Cascade Picture Palace

11-15 S. Mill Street,
New Castle, PA 16101

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Exterior of Cascade Picture Palace

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Located in the heart of the New Castle, PA, downtown, The Cascade Picture Palace was the first theatre operated by the Warner Brothers. Well, almost. Actually, they began showing movies in the back room of a funeral parlor further along E. Washington Street. 50 or so folding chairs were set up and the single, hand-crank projector spooled out 7 minute novelty films on a 7 foot glass mirror.

The Warner’s lived in nearby Youngstown, OH and had earned some money with a primitive projector and portable screen and a tent. They moved from town to town showing brief films were ever they could attract an audience willing to view the new miracle. Pittsburgh, New Castle and Youngstown were burgeoning industrial centers at the time and, by 1903, any one of the three could have eventually grown into a major city.

The Warner’s found a sizable audience in New Castle with no competition. Pittsburgh’s Nickelodeon (the world’s first), was open and thriving. The movie theatre/funeral home was successful for more than two years. At various points it was called the Bijou (little gem) and the Pioneer. Several other store-front cinemas had popped up along Washington Street, including the Dome, Nixon, Star and Park Theatres. Not to be outdone, the Warner’s opened the Cascade Movie Palace a few doors down from the funeral home on February 2, 1907.

The Cascade Picture Palace featured real theatre seats and a permanent screen. The hand-crank projector displayed 7 minute episodes of the newly emerging feature films. Because the projectionist had to change reels every few minutes, each reel was advertised as ‘A Drama in 8 Acts’, or the like.

Time moved on and so did the Warner Brothers. Harry Warner moved to New York to handle their ever growing chain of palatial theatres and Jack Warner to Hollywood to produce films and establish the WB studio.

According to, now long gone, New Castle operators, the Warner’s wanted to build a fabulous theatre in New Castle to commemorate the start of their empire. As rumor goes, when word got out, the price of the land sky-rocketed. The plan for New Castle was abandoned and a theatre was built instead in Youngstown. The Warner Theatre/Powers Auditorium still stands and is home to the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra.

The site of the Cascade Picture Palace eventually became a Neisner 5 & 10 store and offices. In recent years a non-profit group has purchased this and other buildings in an attempt to create a memorial to the Warner Brothers. All that has seemed to evolve to date is a second floor, upscale restaurant which recently closed and a reproduction of the front of the Cascade Picture Palace in the buildings main lobby. The display includes an old seat and an equally old, but probably not from the Cascade, projector, complete with (sigh) CinemaScope lens. It would truly be nice to see a real Warner theatre opened as a tourist and historical commemorative.

Contributed by Jack Oberleitner

Recent comments (view all 24 comments)

Audrey Przybylski
Audrey Przybylski on May 25, 2013 at 5:13 am

Movie Memories, Part 4: Penn Theater remembered for opulence, Leo Mickey’s weekend kiddie showsDan Irwin 05/23/2013 2:24 PM

