Drake Theatre – Oil City, PA

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A look at Oil City PA's Drake Theatre from the Balcony

View of the Auditorium from the balcony.

The Drake Theatre in Oil City, Pennsylvania opened on August 27, 1928, as the Colonel Drake Theatre. The date was chosen because it was the sixty-ninth anniversary of the completion of the first oil well drilled by Col. Edwin L. Drake, the first man to drill oil in the United States, and the theater’s namesake. The Vemark Corporation formed the Drake Theatre Realty Company (DTRC) to finance the construction, and $500,000 in bonds were sold, which was around half of the building’s appraised value. On January 7, 1928, DTRC invited the public to view the laying of the Drake’s cornerstone.

The ceiling of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA

Much of the interior décor items, including the glass from the light in the center of the ceiling, were donated to local museums.

The 2,000-seat theater and 50,000 sq. ft office building was designed by architect William H. Lee, who is known for designing many theaters in eastern Pennsylvania. It was designed in the Art Deco style, and there are two murals depicting the petroleum industry on the auditorium walls. Music was important at the Drake; the Colonial Drake Symphony Orchestra, led by William Lantz, alternated performances with the Wurlitzer Co. Opus 1870 organ. Clark Piers, an organist from Scranton, PA, was hired as the theater’s organist.

The view of the Drake Theatre auditorium from the stage.

The view from the stage reveals how much water damage there is in the auditorium.

Many businesses took out ads in the Oil City Derrick, the local newspaper, to congratulate the theater on its grand opening. The theater’s motto “Always a Good Show” appeared in early advertisements. The opening day celebration began with a street parade headed by a marching band. Many of the theater’s new ushers marched in the parade wearing their green and gold uniforms. Dr. Thomas Farmer, an Oil City businessman, gave the opening address, followed by George H. Torrey of the Oil City Historical Society, who told the history of the oil industry in the United States.

The proscenium arch of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA was damaged due to a leak in the roof.

A closer look at the water-damaged proscenium arch.

In the 1950s, one of the lobby staircases was removed so that a concessions stand could be installed. Due to competition from a local multiplex, the Drake closed in July 1986 after a showing of the film “Club Paradise” starring Robin Williams and Peter O’Toole. The Oil City Playhouse briefly reopened the theater in the mid-1990s as a performing arts center, but it closed again after a year. The building was put up for judicial tax sale in 1995 due to $221,000 in back taxes. It was purchased for $70,500 by Bruce Taylor, who owned Penn Aire Aviation, Inc. Taylor outbid a group that intended on restoring and reopening the Drake.

A mural on the auditorium wall of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA

One of the two murals depicting the petroleum industry on the auditorium walls.

Penn Aire sold the building to Webco, a local manufacturing company, in early 2018. Webco intends to demolish the auditorium and build a facility to house manufacturing equipment. However, the lobby, façade, and office building will remain. Ellen Gierlach, president of Penn Aire, removed two murals, exit signs, light fixtures, and more before the sale. Gierlach has donated many of them to museums and historical societies, including the Drake Well Museum and the Theatre Historical Society of America.

The lobby of the Drake Theatre in Oil City, PA.

The concession stand in the lobby was added in the 1950s and replaced one of the staircases to the balcony.

The auditorium of the Drake Theatre in Oil City from the orchestra level.

Logan Theatre – Philadelphia, PA

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Logan Theatre in Philadelphia, PA opened on January 24, 1924. It was built by the Stanley Company of America for $1.1 million, or $15.5 million when adjusted for inflation. The 1894-seat theater was designed by the architectural firm of Hoffman and Henon, who also designed the now mostly demolished Boyd Theatre in downtown Philadelphia. Designed in the Adamesque style, the plasterwork in the auditorium featured mythological creatures, and there was a fresco of a sailing ship in the lobby. The building also had a large ballroom on the second floor, known as the “Waltz Studio.”

View of the auditorium from the stage.

Originally a silent film theater, the opening day celebration included a showing of
“The Common Law,” starring Corinne Griffith and Conway Tearle. The film was accompanied by music from the Kimball organ, and the house orchestra, which was known as “The Loganians.” Then-mayor of Philadelpha W. Freeland Kendrick and Jules E. Mastbaum, the president of the Stanley Company, spoke at the the opening. Like most of its contemporaries, the Logan eventually switched over from silent films to “talkies,” or motion pictures with sound.

The former “Waltz Ballroom” space.

The Logan was closed in 1972, and in May of 1973 the building was sold by RKO Stanley Warner for $350,000 to the Deliverance Evangelist Church (DEC), one of the largest congregations in the area at the time. DEC made some alterations to the theater, including adding a closed circuit television system, as the theater was often filled to capacity. This allowed people to watch the three-hour-long services from the former Waltz Studio ballroom. DEC moved out of the Logan in 1992, and the theater was abandoned. Soon after, the roof began to leak, causing major water damage.

The lobby of the Logan Theatre.

