Home to the world’s first Nickelodeon, Pittsburgh, our destination for the 2014 Conclave Theatre our is chock-full of internationally renowned venues that we can’t wait to share with you for the first time EVER.
We’ll tour the heart of the Steel City, visiting Heinz Hall, Benedum Center, The Byham Theater, The O’Reilly Theater and The Harris Theater.
Then, we’ll stroll through the unique neighborhoods of Oakland, Dormont, Carnegie, Homestead, McKees Rocks, and East Liberty.
Once we’ve introduced you to the ‘burgh, we’ll show off the beautiful highlands of Pennsylvania with stops in Zelienople, Erie, Grove City, Meadville, Vandergrift, Uniontown, Connellsville, and Scottdale. In each town we’ll spotlight an architecturally significant movie theatre, civic auditorium, vaudeville house, or Carnegie Library, which feature elegant music halls built by American industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
It’s going to be a great tour, and we can’t wait to share it with you.
Each week, we’ll focus on a venue we’ll visit — today, we’re looking at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg, PA.
Palace Theatre | Greensburg, PA
21 West Otterman Street Greensburg, PA
ARCHITECT: Leon H. Lempert & Son
CAPACITY: 2,136 (original) / 1,369 (current)
The Palace Theatre opened on September 2, 1926, as the Manos Theatre, the crown jewel in a string of the Manos family’s vaudeville-movie houses in the region. Built at the then-extravagant sum of $750,000, the Manos was considered the area’s finest theatre. Westmoreland Cultural Trust is proud to say that it still is! From concerts and comedy, to theatre, dance, family entertainment, and more, The Palace welcomes more than 65,000 patrons at more than 200 shows and events each year.
Greensburg in the 1920s – as today – was Westmoreland County’s center of business and cultural activity and supported many theatres throughout the early 1900s. The biggest and most elegant of all was the Manos Theatre, constructed on the site of the smaller Rialto Theatre. Originally seating 2,136, the Manos Theatre provided the community with daily doses of vaudeville, silent motion pictures and road shows, accompanied by a magnificent Wurlitzer organ. A dome of red, blue, and green lights high in the theatre’s ceiling would blink and flash to the music, similar to effects seen in today’s roller rinks.
Only venues in larger cities could match the elegance of the Manos Theatre. Its French Renaissance design boasted a golden Grecian marble balustrade and trim, elegant Vermont marble staircase, brass railings, colorful murals, black and white checkerboard tile floors, wrought copper and iron hanging baskets for flowers, and a flowing fountain with live goldfish. Below the Manos Theatre was a bowling alley, billiard parlor, and a production facility which turned out newsreels of current events to play on the theatre’s movie screen before the show. The Manos was a spectacular place to visit, and quite the place to be for superb entertainment. Lines at the Box Office on show days would often extend up the block to Main Street.
In 1927 the film industry exploded with the Warner Bros. release of the world’s first synchronized-sound feature film, “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson. “Talking pictures” became the rage and in 1930 Warner Bros. Theatres, Inc. of New York bought the Theatre from Manos Enterprises, though the latter maintained a management role for decades to come. During that era the major film production companies owned hundreds of theatres to ensure that their films were seen throughout the country. The increasing popularity of motion pictures soon replaced vaudeville, and the industry experienced tremendous growth throughout the next decades. Scores of area natives still fondly remember spending Saturdays at the Manos, watching cartoons and movies for hours. Warner Bros. Theatres went through its own growth cycle, with a series of names changes and mergers over the years, evolving into RKO-Stanley Warner Theaters, Inc. by the early 1970s.
By 1973 film distribution had developed so significantly that theatre ownership was no necessary for the major motion picture companies to thrive. The Manos Theatre was sold to Cinemette Theatres, Inc. of Pittsburgh, PA. Suburban multiplex theatres, however, posed a threat and business at the Manos Theatre suffered. The theatre closed briefly as the company opened then-Cinemas IV at Westmoreland Mall, and Cinemette sold the Manos in 1977 to local businessman Carl V. Marinelli and his business partner Adelaide DelVitto. They changed its name to The Palace Theatre, and a year later, Mrs. DelVitto sold her interest in the theatre back to Mr. Marinelli.
