NEW CASTLE —
Originally The Nixon when it opened in 1918, the Victor – located next to the former Lawrence Savings & Trust Building on the north side of East Washington Street, between Mill and East streets – had no restrooms.
That, Jack Oberleitner noted, was common in early 20th century nickelodeons, since programs generally lasted on about 30 minutes. Oberleitner owns a cinema consulting firm, Oberleitner & Associates, but his first job was as an usher at The Victor, which his father managed.
The Dome – which opened in 1907 and ended up as The Cinema after incarnations as the Paramount, the Vogue and the New Vogue – also lacked comfort facilities, Oberleitner said.
“That became a problem by the late 1920s and ’30s, when movies had become more like the full-length features we know today,” Oberleitner explained. “Now they needed restrooms. But these places were originally converted storerooms and they really didn’t have a place for restrooms. So both the Dome and the Victor put the restrooms in the same place: behind the screen. That was the only open space.”
Signs on either side of the screen were revised to say “Exit/Men” or “Exit/Women” to point out the restrooms – which wasn’t always a good thing.
“Routinely, some lady would be walking down the aisle and kids would start chanting, ‘We know where you’re going,’ ” Oberleitner said.
“Eventually, they renovated the Dome, but the Victor was like that until the day it closed. So when the Penn Theater came along in the late ’20s and had restrooms in the lobby, and they were more than makeshift, that was a big deal.”
Oberleitner said that the Victor never had a concession stand, either, until the 1950s. Its auditorium had the shape of a “squared off pork chop,” he added, with one section of seats having 10 to 12 more rows than the other.
The Victor closed in 1951 for seven years before reopening with a concession stand and double- and triple-features of second-run films.
“You could go there to see three science fiction pictures or three westerns for 50 cents for adults and a quarter for kids,” Oberleitner said. “It had the cheapest popcorn in town, a dime. Everybody else’s was 15 cents.”
David Victor – who had purchased the Nixon and renamed it for himself – ran the theater from about 1930 to 1947. During that time, he also was running movies at the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
When the Victor finally went dark in the early 1960s, downtown New Castle suddenly was a little less bright as well.
“It had a three-sided marquee with hundreds of tiny bulbs,” Oberleitner recalled. “It was a beautiful nighttime feature on New Castle’s main shopping street.”
(Tomorrow: Get your tickets for a visit to the State Theater)