Dr. Owen Williamson purchased the Logan in 2005, and began to restore it as a memorial to his late wife, Claretilda. Since purchasing the building he has repaired the roof, repainted the interior and updated some of the wiring. Dr. Williamson plans to reopen the theater as a live music venue with a restaurant named “Claretildaville,” However, the building remains closed to this day.

The Logan has a relatively plain interior when compared to other theaters built around the same time.

During the years the Logan was a church a baptismal font was on the stage.

When the theater opened, afternoon matinees cost fifteen cents, evening shows a quarter or thirty cents.

Gold spray paint was used to repaint the gold in the auditorium.

View from the center of the balcony.

Snapshot: Metropolitan Opera House

Post 2 in the Snapshot Series  – Occasionally in my travels I come across a theater that I can’t find a lot of information on, or that I only have a chance to photograph for an hour or two. They’re still beautiful and fascinating, so they definitely have a place on After the Final Curtain.

View of the auditorium from the side of the upper balcony.

View of the auditorium from the side of the upper balcony.

Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Opera House opened on November 17, 1908 as the Philadelphia Opera House. The 3,482 seat theater was built by architect William H. McElfatrick for Oscar Hammerstein, the grandfather of Oscar Hammerstein II, the famous musical theater lyricist. However, Hammerstein fell into debt and was forced to sell the opera house to one of his competitors, the Metropolitan Opera of New York City, after only two years.

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Q&A with Howard B. Haas, President of Friends of the Boyd

The Boyd Theatre's proscenium arch.

After photographing the Boyd Theater I learned a little bit about the Friends of the Boyd.  I had a lot of questions, and luckily the group’s president and chairman Howard B. Haas was available to answer them.  Below are his responses to several questions about the history of the Friends, his own personal experiences with the theater and some of his hopes for the future.

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The Boyd Theatre

The Boyd is one of the 22 theaters in my new book “After the Final Curtain: The Fall of the American Movie Theater.” Find out more here.

View of the auditorium from the side of the balcony.

The Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania‘s only art deco movie palace, opened on Christmas Day in 1928. Located in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood, the 2,450 seat theater was commissioned by Alexander Boyd and built by Hoffman-Henon, a Philadelphia architecture firm also known for the construction of the nearby Prince Music Theatre. One of the companies commissioned for the Boyd’s interior decoration was the Rambusch Company, who later decorated the Loew’s Kings Theatre.

View of the lobby from the main level.

Unlike many theaters built in the 1920’s, the Boyd was originally intended to be a movie theater and, although there were backstage dressing rooms, did not feature vaudeville shows. According to the opening day brochure the Boyd was dedicated to women’s progress throughout history.  This appreciation for women is referenced throughout the theater, especially in several murals, one of which shows an Amazonian queen fighting African and Asian armies.

The proscenium arch.

Alexander Boyd sold the theater to the Stanley Warner company, which ran many of downtown Philadelphia’s theaters, after the construction was completed.  Shortly after the Boyd changed hands a Kimball theater organ was installed. It remained in the theater until 1969, when it was removed it was the last theater organ in a downtown Philadelphia theater. Various movie premieres were held at the theater over the years, including “Rocky III,” and “Philadelphia.” At the premiere of “Philadelphia” actor Tom Hanks is said to have remarked “Oh, a real movie theater!” when entering the Boyd.

View of the auditorium from the side of the orchestra level.

After being sold in 1971, the Boyd was renamed the SamEric by it’s new owners, the Sameric Corporation. They renovated the theater and eventually added three additional auditoriums next to the original, which was renamed again as SamEric 4. The theater closed and was slated for demolition in 2002 before a group of concerned citizens formed the “Committee to Save the SamEric” (which later became “Friends of the Boyd”) to save the theater from demolition. In the following ten years several attempts were made to restore the theater, without success.

In 2013, Florida theater chain iPic agreed to lease the building from developer Neal Rodin. iPic planned to restore the facade, and gut the interior of the theater to build an eight screen theater as well as a restaurant. Since the Boyd was listed on the National Register of Historic Places the Philadelphia Historical Commission met to vote to approve iPic’s plans. On March 14, 2014, after hearing the opinions of many Philadelphians for and against the demolition, the Commission voted to approve the plans. However, iPic’s plans fell through and in December 2014 Pearl Properties bought the property for $4.5 million. Pearl began demolition of the auditorium on March 14, 2015.  Tatel, a Spanish restaurant, is opening in the former lobby and foyer of the Boyd.  The Harper, a 27 story apartment tower, was built in place of the demolished auditorium. The Friends of the Boyd saved a number of artifacts from the Boyd before it was demolished, and have donated them to other theaters, including the Lansdowne Theatre in Lansdowne, PA.

The auditorium ceiling.

Q & A with Paul Fagley, President of the Friends of the Embassy Theatre

View of the Embassy Theatre from the balcony

I recently spoke with Paul Fagley, the president of the Friends of the Embassy Theatre, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to reviving the theater.

Who are the Friends of The Embassy Theatre?

The Friends of the Embassy Theatre, Inc. is a 501c3 non-profit group dedicated to restoring and operating the historic Embassy Theatre. Continue reading