17.4.11

Theaters A Go Go….Photoplays, Porn Theaters, Rock, and Fine Arts Centers




Not so long ago, Liberty Avenue and the Arts District of downtown Pittsburgh looked very different. I remember coming to the city when I was 12, with my mother when she had to take a government exam for her job. We had to walk down Liberty to get the testing center. Liberty, in the 80's was a rough place full of porn theaters, adult book stores, and prostitutes and not a nice place to be! How the times have changed! Pittsburgh went through several renaissance periods and the late 80's and early 90's was one of those periods. The porn shops and theaters were shut down and renovated back to their former glory.

Prior to the age of prostitutes and peep shows, downtown once was home to a lot of great old theaters. The Benedum Center, or the Stanley Photoplay Theater was one of those great theaters, as well as the Harris, and the Byham (or the Gayity as it was known back then). I also have memories of childhood stories told by my Grandmother about how she used to take the street car, you know those things on cables that existed prior to the smoke belching, hulking PAT bus system went into place, to downtown to see movies at the Stanley Theater and would shop at all the numerous downtown department stores.

The first time I went to the Benedum, which was in my freshman year at college to see an opera, I was amazed at the gold guilded interior and the massive dome overhead, and also at the immense size of the place. What I didn't know was that this wonderful old theater was once a movie house, the very movie house that my Grandmother went to as a child to watch photoplays, as they were called back then!

Here is a brief history of the Benedum, and of how the downtown area has changed radically since the 80's.




A fully restored interior

The Stanly bosting airconditioning during its early days.
History

The Stanley Theatre, built at a cost of $3 million, opened as a deluxe movie palace February 27, 1928, and seats about 2,885 people (the original seating configuration was over 3,800). It was designed by the architectural firm Hoffman and Henon, who were most well known for their design and construction of 35 theaters in the Philadelphia area. The Stanley Theatre had the distinction of being the largest movie theater in Western Pennsylvania. Operated by the Stanley Warner Theater circuit division of Warner Brothers, it was Pittsburgh's main first run house for all Warner Brothers film releases.

In 1976, The Stanley was purchased and renovated by the Cinemette Corporation to be operated as a movie theater. In 1977, DiCesare Engler Productions bought the theater in order to present live rock and roll concerts through 1982.

As the Stanley Theater, it was named "Number One Auditorium in the U.S." by Billboard for several years when it was owned and operated by Pittsburgh based concert promoters |DiCesare-Engler Productions between 1977 and 1984

Restoration

On September 25, 1987, after a $43 million restoration was completed, the Stanley re-opened as the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. In converting the former movie palace into a full performing arts center, a new building including an extension to the stage and support facilities was built at the rear of the theater. The interior was largely preserved and restored to its original design, with the addition of a new acoustical baffle covering the original proscenium. The signature piece of the Benedum Center is the original main chandelier which weighs 4,700 pounds, is 20 feet high and 12 feet wide. It was restored in honor of the late H.J. Heinz II.

Today the Center is the home of the Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera who formerly were based at Heinz Hall, (the former Loew's Penn Theater) that had been restored by and is the current home of the Pittsburgh Symphony. The 3,800-seat Benedum Center is the crown jewel of the Cultural District and is one of the most utilized theaters in the nation today


 

The Cultural District Transformation in Pictures
Click on images to download full-size, print-quality versions.
For over 25 years, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has transformed one of the largest land masses "curated" by a nonprofit arts organization from a seedy red-light district into a vibrant Cultural District.
The 800 Block of Liberty Avenue: 1970s/1980s
460_Liberty_Avenue_Before.jpg 460_801-803 Liberty Ave BEFORE 2.jpg460_Liberty Ave Before XXX.JPG
The 800 Block of Liberty Avenue: Today
Today, the 800-block of Liberty Avenue is home to the offices of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Crazy Mocha Coffee Shop, Shaw Galleries, SPACE Gallery, Dozen Bake Shop, florist Fragile Paradise, and the


The Cultural District Transformation in Pictures (continued)
7th Street and Penn Avenue
7th & Penn Before.bmp
Before: Doc Johnson's House of Marital Aids and Love Potions,circa 1980s
7th & Penn Magnolias.jpg
After: A rotating public art park, curated by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, featuring installations by international artists. Photographed here: "Magnolias for Pittsburgh," two bronze trees created by Tony Tasset.
Agnes R. Katz Plaza
Katz Plaza BEFORE.jpg
Directly across the street, this former parking lot today is Agnes R. Katz Plaza, featuring one of the largest outdoor public art commissions by Louise Bourgeois.
Katz Plaza with people long view.JPG
Thumbnail image for Louise Bourgeois sculpture.jpg
937 Liberty Avenue
937 Liberty BEFORE.JPG
This Edwardian-style building once housed Turkish baths and adult bookstores. Today, it is the Cultural District home for the theater company, Bricolage, among other artists and performers.
Harris Theater.
460_Harris_Theater_AFTER.jpg
The Harris Theater...former Porn theater turned Art Film Theater
460_Liberty_Avenue_After.jpg

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the nice history of downtown Pittsburgh.

    ReplyDelete

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