Colonial Theatre (Phoenixville, Pennsylvania)
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The Colonial Theatre is located in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania at 227 Bridge Street. Built in 1903, the "Colonial Opera House" became a preeminent venue for movies, traveling shows, and live entertainment throughout the 20th century.
Originating as a Beaux-Arts style renovation by architect, Harry Brownback in 1903, the Colonial Theatre was first home to traveling vaudeville acts, live stage shows and musicals. The first stage show, "The Beauty Doctor", debuted in 1903 starring, Fred E. Wright. In 1915, Mary Pickford visited the theatre and Harry Houdini held a performance, freeing himself from a safe in 1917. Silent films, usually accompanied by a live piano, were shown at the theatre from 1903 until 1928, when The Jazz Singer, the first "talkie" debuted.
The building changed ownership many times over the following decades, but its use, serving as both a movie house and live show venue remained throughout.
In 1917, a Wurlitzer organ was installed and used mostly for recitals before news reels. A restored 1929 Kimball pipe organ was installed in the theatre in 1975. Famous organist, Larry Ferrari, once played the organ, calling it a "magnificent instrument." In 2005, it was sold to the Chicago Historical Society and replaced with a Wurlitzer (Opus 585) pipe organ, which was originally installed in Shea's Hippodrome Theatre in Buffalo, New York in 1922. After years of restoration work by The Theatre Organ Society of the Delaware Valley, the first concert with the refurbished organ was held at The Colonial on September 15, 2012.
The classic science fiction movie, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen, was filmed in Phoenixville, Downingtown, Chester Springs, and Royersford in 1958. The Colonial Theatre was featured in a pivotal scene of the movie as the creature starts to attack the town. The Colonial also had a cameo appearance in the 1978 movie, Grease, when the trailer of The Blob was shown in a scene at a drive-in movie.
"Blobfest" is an annual 3-day event, held each summer in downtown Phoenixville. A reenactment of the famous movie scene from The Blob, showing screaming movie patrons fleeing through the front doors of the Colonial Theatre, is a major part of the festival.
Restoration and expansion
The Colonial is the last remaining theatre of its kind in Phoenixville and all of Chester County. A local group, recognizing the theatre's historical significance, created the Association for the Colonial Theatre (ACT), a nonprofit corporation committed to the full restoration of The Colonial as a cultural arts center. ACT purchased the theatre on December 8, 1996 and it reopened on October 1, 1999, featuring children's programs, art, and independent and classic films.
On April 4, 2016, a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony was held in front of the theatre, commencing an $8 million expansion and renovation project that will connect The Colonial with its neighboring building, The National Bank of Phoenixville. The 1925 bank was purchased by ACT in 2011 with the intent of renovating it to provide two additional movie theatres and improved amenities for the theatre, while preserving the historic architecture of the bank building.
- "The Colonial Theater - History". thecolonialtheatre.com. 2016.
- Wharry, Marcus (2014). "The Colonial Theatre". www.livinginphoenixville.com. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "History". Theatre Organ Society of the Delaware Valley. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
- Wilby, Ted (2012). "Cinema Treasures - Colonial Theatre". www.cinematreasures.org. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- "Everfest - Blobfest". www.everfest.com. 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
- Lindak, Virginia (April 5, 2016). "Phoenixville's Colonial Theatre has groundbreaking for $8M expansion". www.pottsmerc.com. Retrieved July 4, 2016.