Greensburg's 85-year-old Palace gets makeover for anniversary
The site of the Palace Theatre along W. Otterman Street in Greensburg has quite a history dating back to the late 1800s.
The current courtyard area once housed the Lomison Opera House, built by Dr. H.G. Lomison, circa 1879. Upon his death in 1895, it was renamed the Keaggy Theater and passed to J.B. Keaggy and his wife Carrie Keaggy. The area was converted to a sports arena for boxing and basketball in 1907.
Then in 1917, the arena was purchased by Michael Manos, who renovated the building and renamed it the Strand Theater, one of several he owned in Greensburg's downtown area.
According to a history of the theater provided by Teresa Baughman, director of marketing and programming for Westmoreland Cultural Trust, the Manos family business in the early 1900s was a confectionery store. They opened a second location in Greensburg called the Sugar Bowl, and Manos decided to build theaters as a way to attract business to his candy enterprise.
The Palace evolved from the Manos, which opened on Sept. 2, 1926, to great acclaim and a full-blown section dedicated to the event in the Greensburg Daily Tribune/Greensburg Morning Review.
Under the guidance of Westmoreland Cultural Trust, a series of improvements and renovations has taken place, with the latest new carpeting just completed over the past few weeks in time for the 85th anniversary kick-off celebration Friday.
The legendary Tommy Tune taps into town for an 8 p.m. production of "Steps in Time, a Broadway Biography in Song and Dance" featuring the Manhattan Rhythm Kings, a group he's been collaborating with for 27 years. Ticket prices range from $29-$54, with a special $125 Gold Circle ticket that includes a post-show reception with Tune. Tickets are available through the box office at 724-836-8000 or online at www.thepalacetheatre.org.
Although the mainstage area now is used for all kinds of performances and the number and variety grow more each year, Baughman said the Manos brothers formed Manos Enterprises in 1928 and grew their movie theater empire to more than 100 facilities in Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
"In 2011, we'll have 97 shows," Baughman said. "That's the most we've had on our schedule. Well over 60,000 people will have come through our doors."
She also finds it interesting, and wonders how many people realize, that in 1930 the Palace was bought from the Manos family by Warner Bros. Theatres Inc., which assumed the balance of the $350,000 mortgage.
The building would pass on to Cinemette Theatres in the 1973, and was purchased by Carl V. Marinelli, founder of Hillview Bowling Lanes, in 1977 and renamed the Palace Theatre.
The predecessor of Westmoreland Cultural Trust purchased the theater in 1990, and it's remained under the trust ever since.
While the structure itself is beautiful and includes many architectural and art features such as the murals by acclaimed Chicago artist Louis Grell, who depicted fairy stories in his paintings improvements and upkeep were necessary throughout the years to maintain the theater's splendor.
Westmoreland Cultural Trust has spearheaded more than $10 million in Palace renovations since 1990 in its ongoing efforts to turn the theater into a self-supporting performing arts center.
"The Trust's efforts will continue to ensure the theater serves future generations," Baughman said.
Those who have not been inside the building for a number of years will be impressed with the upgrades.
While some are less evident, such as upgrades to the sound and lighting system, seating has been improved, a courtyard was created and replicas of the theater's original opera boxes were added. Conservator Christine Daulton also was hired to restore two of Grell's murals.
Megan's Suite is another addition and improvement to the Palace facility. It was decided in memory of Greensburg Salem student Megan Lynn Smith, an active theater arts performer, who died in 2001. It's believed her last performance was at the Palace during the annual Westmoreland Night of the Stars, recognizing excellence in high school musical theater.
A Vermont marble staircase leads to the theater's second floor, where other improvements also are evident. Restroom areas were relocated when Megan's Suite was added, Baughman said. The second floor boasts golden Grecian marble, classic black-and-white checkerboard floors and Spanish inlaid tiles. The flooring still is the original tile, Baughman said.
Also displayed on the second floor is a collection of equipment from the theater's movie days. Thanks to projectionist Paul H. Jennings, Baughman said copies were preserved and now hang for all to see of the theater's provisional and later permanent charter for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The first is dated Oct. 23, 1911, with the permanent charter received in 1913.
Baughman said other recent improvements are replacement of the original theater curtains, improvements to the first-floor seating, a new stage fly system and renovations to the dressing room areas.
Baughman said the seat project began after the final holiday-season performance in 2010. All the first-floor seats and seat backs were removed and sent to Cleveland, where new backs were constructed and upholstery replaced. All the iron components remained in place but were repainted to a golden tone.
Baughman said the whole project was completed in six weeks.
Most portions of the building are available for rent, something else the public may not be aware of, Baughman pointed out.
There have been birthday parties for older teens and up, including a "Phantom-of-the-Opera"- themed event. It's also available for weddings, baby and wedding showers, and business meetings.
Baughman is the contact for all things Palace Theatre, whether it's to book major shows or for local rentals. She can be reached through the box office at 724-836-8000.
The website has details of the complete 85th anniversary season, featuring acts such as Bill Cosby, Paul Taylor Dance Company's Taylor 2, Kathleen Madigan, "White Christmas" by Stage Right! and even an Octubafest through River City Brass Band, along with the traditional Westmoreland Symphony's production of "The Nutcracker" featuring Laurel Ballet.