New Castle News

Local News

May 24, 2013

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

NEW CASTLE — At least three of New Castle’s earliest movie theaters were ravaged by fire.

But if you were a patron in those days, smoke might not have been the only smell to send you running into the streets. A fog of perfume might have done the trick as well.

During the first couple decades of the 20th century, the city’s movie theaters were more aptly termed “nickelodeons.”

“People would come in, and the entire program would only last about 20 minutes,” explained Jack Oberleitner, a New Castle native and owner of Oberleitner & Associates, a cinema consulting firm. “So people would come in, pay a nickel – maybe on Saturday night it went up to a dime – and they would watch anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes of film.

“Then management would do whatever they could to get the people out.”

Why? So they could sell the seats again for the next show.

“At the Cascade (the Mill Street theater that was the Warner Brothers’ first), they had Jack Warner, who was the youngest, go up front and start to sing – which he couldn’t do,” Oberleitner said.

“In The Dome (on East Washington Street), the manager would start spraying perfume. At the Nixon (later the Victor, also in East Washington), they were renowned for telling the projectionist to start speeding up the film so people would get disgusted and walk out. Then they could sell more nickel tickets.”

EARLY SHOWS

While longtime New Castle residents no doubt have pleasant memories of such former downtown theaters as the Penn, the Victor or the Vogue, few, if any, remain to recall the heyday of early 1900s movie houses like the Cascade, the Coliseum, the Opera House or the Dome.

Enter Jack Oberleitner.

Oberleitner’s been in the movie business since 1959, when he took his first job as an usher in the now-defunct Victor Theater, which his father managed. Though he’ll soon be retiring from his consulting firm, he’s joined the board of directors of a group attempting to recreate the Warner Brothers’ theater, even making a $100,000 donation to the effort.

But it was that first job at the Victor that enabled Oberleitner to begin acquiring a wealth of knowledge about New Castle movie theaters that had come and gone before most of today’s residents were born.

“A lot of the people who owned and managed the theaters were people that (my father) knew, so it was almost a social event whenever we would go to a movie,” Oberleitner said. “It was obligatory at that time that you always had to stop and talk with the manager, compare notes and ‘How’s business?’ and, of course, business was always lousy. You could have a full house and they’d still say it was lousy.

“In the late ’50s, there were still a lot of old projectionists and stage hands that had been around in the glory days of the ’20s and ’30s. And I routinely used to go to them and pick their brains about what it was like to work at the Coliseum Theater, or the Opera House or the Capitol Theater, which were pretty big deals at one point.”

Indeed, Oberleitner recalled, in the days before Internet, television and even radio, movies themselves were a sensation.

“Almost every Saturday there was a parade of people that used to start at The Diamond and walk up one side of Washington Street and visit all the theaters, going up to the Vogue Theater looking at the pictures of the posters and such,” he said. “At any given time, there were probably a couple thousand people making the circuit.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • HIShands.jpg Local youths team up with His Hands Ministries to do home repair for those who can’t afford it

    Area youth from various Lawrence County churches started lending a helping hand Wednesday to residents in need. The annual Lawrence County Youth Ministries service event brings together students and adults for three days of volunteering. It is part of His Hands Ministries, an initiative involving local churches and volunteers who split into work groups to perform  home improvement tasks for elderly and low-income homeowners in the community.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Blight.jpg Funds would target Lower East Side demolition

    The Lawrence County planning department and New Castle officials are partnering to wipe out neighborhood blight. They plan to start with the city’s Lower East Side.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • movietheater.jpg Overcoming addiction theme of movie

    The movie, “Anonymous People” will be shown at 7:30 p.m. July 30 at Westgate Cinemas.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • BalloonQuest.jpg Balloon Quest ready to soar again this weekend

    The Western Pennsylvania Balloon Quest will mark its 25th anniversary this weekend at Union Township’s Scotland Meadows Park.

     

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boatlaunch.jpg County pursuing funds for more boat launches

    Lawrence County planners are pursuing funds to complete more boat launches. At their meeting last week, the county commissioners agreed to apply for $74,000 from the Commonwealth Finance Authority, through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, for the matching funds.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Road.jpg FirstEnergy announces transmission line project

    FirstEnergy Corp. has announced plans to replace 9.6 miles of overhead electrical transmission line in Lawrence and Mahoning counties.

     

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • gavel.jpg County seeks safety money for courthouse

    The Lawrence County commissioners are applying for a grant to help enhance safety at the government center.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Commissioners to meet in New Wilmington

    The Lawrence County commissioners have changed the time and place of their Aug. 29 meeting.

    July 22, 2014

  • money.jpg Treasurer reports tax collection amounts

    The Lawrence County treasurer’s office reported that it has collected $19,606,313 in 2014 county property taxes to date.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jasmine.tiff Dog Park dedication memorializes Jasmine

    The memory of Jasmine remains ever-present at the Shenango Senior Care in New Wilmington. Jasmine wasn’t a resident, nor was she a member of the staff, but the Black Labrador Retriever was a beloved regular at the facility.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo