54 days until the Theatre Historical Society of America visits the home of the world’s first Nickelodeon — Pittsburgh, PA — for 2014’s Conclave Theatre Tour.
Join us as one day we tour the heart of the Steel City, visiting Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts, the Benedum Center, the Byham Theater, the O’Reilly Theater, and the Harris. The next, we’ll stroll through the unique neighborhoods of Oakland, Dormont, Carnegie, Homestead, McKees Rocks, and East Liberty. Not to keep you tied to Pittsburgh proper, we’ll also stop in Zelienople, Erie, Grove City, Meadville, Vandergrift, Uniontown, Connellsville, and Scottdale.
Each day will take you to architecturally significant movie theatres, civic auditoriums, vaudeville houses, or Carnegie Libraries — it’s going to be a great tour, and we can’t wait to share it with you.
Find out more about one of our stops, the Strand Theater in Zelienople.
The Strand Theater was constructed and managed by Gioachino and Rosalia Sapienza in 1914. Gioachino and Rosalia were Italian immigrants seeking a new life and new opportunity in America and Zelienople. In order to blend in with their adopted community, they became known to friends and neighbors as Joseph and Rosalie. Joseph originally wanted to build a fruit market, but the local banker convinced him that the town really needed a theater. So two-thirds of the structure was dedicated to The Strand, and the remaining third was Sapienza’s Fruit Market. The Strand featured silent films with live piano accompaniment as well as Vaudeville-style shows on its small stage.
In 1939, The Strand underwent its first major renovation and the structure was dedicated entirely to the theater, albeit with a nearly exclusive focus on the motion picture medium. Joseph moved his fruit market across the street into what is now ‘The Silversmith Shoppe’ and a tax preparation office. But the ‘Sapienza’ name is still emblazoned across the top of the building’s facade.
The Strand thrived as a social center for Zelienople and Harmony for decades, providing a destination for families to escape the drudgery and routine of rural life and to meet and enjoy a night’s entertainment. But The Strand began to struggle when multiplex cinemas began dotting the suburban landscape. The theater became more of a drop-off point for parents to leave their kids for an afternoon matinee.
But with increased pressure from the onset of the Multi-Plex and VCR era, The Strand could no longer compete. One night in the early 1980’s, The Strand closed its doors.
The Strand Theater Initiative
The Strand Theater Initiative was created in 2001 as a non-profit corporation to save the venerable old theater from the wrecking ball, with the goal of reviving The Strand as a cultural, education and community outreach center. Through private and public financial support, The Initiative purchased The Strand in 2002 and completed an exterior renovation in January, 2005.
The Initiative raised $1.9 million toward its initial capital campaign and major renovations to the decayed theater were completed in July, 2009. With Phase 1 of the renovation is complete, and the theater has been in operation since that time, presenting a variety of live programs as well as golden and contemporary Hollywood classic films.
One hundred years later, two more phases of construction are planned on The Strand to create a state-of-the-art facility, capable of presenting full-scale, theatrical programs, with added parking and a multi-purpose center.
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Information submitted by The Strand Theater for the 2014 Conclave Theatre Tour. Images © Elliott Cramer.