(New) Nixon Theatre

956 Liberty Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Unfavorite 7 people favorited this theater

Nixon Theatre sign

Viewing: Photo | Street View

This downtown theatre opened as the Victoria Theatre, probably designed as a legitimate theatre. In 1913, it was remodeled by architect John Eberson and continued as the Victoria Theatre until 1920. Then it became the Sam Shubert Theatre from about 1920 to around 1927, suggesting that it was almost certainly a legitimate theatre during these early decades.

It was the Loew’s Aldine Theatre from September 17, 1923, through 1934. The switch from Shubert to Loew’s strongly suggests a shift from legit to moviehouse. In 1939 it became known as Loew’s Senator Theatre, but sometime between then and 1950, the John P. Harris circuit purchased the theatre and modified the name to the (Harris) Senator Theatre. It played some second-run features, generally in double feature programs, but most often the Senator Theatre picked up ‘moveover’ movies directly after the completion of their first-run engagements at the nearby John P. Harris Theatre, the flagship of the Harris circuit.

To maintain the continuity/identity of major national touring companies in Pittsburgh, the Harris Senator Theatre changed its name to the (new) 1,760-seat Nixon Theatre in 1950. For the next quarter of a century, it functioned as the primary legitimate Pittsburgh theatre for touring shows beginning with “Oklahoma” September 4, 1950. Henry Fonda came in “Mr Roberts”. The dozens of other live productions included “Darkness at Noon” with Edward G. Robinson, “Bell, Book and Candle” with Rosalind Russell, “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” with Carol Channing, “Call Me Madam” with Elaine Stritch, and “Porgy and Bess” with William Warfield, Leontyne Price and Cab Calloway. Plus Bette Davis in “Two’s Company”, Julie Harris in “I Am a Camera”, Helen Hayes in “Mrs. McThing” and many others.

Though an occasional movie slipped in, the Nixon Theatre didn’t begin a recurring policy of roadshow films until “Guys and Dolls” opened in late-January 1956 and stayed for 10 weeks. From then onwards, theatre and roadshow movies opened in alternating waves. “Lawrence of Arabia” had played for just four days of its third week in 1962-3, when the Nixon Theatre suffered a fire. ‘Lawrence’ moved over to the Fulton Theatre a couple of weeks later to resume a reserved-seat engagement, but the momentum was lost, and it lasted just seven more weeks.

Stage plays continued to turn up at the Nixon Theatre, but more and more the balance of the theatre’s schedule was given over to movies. The theatre’s subscription base for plays, so often interrupted for long streches of movies, eroded over the years. By 1974-75, subscribers had become very wary of an extremely irregular play schedule, with promised productions being cancelled and name players backing out of tours. Business was terrible. The shows that came in were small and tacky.

The Nixon Theatre was closed in November 1975 and was leveled. It became a surface parking lot. One distinctive feature of the exterior in its later years had been a marquee that stretched over an alleyway adjacent to the theatre. The original entrance was a tall side of the building level with the auditorium with a simple, but fairly detailed Classic style facade; this was later replaced with a one-story small entrance with the above mentioned marquee.

Contributed by Ed Blank, David A. Litterer

Recent comments (view all 39 comments)

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 13, 2010 at 3:16 pm

So true,Bill on 2001.My favorite of all time.

James Kastner
James Kastner on February 1, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Ed, In my eyes you were the Master of the movie critics in Pittsburgh. You turned your reviews into an art that I learned from. You once did an article that told about every drive-in theatre that was in the Greater Pittsburgh area and what had replaced them. I unfortunately lost it when I moved from my family home on the North Side in the early 80’s. How wonderful it has been to rediscover you on this site and read your wonderful stories again!

edblank
edblank on February 2, 2011 at 9:31 am

Thank you very much, CT contributors. I appreciate the kind words.

Aside to Lost Pittsburgh: I don’t think I can lay my hands on the story about what occupies the former drive-in properties, but I do have an original of the most commented-up story I ever did: A 1983 roundup of what occupied at that time the sites of many dozens of former Pittsburgh area moviehouses.

As I recall, the indoor theaters story led to the followup on what happened to the drive-in properties.

I’ll send you a Xerox of the indoors story by postal mail if you email me at and give me your home address. I don’t think you should post it here. – Ed

atmos
atmos on June 17, 2011 at 12:42 am

John Eberson did some remodelling of this theatre around 1913.

Bruce Calvert
Bruce Calvert on September 5, 2011 at 9:42 pm

I have a theater program from the Loew’s Aldine for the week of March 9, 1925. They have a concert orchestra playing some music, and a couple of musical soloists. They are showing a newsreel, Felix the Cat in Felix Tries to Rest and the M-G-M feature The Great Divide.

James Kastner
James Kastner on September 6, 2011 at 9:09 am

Bruce,

Hold on to the Loew’s Aldine program. It is really rare.

rivoli157
rivoli157 on November 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm

never saw a film here , but I did see one of the last legit shows to play the theatre. It was a production of Sabrina Fair, around 1975 or 1976. The theatre was quite empty the night I saw the show. Was quite sad when they tore it down.If I recall correctly the space sat as a vacant lot for a long time

CSWalczak
CSWalczak on May 12, 2012 at 4:11 am

Here are two pictures of the the theater as the Aldine in 1935/1937:

View link

View link

Apparently the ALDINE vertical was removed in 1936 or thereabouts.

It is interesting that the building that is above and to the right of the theater’s marquee in both photos (essentially surrounding the theater’s entrance) is gone in the photo posted by lostmemory on October 29, 2005, and that a vertical sign reading NIXON was installed on the beveled face of the building across the street (to which was also attached the left end of the later alley-spanning marquee).

There are some photos posted within some earlier comments of the building that has the vertical NIXON sign on it indicating that that building was the theater, but the theater was really across the alley.

RSM3853
RSM3853 on December 28, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Ed Blank’s extensive and wonderful article, “What Happened to All the Old Theaters?” was in the Sunday, July 10, 1983 issue of The Pittsburgh Press. I still have the paper, although it is getting rather ragged 30 years later! But that is the date for those who have access to microfilms or if that day’s paper is available on Google News Archives.

rivest266
rivest266 on September 1, 2014 at 7:46 pm

1923, 1938 and 1950 grand opening ads in the photo section.

Article that RSM 3853 is talking about is at http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=aagcAAAAIBAJ&sjid=E2IEAAAAIBAJ&pg=7073%2C3502319

You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater