Bala Theatre

157 Bala Avenue,
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

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Bala

Viewing: Photo | Street View

Opened as the Egyptian Theatre on September 15, 1926, in the Montgomery County suburb of Philadelphia. The movie palace was designed by Philadelphia architects Hoffman & Henon, and had 1,450 seats including a balcony. The theatre was opened as a Warner Brothers theatre. The facade has an Egyptian Revival theme which extends to the two side wings containing retail stores.

After a vestibule lobby is the main lobby. A set of grand stairs leads upstairs to the mezzanine promenade and restroom suites. Best viewed from the mezzanine is a mural of Cleopatra and her attendants. The mens suite has a furnished lounge. The balcony is no longer available to the public and is now partly used by the current projection booth. The original projection booth, no longer used, is above.

In 1955, A.M. Ellis Theatres took over the theatre from Stanley Warner, renamed it the Bala Theatre, and operated it into the 1980’s. In 1987, the Sotolidis family purchased the theatre to save it from closing. The Bala is featured in David Naylor’s 1987 book, the National Trust Guide ‘Great American Movie Theatres’. Photos during the run of “The Mask” (1994) show the exterior and auditorium and are on view at the website of HABS (Historic American Buildings Survey) of the Library of Congress. 1993 epics shown include “Gettysburg” and “Schindler’s List”.

In early November 1994, the Bala closed for triplexing, and reopened March 3, 1995 with “Boys on the Side”, “Billy Madison” and “Shallow Grave”. Architect Mitch Abromowitz of Fountainhead Associates in Lansdale designed the sensitive triplexing of the huge auditorium. Abromowitz was reported in an April 10, 1995 Philadelphia Inquirer article as stating that he had worked 30 years on theatre renovations including for owners who only inserted walls down the middle of their auditoriums despite the historic architecture. He was pleased that brothers Constance and Isaac Sotolidis, the Bala co-owners, were concerned about keeping the historic interior. Contractors viewed the sensitive triplexing as a loving rejuvenation of the theatre, and trusting the owners, were willing to accept deferred payment for their fees for the expensive undertaking.

The still very large middle auditorium with 427 seats has the stage constructed for vaudeville, the proscenium arch with its huge movie screen, organ lofts, and ornate front exits. Also on view in the middle auditorium is most of the gorgeous plaster Egyptian ceiling relief, including the four Egyptian figures. Part of the plaster ceiling extravaganza is depicted in a 1928 Voigt Company catalog. Two additional auditoriums created from the side seating have 192 seats each and screens that are 21 feet wide, 11 feet tall.

After the triplexing, the Bala was very well attended. Movies shown in the middle, main auditorium in 1995 included “Apollo 13” and “Casino”. The Bala has shown both mainstream and arthouse films, but since the 1995 triplexing has shown mainly arthouse films. Curtains (which in the side auditoriums are vertical) ceased to be used in 1996. In 1998, Clearview Cinemas began to operate the theatre under a lease, and movies shown that year by Clearview in the middle auditorium included “Life is Beautiful” and “Shakespeare in Love”. On June 29, 2000, AMC TV hosted a free screening of “Psycho” (1960) with Janet Leigh appearing in person. Many Woody Allen movies have been presented. First run movies, especially art films, have long been the primary fare at the Bala Theatre, though in recent years mainstream 3D movies have also been shown. In June 2013, Bow-Tie Cinema took over, but on August 9, 2013, Bow-Tie Cinemas relinquished this theatre and the only other Pennsylvania theatre that it and Clearview had operated, the Anthony Wayne Theatre, to Reel Cinemas, the company run by Greg Wax that operates the nearby Narberth Theatre.

Contributed by bryan, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 23 comments)

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on July 15, 2009 at 8:09 am

Vintage photo showing original marquee:
View link

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on August 17, 2011 at 7:39 am

This year, the Bala has 3D digital projection.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on November 26, 2011 at 5:54 pm

Now showcasing “Hugo” in 3D.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on October 3, 2012 at 7:57 pm

This week, a 2nd screen has been converted to digital projection.

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on July 20, 2013 at 7:20 pm

Yes, already revised in my Intro above, chain link, etc. Bow Tie!

atb
atb on August 17, 2013 at 6:08 pm

This theater — and the Anthony Wayne in Wayne — are NOT part of the Bow Tie Cinemas chain. They are now part of “Reel Cinemas.” Anyone know when or why this happened? Does anyone know anything about Reel Cinemas?

HowardBHaas
HowardBHaas on August 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm

I already amended my Intro above.

atb
atb on August 23, 2013 at 7:50 am

and who deleted my comment on this theater as well?

Reel Bala Theatre
Reel Bala Theatre on October 18, 2014 at 1:49 am

ATB, Reel Cinemas is a small regional chain, so not the corporate monolith that is Bowtie. I am not sure what the deal with Bowtie was because I started managing 7-8 months after that. It seems though that they realized fairly quickly that they didn’t want to stay around. However the theater is very pretty and so many elements of the “Egyptian Revival theme” are still here (anyone interested please stop in and ask for Karl, I manage most days of the week, I will happily give a tour). We are also trying to balance our projection setup where we have 35mm and digital. Trying to see if we can create some interesting 35mm repertory events, while still playing first-run features, like a horror film marathon we’re doing on October 31st, 2014 in conjunction with Exhumed Films. We hope to do more special events, hopefully on “celluloid”, since they will fit so well with the theater’s classic aesthetic.

markp
markp on October 18, 2014 at 8:02 am

I use to clean the screens for Cablevision when they had the theatre and until they felt that was a waste of money. This is a very beautiful theatre. The triplexing was done very nicely. I hope you can still do 35mm stuff. I, as a now former projectionist, after 38 years, love to see folks who still embrace film over digital.

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