New Castle News

September 27, 2013

Photos, Story: Theater board will include a Warner

Mary Grzebieniak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — A Warner family member will serve on the advisory board for the project to restore the brothers’ first theater here.

Cass Warner, chief executive officer of Warner Sisters Inc., spoke Thursday at the Cascade Center at the Riverplex, where floor plans and fundraising efforts for the Warner Film Center were announced and a mural unveiled.

She is the granddaughter of Harry M. Warner and author of a 1993 family history “The Brothers Warner,” available as a book and a DVD.

Warner, who has been involved in the effort since 1993, said the project would not be alive had it not been for a 1994 call from Jerry Kern, Warner Film Center president, stating the roof had fallen in on the building.

She said she called Warner Brothers in Hollywood and got a $150,000 donation, which saved the building. An additional $100,000 donation from project manager and New Castle native Jack Oberleitner, his wife, Marian and business associate Keith Staffan also helped launch the project.

Now the restoration is on the brink of success with an opening of the partly restored theater planned for Feb. 2, the 107th anniversary of the original theater’s opening.

Kern said Thursday that how much of Phase I opens Feb. 2 depends on fundraising and whether it is enough to put up walls and seating for the first theater. The center will need two employees, he said. No decision has been made on whether admission will be charged, he added

The facility will be geared for tourists and will feature three theaters, a historical display and a gift shop.

Future phases of development are also in the works. Floor plans for the first level of the facility were displayed Thursday, along with the original building’s plans, designed by Eckles, an architecture and engineering firm that still operates downtown.

“We’re finally starting to see the light come back into this project and into New Castle,” David Esposito of Eckles said.

Also Thursday, local artist Ken Cole unveiled his mural depicting downtown New Castle in 1907. The work is painted onto the brick wall forming the front of the original Warner Brothers theater, now located just inside the atrium at the Riverplex at 18 S. Mill St.

Visitors will see it as they enter the historic theater’s restored box office.

Kern also announced the launch of a joint fundraising effort with the Scottish Rite Cathedral board of directors. It will begin with a Nov. 22 gala Hollywood party at the Cathedral, which will include dinner, dancing and screening of the classic Humphrey Bogart film “Casablanca.”

Tickets go on sale Nov. 1 and proceeds will benefit the Cathedral Foundation as well as the Warner Film Center.

Other events also are being planned, Kern said.

Rita Dorsch, development and outreach director for Warner Film Center, announced a separate effort to raise $23,128 — representing one dollar for each resident of the city as recorded in the 2011 census. The money will be solicited at

Dorsch hopes to attract donations from local residents as well as film aficionados worldwide. The project is listed under the website’s “film” category.

New Castle Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo was on hand for the event, along with some city council members, the three county commissioners, representatives of the Lawrence County Tourist Promotion Agency and members of the public.