These were challenging years for The Palace. Mr. Marinelli scheduled movies and live performances intermittently, and boasted such talent as the up-and-coming Gloria Estefan & The Miami Sound Machine, Ricky Nelson, Dr. Hook, and Mel Tillis. In the late 1980s Mr. Marinelli considered selling the theatre to an out-of-state businessman who wanted to raze it for future development on the site. Then-Mayor Dan Fajt and Greensburg City Councilmen John Finfrock and Emil Peterinelli met with Mr. Marinelli to suggest a deal that would save the Theatre. Before arrangements were made, Mr. Marinelli passed away. Mayor Fajt and City Council, with the assistance of the Greensburg Area Cultural Council and other community leaders, worked with Mr. Marinelli’s heirs to spare the Theatre from the wrecking ball.
City Council authorized the formation of the non-profit Greensburg Garden and Civic Center Inc. to complete the sale of the Theatre in 1990. The organization was renamed The Westmoreland Trust in 1992, then Westmoreland Cultural Trust in 2005. Its task was to turn The Palace Theatre into a self-supporting performing arts center. Westmoreland Cultural Trust also manages the Greensburg Garden and Civic Center, restored and manages the historic Train Station at Greensburg, and has developed the Stark block and Union Trust buildings in downtown Greensburg. These initiatives improve the quality of living in the Westmoreland County region.
Westmoreland Cultural Trust spearheaded more than $18 million in Palace renovations since 1990, including lighting and sound systems (with an infra-red hearing-assist system), carpeting, air-conditioning, Loge and Balcony seating, restoring two murals, creating a courtyard, installing replicas of the theatre’s original opera boxes, construction of Megan’s Suite, restoration of the dressing room wing and reupholstering the orchestra level seats. With the restored opera boxes, The Palace Theatre can accommodate up to 1,369 patrons.
Renowned conservator Christine Daulton restored two of The Palace Theatre’s three original murals based on French fairy tales and painted by artist Louis Grell from United Studios in Chicago. Murals along each side of the Loge were covered for years with tapestry and furring strips that severely marred the paintings. The third mural is under a coat of paint spanning the area above the stage’s proscenium arch. It has not yet been determined if this top layer of paint can be removed without damaging the original painting so that a new generation can view the long-hidden masterpiece underneath. The murals were included in a show of Louis Grell’s works at The University of Nebraska – Omaha, January 17 through February 20, 2014.
Much of the original Manos Theatre remains intact. The golden marble ticket booth with its unique wheel of overhead lights at the theatre’s entrance is still used before performances. Keen eyes notice the pink, yellow and blue flowers on the lobby chandelier. Black and white floor tiles continue to grace the outer lobby and mezzanine. Movie projectors from the 1920s are displayed in the mezzanine area, which features a Spanish-inspired goldfish pond with a mosaic tile design and carvings. Through the generosity of the late Paul Jennings, the mezzanine features photos of projectionists from long ago and framed charters from the local IATSE union dating to 1911 and 1913.
Renovations in 2010-11 include a new stage rigging system, lighting console, refurbished orchestra level seats, main grand drape, and complete restoration of the 10 dressing rooms with new carpeting, counters, mirrors, makeup lighting, and dropped ceiling. In August 2011, new carpeting was installed on the Theatre’s orchestra level, lobby and Megan’s Suite, and a new sound system installed.
Westmoreland Cultural Trust has not finished its renovation efforts; a future phase will repaint the Theatre’s interior and include further cosmetic improvements. There is much yet to do, but we have come a long way. Westmoreland Cultural Trust will continue development of The Palace Theatre, both as a structure and an institution, so that it may serve future generations.
Note: The member-only, early bird online discount registration period ends on March 15th — make sure to register before then to save $20 on your registration!
Information submitted by the Palace Theatre for the 2014 Conclave Theatre Tour. Images © Palace Theatre.