When today’s New Castle residents recall the city’s former movie theaters, the Penn may be the most fondly remembered. Built in the 1920s, the Penn “was the first one (downtown) to be built as a full-fledged, deluxe theater,” said Jack Oberleitner, a New Castle native and owner of a cinema consulting firm that bears his name. Many of its predecessors and contemporaries had opened as nickelodeons in converted storerooms, but “pretty much until the time it was torn down, the Penn was considered the leading, first-run theater in New Castle. If there was a big movie coming to town, you just automatically assumed it would be at the Penn. “It was just a neat place to go. It had the nicest seats. It had what we used to call the balcony, but it was actually a stadium section in the back, and that was a wonderful place to go on dates. You tried to get the person you were dating to sit as close as possible to the projection booth, all the way in the back.” Oberleitner recalled a “stylish red and gold, Art Deco style interior … enhanced by six large Tiffany-style chandeliers on the auditorium ceiling.” “Built as a film theater without a true stage,” he said, “the proscenium arch and red velvet drape were covered by a wall-to-wall CinemaScope screen in the early 1950s. Sadly, the Penn was never wired for stereo sound.” Richard Kalata spent some time as a projectionist at the Penn, where his father, George, had held the job from 1929 until the 1,100-seat theater closed for good in 1968. “The Penn closed for a summer in the early 1950s because of competition from drive-in theaters, television and the lack of air conditioning,” Kalata recalled. “The theater was completely remodeled with new seats and air conditioning. “It remained the ‘Showplace of New Castle’ mainly because of the outstanding leadership of Leo Mickey.” Mickey, who still lives on the North Hill, did stints at various times managing the Penn, the Hi-Lander, the State, the Cinema and later, the Westgate Cinemas. He and the Penn may be best remembered for their Saturday morning kiddie shows, which Oberleitner described as “17 cartoons and some schlocky feature like ‘Radar Men from the Moon.’ ” “But the neat part,” he went on, “was that in between, Mr. Mickey – as everybody called him – would go up on the little tiny stage and play games with the kids. He had prizes he had gotten from local merchants, and he filled the theater up every single time they had a matinee like this. “That was a big deal; that was a fixture in New Castle. Probably anyone who is somewhere between 50 and 80 now has very fond memories of the kiddie shows at the Penn.” The Penn was located on North Mercer Street, where Huntington Bank’s drive-thru now is located. Though it was outlived by the Cinema, the Penn’s demise may have best captured the emotions of a town losing its longtime entertainment houses, one by one. “The day the wrecking ball hit the side of the Penn Theater a large crowd assembled to watch,” Oberleitner wrote at cinematreasures.0rg. “Repeatedly, the ball struck the wall with no obvious result. The crowd cheered each time until, after many tries, the ball finally broke through the wall of the venerable, old showplace and the crowd became silent, a tear in many eyes. “A part of their personal history was soon to be gone to make way for a bank drive-up kiosk.” (Tomorrow: Thumbnails of other former local theaters)

OTHER MEMORABLE THEATERS

Here are some other former local theaters that people alive today may remember visiting: •The Regent – Opened as the Park around the turn of the 20th century just off The Diamond, in the building adjacent to the one that now houses Subway. Originally a nickelodeon, it was remodeled around 1920 and rechristened the Regent. Jack Oberleitner called it “a simple yet comfortable theater … home to first-run B movies and double features from the likes of such studios as Monogram, Astor and Republic. It was ‘the’ place for serials, action and western films. Every John Wayne movie made showed their originally.’ The Regent, according to its New Castle News ad of Jan. 7, 1929, unveiled that night the first “talkie” ever shown in New Castle. The theater reported closed in 1955. •The Crescent –The theater at the corner of Liberty Street and Madison Avenue in Mahoningtown opened in 1915, according to cinematreasures.com. Following a spring 1940 fire, it was remodeled and given a streamlined, modern-style makeover. Oberleitner calls it “a pretty little theater; a real gem. Décor-wise, it was nicer than a lot of the other theaters in town. A classic feature was the illuminated glass block wall that separated the auditorium from the tiny lobby.” The last film at the Crescent was shown in 1959, although the New Castle Playhouse used it for a time in the 1960s. It was razed in 1975. •Super Castle and Skyline drive-ins – The Super Castle, with a reported capacity for 800 cars, was located about where Walmart is now in Union Township. Its screen was built to resemble a castle wall. It closed in the late 1970s. The smaller Skyline (400 cars) was located not much more than a stone’s throw west, just off 224 behind the Parkstown Restaurant and Motel. Richard Kalata recalled that when the Skyline opened, “in-car speakers had not arrived. As a result, they had giant speakers located around the lot … did the job, but drove the neighbors nuts.” Oberleitner noted that “the screen tower was on a direct sight line with the New Castle Airport a couple miles away.” The revolving searchlight at the airport “was a challenge while watching the movies — if you were actually watching the movies,” he said. Kalata noted that both drive-ins would have “dusk to dawn” shows that often went past sunrise before the final feature had ended. One Super Castle ad for such a show promised four features and three cartoons, followed by free coffee and doughnuts.

