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May 24, 2013

Movie Memories, Part 5: Once upon a time, the city was filled with nickelodeons

(Continued)

NEW CASTLE — ORIGINAL SCREEN SCENE

Given that the Cascade is part of the foundation of the Warner Brothers empire — and that efforts to restore it have been afloat for some time now — it undoubtedly is the most talked-about theater that none of those having the conversation ever saw.

The Warners actually began showing movies in the back room of a funeral parlor further along East Washington Street. At various points it was called the Bijou  and the Pioneer. When other nickelodeons began to open along East Washington Street, the Warners opened the Cascade Movie Palace on Mill Street in 1907, a few doors down from the funeral home. The theater lasted a few years before the Warners moved on to other interests.

However, Oberleitner notes, New Castle did have other theaters operating at the same time, such as the Acme — which, ironically, was right next door to the Warner Brothers. Also nearby were the Coliseum, the Opera House and others.

“The Acme was like a penny arcade that had a little room to show seven-, eight-, nine-minute long featurettes,” Oberleitner said. “The Coliseum was more or less across the street on Mill Street. It actually had a couple thousand seats. It was built like an indoor arena, thereby the name.

“It was an open floor area that had bleacher-style seats. They put on a circus, they put on polo matches, vaudeville acts, they showed movies – anything they could get to draw in a crowd. At one point, they even flooded the place and had water polo.”

One block west on South Mercer Street, the Opera House opened circa 1900 in a remodeled, second-floor public meeting room. A wooden structure, it eventually was damaged by fire, Oberleitner said, after which a full-fledged movie palace – The Capitol – opened on the same site in the early 1920s. It boasted between 1,200 and 1,500 seats, Oberleitner said, and presented a combination of films and vaudeville acts. The latter included an appearance by a then-relative unknown by the name of Bob Hope.

“It was a really lavish theater, very pretty – sort of a smaller version of The Cathedral,” Oberleitner said of the Capitol, which like the Opera House, closed for good following a devastating blaze.

“And an interesting bit of trivia,” Oberleitner notes, “was that the movie they were advertising as ‘coming next’ on their marquee was ‘Fireman Save My Child.’ ”

Oberleitner believes that the Moravia (1903 to 1906) may have been New Castle’s first theater.

“(It) was one of many makeshift nickelodeons that sprang up everywhere around the turn of the century,” he said. “As told to me by a pioneer projectionist, the Moravia Theatre was constructed out of sheet metal which made the building very vulnerable to both heat and cold. The auditorium consisted of a single crank projector and a screen of sorts on the opposite wall.

“Barely more than a sideshow attraction, the projectionist would shuffle through a few travelogues or novelty reels, each lasting five to seven minutes.”

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