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It's curtains today for Denis, Showcase East

| Sunday, Sept. 12, 2004

The landmark Denis Theater in Mt. Lebanon will bow out today after more than a half-century as a mecca for arts movie lovers.

The four-screen theater will close after the final showings of "Maria Full of Grace"; "We Don't Live Here Anymore"; "The Door in the Floor"; and "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" -- a film that just opened Friday.

The Denis will be one of two prominent local theaters shuttered today.

Showcase Cinemas East in Wilkins -- once the top-grossing film complex in Western Pennsylvania -- also will close.

A spokesperson for CineMagic, which has owned the Washington Road theater for more than a decade, said the Denis has been sold but declined to elaborate. Richard Stern, part-owner of the Denis, could not be reached for comment.

The Denis opened in the 1940s as a single-screen theater with 1,152 seats as part of the John P. Harris theater circuit.

Harris had been in the local theater business since 1905, when he co-founded the country's first full-time moviehouse -- the Nickelodeon in the 400 block of Smithfield Street, Downtown.

The circuit's flagship house was the John P. Harris, Downtown, and included the South Hills in Dormont, the Perry in Perrysville and the Liberty in East Liberty.

Named for one of Harris' offspring, the Denis was sold to the burgeoning Associated Theatres circuit in the early 1960s.

The Encore, a 274-seat auditorium, was added to the Denis complex in summer 1965. The Encore played first-run American independent and foreign-art films, while the larger Denis continued to play late-run commercial American movies.

The Denis eventually was carved into three parts -- two 280-seat orchestra-level auditoriums, plus a 120-seat shoebox where the balcony had been.

The four-screen Denis in recent years exhibited mostly art films.

The traditionally older, upscale audience that patronized such movies frequently complained about the deteriorating condition of the theaters and chronic problems with projection equipment.

Though it did well with selected movies in recent years -- including the locally made "The Bread, My Sweet" -- business generally was poor at the Denis.

Unlike such nearby competitors as Carmike 10 in Bethel Park and Galleria 6 in Mt. Lebanon -- both of which concentrate on mainstream commercial fare -- the Denis was less convenient to free parking. Many patrons used pay garages a block or two away.

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