Audrey Przybylski
Audrey Przybylski on May 25, 2013 at 5:15 am

Movie Memories, Part 5: Once upon a time, the city was filled with nickelodeons Dan Irwin 05/24/2013 9:12 AM

At least three of New Castle’s earliest movie theaters were ravaged by fire. But if you were a patron in those days, smoke might not have been the only smell to send you running into the streets. A fog of perfume might have done the trick as well. During the first couple decades of the 20th century, the city’s movie theaters were more aptly termed “nickelodeons.” “People would come in, and the entire program would only last about 20 minutes,” explained Jack Oberleitner, a New Castle native and owner of Oberleitner & Associates, a cinema consulting firm. “So people would come in, pay a nickel – maybe on Saturday night it went up to a dime – and they would watch anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes of film. “Then management would do whatever they could to get the people out.” Why? So they could sell the seats again for the next show. “At the Cascade (the Mill Street theater that was the Warner Brothers’ first), they had Jack Warner, who was the youngest, go up front and start to sing – which he couldn’t do,” Oberleitner said. “In The Dome (on East Washington Street), the manager would start spraying perfume. At the Nixon (later the Victor, also in East Washington), they were renowned for telling the projectionist to start speeding up the film so people would get disgusted and walk out. Then they could sell more nickel tickets.”

EARLY SHOWS While longtime New Castle residents no doubt have pleasant memories of such former downtown theaters as the Penn, the Victor or the Vogue, few, if any, remain to recall the heyday of early 1900s movie houses like the Cascade, the Coliseum, the Opera House or the Dome. Enter Jack Oberleitner. Oberleitner’s been in the movie business since 1959, when he took his first job as an usher in the now-defunct Victor Theater, which his father managed. Though he’ll soon be retiring from his consulting firm, he’s joined the board of directors of a group attempting to recreate the Warner Brothers’ theater, even making a $100,000 donation to the effort. But it was that first job at the Victor that enabled Oberleitner to begin acquiring a wealth of knowledge about New Castle movie theaters that had come and gone before most of today’s residents were born. “A lot of the people who owned and managed the theaters were people that (my father) knew, so it was almost a social event whenever we would go to a movie,” Oberleitner said. “It was obligatory at that time that you always had to stop and talk with the manager, compare notes and ‘How’s business?’ and, of course, business was always lousy. You could have a full house and they’d still say it was lousy. “In the late ’50s, there were still a lot of old projectionists and stage hands that had been around in the glory days of the ’20s and ’30s. And I routinely used to go to them and pick their brains about what it was like to work at the Coliseum Theater, or the Opera House or the Capitol Theater, which were pretty big deals at one point.” Indeed, Oberleitner recalled, in the days before Internet, television and even radio, movies themselves were a sensation. “Almost every Saturday there was a parade of people that used to start at The Diamond and walk up one side of Washington Street and visit all the theaters, going up to the Vogue Theater looking at the pictures of the posters and such,” he said. “At any given time, there were probably a couple thousand people making the circuit.”

ORIGINAL SCREEN SCENE Given that the Cascade is part of the foundation of the Warner Brothers empire — and that efforts to restore it have been afloat for some time now — it undoubtedly is the most talked-about theater that none of those having the conversation ever saw. The Warners actually began showing movies in the back room of a funeral parlor further along East Washington Street. At various points it was called the Bijou and the Pioneer. When other nickelodeons began to open along East Washington Street, the Warners opened the Cascade Movie Palace on Mill Street in 1907, a few doors down from the funeral home. The theater lasted a few years before the Warners moved on to other interests. However, Oberleitner notes, New Castle did have other theaters operating at the same time, such as the Acme — which, ironically, was right next door to the Warner Brothers. Also nearby were the Coliseum, the Opera House and others. “The Acme was like a penny arcade that had a little room to show seven-, eight-, nine-minute long featurettes,” Oberleitner said. “The Coliseum was more or less across the street on Mill Street. It actually had a couple thousand seats. It was built like an indoor arena, thereby the name. “It was an open floor area that had bleacher-style seats. They put on a circus, they put on polo matches, vaudeville acts, they showed movies – anything they could get to draw in a crowd. At one point, they even flooded the place and had water polo.” One block west on South Mercer Street, the Opera House opened circa 1900 in a remodeled, second-floor public meeting room. A wooden structure, it eventually was damaged by fire, Oberleitner said, after which a full-fledged movie palace – The Capitol – opened on the same site in the early 1920s. It boasted between 1,200 and 1,500 seats, Oberleitner said, and presented a combination of films and vaudeville acts. The latter included an appearance by a then-relative unknown by the name of Bob Hope. “It was a really lavish theater, very pretty – sort of a smaller version of The Cathedral,” Oberleitner said of the Capitol, which like the Opera House, closed for good following a devastating blaze. “And an interesting bit of trivia,” Oberleitner notes, “was that the movie they were advertising as ‘coming next’ on their marquee was ‘Fireman Save My Child.’ ” Oberleitner believes that the Moravia (1903 to 1906) may have been New Castle’s first theater. “(It) was one of many makeshift nickelodeons that sprang up everywhere around the turn of the century,” he said. “As told to me by a pioneer projectionist, the Moravia Theatre was constructed out of sheet metal which made the building very vulnerable to both heat and cold. The auditorium consisted of a single crank projector and a screen of sorts on the opposite wall. “Barely more than a sideshow attraction, the projectionist would shuffle through a few travelogues or novelty reels, each lasting five to seven minutes.”

