1449 Potomac Avenue,
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The Hollywood Theater is the last of three theaters that once stood in the Pittsburgh suburb of Dormont, PA. The building was first constructed in 1925 and has undergone one major reconstruction and several remodelings. During the multitude of ownerships and operators, the theatres doors have been shut for a total of 17 years of its lifetime.
The Hollywood Theater first opened as a silent picture house in 1926 under the control of Edward James Murray, a founding member of the Hollywood Amusement Company. The building had two store fronts that housed several tenants over the years, among them a flower shop and a dry cleaners. In the basement was a bowling alley that some referred to as ‘Murray’s Bowling & Billiards’. The most impressive portion of the building, however, was its lavish Atmospheric style auditorium, with around 800 seats in orchestra and balcony. It had a courtyard interior, and stars in the ceiling. “Where the moon and the stars shine” was an appropriate tagline for the new theater, used greatly during its early years. The architect of the original building was Charles R. Geisler of Pittsburgh.
The Hollywood Theater was purchased by Warner Bros. Circuit Management Inc. on June 11, 1930. Operation continued until 1932 when doors were closed for remodelling and upgrade. Upon reopening November 2, 1934, the theater had received its first sound equipment and a new screen, among other remodelling and redecoration. On February 11, 1939, Warner Bros. transferred ownership to its subsidiary, Northeastern Theatres Inc.
The doors of the theater were again closed on April 19, 1948 for yet another remodelling and upgrade. This time, however, the interior of the theater was completely removed except for the superstructure. Architect Victor A. Rigaumont designed the reconstruction which removed the store fronts and bowling alley, expanded the seating of the auditorium to just over 1,000, and removed the Atmospheric style effects in favour of a more modern style. The front of the building remained, however the original cast-iron marquee was replaced with an impressively lit Warner Bros. themed marquee.
Warner Bros. again transferred the theater to a subsidiary in 1953;this time Stanley Warner Theatres. Doors remained open until another extensive remodelling in 1966, when around 800 new seats, fabric, wallpaper, and a wider screen were installed. A green and gold color scheme would now welcome theater goers.
In 1967, operation was transferred to RKO-Stanley Warner Theatres Inc., and after the merger of RKO Theatres Corp. and the Stanley Warner Theatres group by the parent-company Glen Alden Corp. the ‘WB’ from the theater’s marquee was reportedly removed at this time.
1973 would see yet another transfer of ownership of the building, this time to Cinemette Theatres Inc. They operated the theater until 1979, when they defaulted on a majority of their loans. Major creditor, Ernest Stern, purchased Cinemette Theatres and their assets at this time, adding them to his already extensive network of Pittsburgh theaters.
In the early-1980’s, Potomac Avenue was widened and the Borough of Dormont paid for the removal of the large Warner Bros. era marquee.
On April 18, 1987, Ernest Stern ceased operations at the theater. Stern had recently sold most of his theaters to Cinema World, but had retained a handful of theaters, among them the Hollywood Theater.
The doors opened again on June 1, 1990 under the management of Neighborhood Cinemas, Inc. who leased the building for a trial year. President David Bevilacqua previously renovated and reopened the Rex Theater, another Pittsburgh theater. Business was booming with over 2,000 people frequenting the theater per week. Not long after opening, the theater received a sound upgrade on September 13, 1990.
April 2, 1995 was the final day of operation under Neighborhood Cinemas, but doors were not closed for long. Rick Stern, son of the late Ernest Stern and now the building owner, reopened on June 1, 1995 under the control of his CineMagic name.
The doors were closed yet again on April 2, 1998, and the building was purchased by the Keystone Oaks School District and the Borough of Dormont at sheriff’s sale for extensive back-taxes.
On March 5, 2001, the building was purchased by a group under the name Hollywood Partners, LLC. However, the theater would not see its doors open again for quite some time.
March 30, 2007 finally saw the reopening of the Hollywood Theater after almost 10 years. The building, now operated by the Bradley Center of Mt. Lebanon, PA, undergoes a complete renovation. The lobby is made larger, and new paint, fabric and just under 300 gigantic reclining seats are installed. A digital projector that can play DVD’s is introduced alongside a 35mm projector. A little over a year later, on Monday May 26, 2008, the theater closed again.
The theater reopened on July 10, 2009 under Motion Picture Heritage Corporation, but closed again less than a year later on June 1, 2010.
A year later, the Friends of the Hollywood Theater opened the doors May 4, 2011, and has been consistently playing art house movies and hosting events ever since.
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