Experiencing entertainment in the theater is an American pastime as popular as apple pie. In Pennsylvania, it's no different. After all, it is home to the oldest theatre in the nation! If you're looking to take in some talent, look no further. Here are the 10 best historic theaters in Pennsylvania.
In the heart of the City of Brotherly Love (or Shove...however you describe it), at the corner of Ninth and Walnut, stands the oldest theatre in America. Founded in 1809, the Walnut Street Theatre has been operating for over 200 hundred years. The theatre has welcomed many popular American entertainers throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Among them are the Marx Brothers, Marlon Brando, Audrey Hepburn, Jane Fonda, and many, many more. Today, patrons can see musicals like “Annie,” and “Mamma Mia!,” plays, and more.
Constructed in 1852 on the foundation of a pre-Revolutionary War jail, the Fulton Theatre is a Lancaster landmark. In fact, it's also a National Historic Landmark, too—and one of only eight in the nation, at that. Now, the Fulton Theatre is a professional theatre company that designs its plays with current audiences in mind.
Once a grist mill, the Hedgerow Theatre is now the oldest repertory theatre in America. The Hedgerow was founded in 1923 by director and actor Jasper Deeter. In little time, the theatre gained a reputation far and wide—one that has only continued to grow and blossom since.
From the enterprising mind of none other than the famous Milton S. Hershey came the Hershey Theatre. The theatre was built over the course of several years as part of Hershey's "Great Building Campaign" during the Great Depression. Boasting floors made of polished, gleaming Italian lava rock and a ceiling full of many different scenes, Hershey is undeniably unique. Today, visitors can see plays, musicals, dance performances, and movies.
Containing two distinct theatres, the Strand and the Capitol, the Appell Center is decidedly different. The Capitol Theatre opened in 1906, primarily as an opera house and dance hall. The Strand Theatre opened later, in 1925, for vaudeville performances and silent films. Patrons of the Appell Center today can avail of many different types of entertainment, from comedy to music, to films.
If the name Warner rings a bell, you're probably thinking of the Warner Bros. And in fact, the theatre bears their name for good reason. It was commissioned by the brothers in 1929 and opened to the public on April 10, 1931. Featuring an Art Deco-inspired interior décor, the Warner Theatre "was Erie’s first and has remained Erie’s only deluxe downtown picture palace," according to its website.
Opened on Halloween night in 1904, the Byham Theater has a particularly interesting history. It was originally named the Gayety Theater and was home to many vaudeville performances and acts. In the 1930s, the theater was renamed the Fulton and primarily showed films. Finally, it was bought by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and reopened in 1995 as the Byham Theater. Now, visitors can view films and performances.
The Majestic Theater opened its doors in the year 1925. The theater was designed by renowned Philadelphia architect W.H. Lee. In 2005, the theater was restored for a cool $16 million dollars. Now, in addition to its stage, the theater also features two movie screens.
Home to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra is the Heinz Hall for the Performing Arts. In a past life, the Heinz Hall was named Lowe's Penn Theater and was where many residents of Pittsburgh and the surrounding area gathered to watch movies. Then, it was referred to as the Temple of the Cinema. Today, however, it features hand-applied 24-karat gold leaf throughout its interior. If that's not an appropriate home for an entire orchestra, we can't think of one.
Featuring an intricate, painted ceiling, a grand chandelier, and balconies, the Lansdowne Theater is another wonderful building steeped in history. In the 80s, it was even added to the National Register of Historic Places. The Lansdowne Theater has primarily been used to show movies—but it has hosted performances, too. In recent years, both organizations and individuals have indicated an interest in purchasing and restoring the theater.