It may only be February and the snow may still be on the ground here in Illinois but we’re thinking excitedly about the upcoming Conclave Theatre Tour to Pittsburgh, PA.
Home to the world’s first Nickelodeon, Pittsburgh 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 start with Oaks Theater in Oakmont, PA.
Oaks Theater | Oakmont, PA
310 Allegheny River Blvd. Oakmont, PA
ARCHITECT: Victor Rigaumont
CAPACITY: 700 (original) / 430 (current)
The Oaks Theater opened on November 18th, 1938. At the time, it was one of two movie theaters in Oakmont, PA. Both were owned by Steven Rodnenok. Rodnenok had moved to Oakmont some years before, and had taken over the Lehigh Theater, Oakmont’s first theater, from it’s owner. He was constantly making upgrades and changes to that theater, but could never reach the point where he was entirely happy with it.
Out of this frustration, the idea to build the Oaks was born. He wanted to build a theater from the ground up, so he could make it just the way that he had wanted, instead of having to retrofit an already operational theater, like the Lehigh. The Oaks was designed to be the most current, and up to date theater in the area, with one of it’s biggest features being that it had air conditioning. It was billed as a “truly modern theater.” The architect of the theater was Victor Rigaumont, who had designed several other theaters in the Pittsburgh area, which are no longer around. Material was purchased from local services, including bricks used for the building purchased from Kittanning Brick, in Kittanning, PA. The theater’s seating capacity was close to 700 at the time of the opening, and now seats 430.
The opening of the theater was a big event in Oakmont. There was a whole night of ceremonies planned for it’s opening, kicking off with a parade on the main street of town that the theater sits on. The opening night feature was a film called “Letter of Introduction” starring Adolphe Menjou. The Oaks became the popular entertainment spot in Oakmont, especially known for it’s children matinees.
The first major overhaul to the theater occurred in 1965, when Rodnenok updated the marquee to a then, current look. He also moved the ticket booth inside the lobby, from it’s original location of outside the entry way of the theater. The theater stayed in the Rodnenok family for many years, passing from father to son, until the family sold the theater to the Mohatra family in 1985, when it became a second run theater.
The Mohatra family owned the theater until 2002, when the current owners purchased it. They lived in the Oakmont area, and had gone to the theater as kids. When they heard that there was a chance that the theater could be turned into something else, they purchased it to keep the Oaks tradition alive. They renovated the lobby, and restored it to a closer approximation to what the lobby had originally looked like, along with some audio and visual upgrades, and other cosmetic tweaks. The theater is again a first run theater, showcasing new and current releases, as well as classics, cult classics, and retro audience favorites. It also does a ballet and opera series as well.
For 75 years, The Oaks Theater has been a mainstay of the Oakmont community. It holds a special place in the hearts of many, and is fondly remembered. At a time when so many small theaters are closing, and the ones that are opening are cold and impersonal experiences, The Oaks strives to keep the idea and experience of the neighborhood theater alive.
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 Oaks Theater for the 2014 Conclave Theatre Tour. Images © Oaks Theater.