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Son of Palace Theatre founder visits historic Greensburg venue

| Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013, 12:03 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Teresa Baughman (left), director of operations programming and marketing for the Westmoreland Cultural Trust and The Palace Theatre and Michael Langer (right), president of Westmoreland Curtural Trust, speak with Alex Manos, the son of one of the Manos brothers who founded the theater chain.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Alex Manos of California, the son of one of the Manos brothers who founded the Palace Theatre, visits the Greensburg landmark while visiting the area.

Michael Manolitsis was one of many immigrants who came to America with dreams and a can-do spirit that led to great accomplishments, his son said on Monday.

Alex Manos, 84, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., spoke about his father as he and his wife, Marie, toured the Palace Theatre on West Otterman Street in Greensburg.

His father's dream led to the Palace, formerly the Manos Theater, one of more than 100 theaters the family operated in Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia.

“This is a structure that was built because of determination and the opportunity we had in this country,” Manos said.

His father and uncles, who ran a confectionery business, built the theater in 1926 with the help of a $750,000 loan from Barclay Bank in Greensburg, Manos said.

“That doesn't sound like a lot today, but that was a lot of money in those days,” Manos said.

His father's good reputation helped get the loan, he said.

When the theater opened on Sept. 2, 1926, 5,000 people attended one of two shows, according to newspaper accounts.

The venue was a glittering showpiece of art and craftsmanship.

Architect Leon H. Lempert & Son of Rochester, N.Y., installed opera boxes; hand-cast, decorative moldings; golden Grecian marble; black-and-white floor tiles, rich velvet draperies and a candlelight chandelier.

Acclaimed Chicago artist Louis Grell, who depicted fairy stories in his paintings, created wall and ceiling murals.

Manolitsis' life in America began at Ellis Island in New York. After sailing from Greece, he encountered a guard who asked, “What's this?” referring to his father's last name, Manos said.

“Too long,” the guard said.

Manolitsis became Manos.

Michael Manos sold newspapers and lived in flophouses in New York City, then moved to Western Pennsylvania, his son said. During that time, he brought brothers and other relatives from Greece to the United States.

“They knew how to hand-dip chocolates, so they made chocolates,” Alex Manos said. The family made the candy in a one-room operation in Jeannette, then opened a store in Greensburg.

When his father met his mother, Kaliopi, in an Erie chocolate business, he was 23 or 24; she was 14. They were married for more than 60 years, Manos said.

With an eye toward selling more candy, his father expanded his business interests into entertainment.

“He happened to hear about silent movies, and he got interested in that,” Manos said.

In the early days, the Palace hosted vaudeville shows featuring such nationally known talent as Al Jolson and Eddie Cantor, Manos recalled.

“People came from miles around to see the vaudeville shows,” Manos said.

Warner Brothers bought the 1,369-seat Greensburg theater in 1930, and the Manos family continued to operate it.

Alex Manos first worked as an usher in the family's theater in Indiana, then leased films for theater screenings.

The theater was sold to a private owner in the 1970s, before the Westmoreland Cultural Trust took control in 1990.

Alex Manos left the family theater business and Greensburg in 1957, working for Scott Paper for 12 years and then as a Realtor, a job he continues to do.

Manos, who was visiting the area with his wife of 61 years, said he was amazed by many of the changes made to the Palace.

“Oh, isn't this a beautiful place,” he said, gazing down on the stage from the theater balcony.

He praised the $10 million in renovations to the building made under the Trust's stewardship.

Too often showplaces like it have been lost to the ravages of time or sit vacant because of lack of public interest, Manos said.

“It's an honor to my dad for him to know that this has been kept up,” Manos said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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