The box office attendant was all alone out there and at the rear of the small box office, probably as big as four telephone booths (remember them?) When you purchased your tickets you walked a short distance in a covered “arcade” where there were framed poster stands with posters of the current and coming films. Then you went through the first set of doors and you were in this extremely long lobby. There was wood paneling on the walls, thick carpet on the floor, and majestic lights on the walls. Above this part of the theatre was what I believe the Pennsylvania Hotel, whose entrance was next door to the theatre. About half through the lobby was the candy counter. At the other end of this lobby was another set of doors. Then a smaller lobby. At this point there was a marble staircase that you would take to the balcony seats. In the balcony lobby was a marble fireplace and a lot of “living room” style chairs. You entered the balcony from either end and when you actually got to the balcony seating, there was a “middle aisle” going across the width of the balcony with “loge” seating below the aisle and “balcony” seating above the aisle. The main floor had two aisles with sections of seating along the outer walls and a center section of seats. I still remember being amazed at the traveler curtain in front of the screen. It could open from the middle as two separate panels and be “taken” to behind the proscenium. However it could also be opened “straight up” as if it was just one solid curtain. However it was not opened as in Austrian curtains. The entire two panels just “went up.” The projection room was above the balcony. The last movie I saw here was on July 3rd, 1965 – “The Yellow Rolls Royce” – and the admission was $1.25. The theatre closed on July 4th and the demolition of the entire block began not too long after that. Three theatres, a hotel, a YMCA building and numerous retail establishments were lost on this venture. The ironic thing was they had no plans what they were going to do and for years there was a vacant mudhole occupying this former business district. Then they demolished the other side of the street! Sometime over the years the theatre became part of the Stanley Warner theatre chain. Both the Capitol, Hamilton, and the Grand theatre across the street were all operated by Stanley Warner.

wewinnow
wewinnow on November 2, 2010 at 6:48 am

In the early 1940’s the Colonial Theatre, as I recall was really the grandest at that time. Grand enough to attract the very famous magician, Harry Blackstone. My Grandmother and a neighbor lady made new curtains for the Colonial. The curtains were manufactured in a row house across from Edward Hand jr. High School on South Ann Street. . There was a bit of a delay as the neighbor lady ran a sewing machine needle through her thumb.

Ross Care
Ross Care on November 2, 2010 at 9:35 am

Dennis – As I’ve described elsewhere on CT, I had an apartment at 123 N. Queen St. (close by the Grand) and remained there for a good part of the notorious demolition. The night the wrecking ball struggled to knock down the sturdy old and resisting Brunswick Hotel was like something out of Fellini.
It was also painful deja vu for me, as I also lived through the razings of my favorite Harrisburg theaters, though not in such an abrupt and dramatic fashion.
I remember seeing the backstage trappings, curtains, drapes, glass chandeliers, still hanging in the theater (Capitol ?) on the corner.

It was very poignant and I’ve never forgotten those few weeks. And I hope Lancaster has not either (though I’m sure it has).
It was a pathetic, stupid waste of an entire cluster of classic theaters.

dennisczimmerman
dennisczimmerman on November 2, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Penway14 – The Colonial/Boyd Theatre was the one closest to the corner of Queen and Chestnut Streets. The Hippodrome/Capitol Theatre was closer to the middle of the block and almost across the street from the Grand Theatre. Although the demolition of this entire block was a total waste as you look at what is located there now. They are attempting to get funding to tear down what was built and build it back up to the main street it used to be! Do you call that our tax money at work?? I think the Capitol Theatre was the most palatial of all four theatres. The Colonial/Boyd was very nice, but did not have the large lobby and public areas that the Capitol had. Even the staircases were elegant. The Boyd just had a winding “hallway” with steps on each end to get you up and down to the balcony. I cannot imagine a fire marshall allowing such construction today. Granted there was exit doors from the balcony onto fire escapes. I remember when they started demolishing the Capitol the contractor said there was enough steel in the building and balcony to build a battle ship. They also discovered there was a well under the theatre which they used for the water for the central air conditioning. They saved on their water bill and the sewer bill was less as that was/is based on how much water you use. Well, I could go on, but enough for now. I know they sold the seats from the Capitol Theatre – at least. I wanted to buy a pair – they were sold in two’s, but my parents would not allow me to bring them into the house. They said they could not imagine how many bugs would have been in the upholstery!!! I did manage to obtain a “pull” sign from a front door of the Capitol and a “Coming Soon” placard from a poster display case from the Boyd.

Ross Care
Ross Care on November 2, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Dennis – As I recall they tore down a major section of the “new” second block, where the Capitol had been, a few years after they put it up. And then the whole thing was redone sometime after that. It was an on-going mess and apparently still is.
It changed so often I hardly remember what was there when I left Lancaster about fifteen years ago.
I remember originally there was a lot of concrete, elevated walkways, stairs, a fountain, etc.
The businesses on the Grand/my side of Queen never really took off. A Hess’s (?) department store was there for awhile. There was a theater that had a great wide screen – I saw DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER there about six times. But it was eventually twinned. It was on the second level and there was an escalator up to it.
But you probably know all this already.
I do appreciate your comments on the other theaters. They were not there long enough for them to be implanted in my memory like the Harrisburg theaters were. I remember the Capitol was rather ornate with a kind of lobby balcony that led to the theater balcony. Sort of Spanish themed?
I don’t know why I did not take photos of these theaters. I was just out of college and was going pretty wild at the time.
Do you know when the Hamilton closed?

dennisczimmerman
dennisczimmerman on December 2, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Penway – The concrete monstrosities lasted for many years after they were finally built. You are right that the business on the right side of the street did not last too long. The Eric Theatre was located on that side as well. It was a nice theatre until they twinned it. Then Sameric Corporation left it slide into disrepair. I remember for years seeing what looked like someone drew lines on the screen. The problem was they were so quick to tear everything down, but had no plans for what they were going to do. So Lancaster had a giant mud hole for at least a year or longer. Then they got Hess department store to sign a lease for a building being built and they built a “new” Brunswick hotel and then had the shop and office promenade connecting the two buildings. It was only afer the former Hamilton Bank and Armstrong World Industries decided to build their Lancaster headquarters downtown that the left side of the street finally got built. Within the last few years, they tore down the promenade area in the hopes to attract a developer to do something new and make it look like what they tore down in the 1960’s. Lancaster had a mayor back then that sold the city to some New York developer that promised him the world with a fence around it. As far as the Hamilton goes, I do not remember it being open at all. I was born in 1947 so I would probably remember back to the early 1950’s. I just remember being downtown in the late 1950’s and walking past the Hamilton and seeing the signs for the Hamilton Bar which was in the lobby. Well, I have ranted on long enough for now.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on April 9, 2013 at 3:41 pm

The July 26, 1910, opening of Lancaster’s original Hippodrome Theatre, which burned and was replaced by this house in 1916, was noted in the August 20, 1910 issue of The Film Index.

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