Colonial Theatre (Phoenixville, Pennsylvania)
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. The three-screen venue consists of the original 658-seat ‘vaudeville house’ and two newer additional theatres in the adjacent National Bank of Phoenixville building (c.1925).
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.
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, the Kimball organ 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 Wurlitzer organ was held at The Colonial on September 15, 2012.
In 1958, the classic science fiction movie, The Blob, starring Steve McQueen, was filmed in Phoenixville, Downingtown, Chester Springs, and Royersford. The Colonial Theatre was featured in a pivotal scene of the movie as the creature starts to attack the town. A commemorative plaque is located on the rear wall of the balcony in honor of the film's projection-room scene, in which The Blob oozes through the projection openings. The plaque reads:
"Through this wall in the year 1958 Shorty Yeaoworth's THE BLOB brought the monster into the movie theater and Phoniexville's COLONIALTHEATRE into the annals of film history."
The nearby Downingtown Diner, the location of the final scene, is also currently in operation. In 1978, the Colonial Theatre made a cameo appearance in the movie, Grease, when the trailer of The Blob was shown in the drive-in movie scene.
"Blobfest"is an annual 3-day event each summer, started in 1999, held in downtown Phoenixville that features multiple screenings of The Blob and other horror films. A film competition, scream contest, street fair, and live entertainment are scheduled throughout the weekend. A major part of the festival is a live reenactment of the famous scene filmed at the Colonial, showing screaming movie patrons fleeing through the front doors of the theater.
Mostly due to the widespread growth of movie theaters, the theatres' popularity waned and the building changed ownership many times over the ensuing decades. However, the building's use as both a movie house and live-show venue remained throughout. It was eventually purchased by a restoration group in the mid 1990s.
Restoration and expansion
The Colonial is the last remaining classic theatre in Phoenixville and all of Chester County. A local group, recognizing the Colonial'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's expansion opened for business on May 12, 2017. The new wing offers a 174-retractable seat stadium-style theatre, an intimate 65-seat screening room-style theatre, and a luxurious lobby that showcases a beautiful baby grand piano and a 30-ft concession stand. In addition to the new theatres and lobby, the expansion also offers spacious dressing rooms for performers, a mini concession stand for special events, a full-sized catering kitchen, and a second floor garden suite with outside deck access. A ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Phoenixville Chamber of Commerce was held on May 17, 2017. A more elaborate Grand Opening event is tentatively scheduled for fall 2017.
Current programming includes first-run, independent and classic films, young audience shows, concerts, and community events.
- "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.
- "Philadelphia: The Blob movie theater". www.avclub.com. Jul 6, 2011. Retrieved March 7, 2017.
- "Downingtown Diner". www.theblobsite.filmbuffonline.com. Retrieved October 23, 2016.
- 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.