New Castle News

June 12, 2013

Lease signed for Warner theater reconstruction

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Warner Film Center and Refresh Dental have signed a 20-year lease with options to renew.

The agreement clears the way for the non-profit Warner organization to locate in 3,000 square feet of the building at the Cascade Center at the Riverplex and begin Phase I of the recreation of the Warners’ first permanent theater.

Participating in the signing from Warner Film Center were Jerry Kern, president; John Meyers, vice president; William Zeiger, secretary; Audrey Przybylski, historian; William Brown trustee treasurer; and John L. “Jack” Oberleitner, trustee development.

Representing Refresh Dental were Dr. Andrew Matta, Dr. Chad Wise and Keith Simmerer, leasing manager.

Phase I will involve re-establishing two small theaters and creating a third on the ground floor of the building where Harry, Sam and Albert Warner opened their first permanent theater.

The brothers, whose family lived in Youngstown, obtained a copy of “The Great Train Robbery,” a 1903 western silent film, and a projector. They traveled, showing the film at state fairs and store fronts through small towns in Ohio and Pennsylvania before settling on New Castle, where it is said they made the most money.

The organization believes the Warners opened for business Feb. 2, 1907. They offered two theaters at 11 and 15 S. Mill St.

At the Nickelodeon, patrons paid five cents and watched the 12-minute movie while seated on hard, wooden chairs in bare-bones surroundings, Oberleitner said.

“Next door was the ‘gentry side,’ with carpeting, plush seats and a chandelier,” he continued. “There, patrons paid 25 cents to see the same movie.”

Oberleitner said both theaters will be recreated and show “The Great Train Robbery,” recognized as a milestone in film making.

In a third theater, patrons will see life in the early 1900s, learning the history of New Castle, the history of film making and the history of the Warner brothers as they evolved into the Warner Bros. film icons.

Phase I, which is expected to cost $115,000 to $250,000, also will include early movie house apparatus, movie posters and other period pieces donated to the organization.

Phase II, now in planning and discussion, will offer a larger display area, more old-time movie apparatus and possibly interactive exhibits.

Patrons would be photographed in front of a green screen, Oberleitner said. The finished photo would show them with Bugs Bunny, W.C. Fields or as a character in any one of a dozen early Warner Bros. productions.

“We anticipate opening soon,” Kern said. Ideally, he added, he would like to see a Feb. 2, 2014, opening, marking the 107th anniversary of the Warners’ opening.

(Email: nlowry@ncnewsonline.com)