Byham Theatre

101 6th Street,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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Fulton Mini/Fulton Theatre

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Originally built in 1903 as the Gayety Theatre, it opened on Halloween night, October 31, 1904 with Harry Houdini performing and a seating capacity for 2,000. It ran for many years as one of the country’s foremost stage and vaudeville houses, with appearances from such stars as Ethel Barrymore, Gertrude Lawrence and Helen Hayes.

The Gayety Theatre boasted pressed copper cheribs painted with a bronze patine, imitation gold leaf, stained glass windows, plaster columns and wainscot of scagolia, and Italian faux marble technique.

In the entry vestibule, note the original mosaic tile floor and the many bare light bulbs lining the ceiling, evidence of the advent of electrical lighting.

Backstage, the theatre was one of the remaining few to use sandbags and hemp ropes to work the scenery rigging until 1999 when a modern rigging system was installed.

In 1930 the theatre was renamed the Fulton Theatre and become a full time motion picture theatre with 1,800 seats. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust puchased the theatre in 1990 and following the first of four planned phases of renovation, the Fulton Theatre was reopened in May 1991. It was later renamed the Byham Theatre through a naming right from the Byham family following the second phase of renovation in 1995 when the theatre reopened.

The old lighted Fulton Theatre marquee has been restored by the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg and will be installed there as part of a theatre exhibit.

The second phase of rennovations brought new restrooms, box office, marquee, an elevator, lobby improvements and facade changes. In 1997, the Cherub Lobby was restored to its original splendor.

The third phase of renovation in 1999 updated the theatre rigging system, enlarged the orchestra pit and provided new HVAC for the entire building. Excavation under the stage and seating area will provide space for future dressing rooms.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust continues to address the needs of the Byham Theatre. These types of renovations are driven by the contributions of its attentive supporters, and with ongoing support the Cultural District will continue to improve and develop.

Contributed by Charles Van Bibber

Recent comments (view all 89 comments)

rivoli157 on November 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm

A question, for anyone. I know that the Roadshow engagements of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, WEST SIDE STORY, and FUNNY GIRL played downtown. But,can someone explain why the Roadshow engagements of STAR!, OLIVER!,THE LION IN WINTER and others played in Shadyside or Squirrel Hill?

edblank on November 14, 2011 at 6:59 am

The two main roadshow (reserved-seat) moviehouses were the second and final of the two theaters here known as the Nixon (“Oklahoma,” “Guys and Dolls,” “Around the World in 80 Days,” “West Side Story,” “The Sound of Music” and many others) and the Warner (“The Ten Commandments,” “Gigi,” “Ben-Hur,” “Hello, Dolly,” all of the Cinerama films).

Occasionally a roadshow opened elsewhere Downtown, as when “Cleopatra” went into the Penn or the Fulton nabbed “El Cid,” “The Longest Day,” “Lawrence of Arabia” (when its just-begun run at the Nixon was interrupted by a major fire)and “Funny Girl.”

By the 1960s, almost all first-run theaters in Pittsburgh were owned and operated by the Stern family’s Associated Theatres, whose holdings also included several art houses in the city’s East End neighborhoods.

Associated began booking major roadshows into such theaters as the Squirrel Hill (“My Fair Lady,” “Doctor Zhivago,” “Becket”), the nearby Manor in Squirrel Hill (“Star,” “Doctor Dolittle,” “Fiddler on the Roof”) and the King’s Court in Oakland (“A Man for All Seasons,” “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” and “Oliver”).

By diverting these normally prestige pictures into smaller theaters such as the art houses, Associated could keep its larger Downtown houses free for shorter-run commercial pictures that open big and flame out faster.

There was less to lose by playing fewer art pictures in the East End. Associated could be pickier about which art house hits played here while the aforementioned art houses were occupied for months at a stretch by roadshows.

They found that while audiences from the southern, western and northern sectors of Western Pennsylvania may not have frequented the art houses when art films played there, audiences from those sectors WOULD make the trek to the East End neighborhoods for “event films” such as “My Fair Lady” and “Doctor Zhivago.”

By the early 1960s, almost all Downtown Pittsburgh moviehouses

rivoli157 on November 17, 2011 at 8:57 am

Mr.Blank, Thank you very much for answering my question. I figured it was a business decision, which makes sense.
Mr. Blank, I must tell you I enjoyed reading your columns and reviews when I lived in Pgh, and thanks to the internet, I have been able to read all the ones I missed.
I moved from NY to Pgh in 1973 to attend Point Park. During that time I was also very fortunate to be under contract to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and to dance w/ CLO for many years.Needless to say ,I am familiar w/ Heinz Hall. My father, from Uniontown, knew it as The Loews Penn

I took advantage of the “bargain matinees” when ever I could and enjoyed my movie going in Pgh that way. I moved back to NY in 1978 returning only to work 2 more seasons at CLO, and then in a tour that played the Syria Mosque. I then returned for a visit in 1999, and got quite depressed at how much Pgh had changed and lost-especially the movie theatres.

Again Mr Blank, thank you for the info.

edblank on November 18, 2011 at 6:00 am

Thank you for your kind comments, Rivoli. As it happens, my high school graduation 50 years ago was in Loew’s Penn. Just finished staging my 50th reunion weekend, but not there. Sure spent a lot of hours at the Penn from about 1948 to 1964 (when it stopped being a moviehouse)watching MGM, United Artists and Paramount first-run films. I’ve read with interest your remarks on many Pittsburgh and Manhattan theaters.

WarnerChatham on April 2, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I did some fill-in work here, when I wasn’t working at the Warner or the Chatham. I remember seeing “Star Trek – The Motion Picture” here in 1979. I understand that movie was originally supposed to play at the Warner. However at the time Star Trek – TMP was released (December 7, 1979), the Warner was still doing good business with “Apocalypse Now” and they didn’t want to change features yet. The Warner ended up getting “The Black Hole” on December 21st for its 1979 Christmas release.

rivest266 on September 3, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Grand opening ad as Fulton from October 1st, 1930 can be found in the photo section.

rivest266 on September 3, 2014 at 5:08 pm

think small – fulton mini grand opening ad from march 25th, 1970 in the photo section.

JeffreyPepper on January 2, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Was the premiere of Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead held at this theater or the nearby Gateway? I attended the screening but fail to remember which venue it was in.

James Kastner
James Kastner on January 3, 2015 at 8:31 am

Jeffrey, Dawn of the Dead opened in April ‘78 at the Gateway Theatre.

James Kastner
James Kastner on January 3, 2015 at 8:39 am

Jeffrey, My mistake, that would be April 1979 for Dawn of the Dead at the Gateway

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