NAME CHANGES Some other early New Castle theaters eventually morphed into entities that some folks today may still remember. The Park, for instance, opened on East Washington Street near The Diamond around the turn of the 20th century, “a small, live theater with about 500 seats,” Oberleitner said. It was remodeled and renamed The Regent in the mid- to late 1920s, according to cinematreasures.org, and showed mostly “B westerns and pictures by companies like Republic and Monogram,” Oberleitner said. At the other end of East Washington was The Dome, built in 1907. It transformed multiple times, becoming the Paramount in the 1940s, the Vogue in the 1950s and the New Vogue in the 1960s. It was then closed for several years before it was remodeled and reopened in 1968 as The Cinema. Other early movie theaters about which little information exists include The Baltimore Strand, on Long Avenue; The Theatorium at 114 E. Washington; The Star at 120 E. Washington; and Dreamland, 15 S. Mill St. (Email: )

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on July 9, 2013 at 11:26 am

The Cascade Picture Palace should have it’s description changed to show 2 screens instead of one with a total seating capacity of 200. As noted above, the original Warner Brothers theatre had a nickelodeon side, with 100 seats, bare-bones decor and folding chairs. The “Gentry” side, also with 100 seats, cost a quarter and sported plush seats and a fancy decor for “more sophisticated patrons.” In addition to being the WB first theatre, one might speculate if this was not also the world’s first twin theatre.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on July 9, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Jack, whether the Cascade has a shot at having been the first twin theater or not depends on now early in 1907 it opened. The Twin Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, opened in February, 1907. It’s the earliest two-screen house I’ve come across so far, but there might have been earlier ones. As many early movie theaters were located in converted store buildings, and the larger of those were often divided by supporting columns, the idea of partitioning the space into two rooms could have occurred to a number of theater operators.

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on July 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Thanks Joe! The Cascade opened on February 2nd, 1907. So, the Cascade and Twin in Atlanta apparently share the “official” honors. It’s amazing how many wonderful tidbits of theatre history are out there.

Jack Oberleitner
Jack Oberleitner on July 9, 2013 at 3:40 pm

The Warnere Film Center / Cascade Picture Palace Theatre is now on Facebook and Twitter in addition to the website: www.warnerfilmcenter.org. Everyone is invited to check out and share these links with other cinema fans.

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on February 7, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Here is a question concerning the Warners. In 1907 Sam Warner was involved in the Grand Opera House when it first started showing movies. I do not wish to put too fine a point on the pencle of history, but that combined with the Warner’s Bijou Theatre in Youngstown about the same time should count for something considering the fact that the Warner brothers were heavily involved in Youngstown’s theatrical life.

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on March 12, 2015 at 5:37 am

If you will go yo the Youngstown page, you will find that there were movie theaters here as early as 1906, and as was stated earlier, the Warner brothers were involved in at least the first two to show movies, one of which was the Grand Opera House hardly a store front movie. they were also involved financially in at least three other downtown theaters before building the Warner Theater. Now I do not wish to come off as a snob, or throw cold water on the people of New Castle, but facts are facts … the Warner family was from Youngstown … the family owned businesses in Youngstown … and the brothers were deeply involved in Youngstown’s theater live long before they opened their little theater in New Castle.

wolfgirl500
wolfgirl500 on March 12, 2015 at 10:53 am

I went to the web site www.warnerfilmcenter.org and it has absolutely nothing to do with the Cascade Picture Palace or even movies.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 12, 2015 at 11:39 am

Looks like Warner Film Center let the domain name lapse and it has been taken over by a spam site.

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