ROME — The Capitol Theatre in Rome was supposed to open its doors on Nov. 29, 1928, but a steel strike in Pennsylvania delayed construction, pushing opening day to Dec. 10, 1928.
Purchased and built by the Kallet family, the Capitol Theatre first opened as a one-screen movie house, which was all the rage at the time.
That was 90 years ago this week.
Things have changed in the industry, but the Capitol Theatre has been able to survive and adapt over the years, said Executive Director Art Pierce.
“It was conceived as a movie theater, but we were fortunate enough to realize that there were going to be live shows passing through the area so they built a stage,” he said. “So we are able to do live shows, which a lot of movie theaters from this period can’t do. We do more live than we do movies at this point. ... Movies are different than they were in 1928 .... Movies were the most popular form of entertainment. We were one of three movie theaters operating in town at that time and the Kallets owned every theater in town.”
To celebrate its 90th anniversary on Monday, the theater will run the first feature shown there — “Lilac Time” — among a number of other things. The film will be accompanied by Avery Tunningley on the Capitol’s original-installation Möller theater organ.
Other offerings, Pierce said, include a live performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” accompanied on the original organ that was built for the space the theater had. There also will be a reproduction of the original “Capitol Greetings” reel initially created by the Kallets and the theater will show a couple of Vitaphone shorts, as well. The original admission price from 1928 will be charged: $0.50 for adults and $0.25 for children 12 and younger.
“It’s a great place to watch a movie,” Pierce said. “You know when you watch a movie here and the lights are off, you’re not seeing the 1939 renovations, it’s just like watching a movie when it was new. That’s one of the things we can offer as a historic movie theater is to recreate the experience of watching movies when they were new, that’s where the nostalgia comes in. And it doesn’t just mean people who remember this theater, it means people who want to imagine what it was like to see movies (in the 1920s).”
Old meets new
Over the past 90 years, the theater has been through a lot, including some lean years that forced its temporary closure in 1974, according to O-D archives. The theater was able to reinvent itself as an arts center that maintains its movie-house roots but also incorporates theater, music and dance.
Pierce said the facility never actually shut its doors fully; the company that used to own it would use it once in a while. It reopened in 1985 as a civic center when the current board of trustees purchased the building.
The theater also has been expanding its footprint over the last few years, opening the cinema complex and keeping the original theater going at the same time.
One of the many pieces of preserved history within the theater is the organ. It’s one of four Möller organs originally installed in theaters, according to O-D archives.
Some other things have changed, of course. The theater used to have a lot more seats, for example — 1,788 — but when the seats were updated in 1952, they were spaced out more for comfort, Pierce said.
Renovations in the building next door also added two new theaters — one that opened in 2014 and another that opened at the end of 2016. They have allowed the theater to increase the number of shows it can have each year.
Pierce said back when the Capitol Theatre first opened, it was showing films every day of the year, putting the show count at about 1,500 per year.
Now, the complex is back up to doing about 1,400 performances each year, he said.
“Now we have the regular movies over there in very small auditoriums, and then we use this (original theater) for live shows and classic movies,” he said. “So it’s really a rethinking of the way we did things in the 1920s, but it’s essentially translating what we did in the '20s and '30s and '40s and '50s into the present day. ..."
Contact reporter Samantha Madison at 315-792-5015 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Madison)