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January 9, 2013

Courtney Caughey-Stambul: A look back at Nickelodeon theatres  

NEW CASTLE — The first exhibition spaces created solely for screening films were known as Nickelodeon theatres.

From 1905 until around 1915, these small storefronts converted into theaters, charged five cents to see a film. Hence the "nickel" in Nickelodeon.

What's most interesting for us locally is that one of the first true Nickelodeon theatres was located on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh or, at the time, Pittsburg.

Why Pittsburg and not Pittsburgh? To read an explanation, CLICK HERE.

According to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Nickelodeon was opened in 1905 by Harry Davis and John P. Harris.

It was open from 8 a.m. until midnight and welcomed around 7,000 spectators a day. There were no scheduled showtimes, customers would just line up, wait for the current show to end, and then enter the seating space as the previous spectators were escorted out.

Using the figure of 7,000 customers, that means the theater made approximately $350 a day. I'm sure that was an impressive figure for the early 1900s.

Seeing the success of the Nickelodeon on Smithfield Street, others naturally decided to open their own small theaters, which led to Nickelodeons on every corner in the city. Their great success, in some ways, led to their disappearance. More and more people were attending the theaters, which necessitated bigger spaces. Small storefront Nickelodeons closed and large movie theaters, similar to what we are familiar with today, opened.

To read more about Nickelodeon theatres, CLICK HERE.


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