Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Prince Theatre

From the mid-1940s through the early 1950s, Ambridge moviegoers could choose from four theaters, all on Merchant St.: Ambridge, State, Prince, and Penn. The Ambridge, 714 Merchant, opened in 1928 and was the last of the four to close, in 1965. The State, at 749 Merchant, was the newest, built in the mid-1940s, and the shortest-lived, closing in 1959.

The Prince, 638 Merchant, was the oldest of the four. I'm not sure when it opened, but in a July 7, 1991, Beaver County Times article, "Ambridge bids the Prince farewell," Princeton Nadler* said that his father, Marcus (Ben) Nadler, bought the theater "around 1920." The 1924 Economy Centennial program, Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today, had an ad for two theaters run by the Ambridge Amusement Company--the Prince and Regent. The Regent was one of the theaters that over the years occupied a building at the southeast corner of Merchant and 5th Sts., later home to the Penn Theatre; another theater once in that building was the Senate.

Ambridge Amusement Co., ad
Economy of Old, Ambridge of Today
1924 Economy Centennial Program

The Prince and Ambridge were the two largest theaters in Ambridge. The 1991 Times article said that the Prince could seat about 1,000 people. Both theaters not only showed movies, but also served as auditoriums for events such as stage shows, meetings, and boxing matches.

This photo of the Prince, from the late Louis Vukovcan's collection, is from an August 10, 1929, newspaper supplement:

Prince Theatre
638 Merchant St.
Daily Citizen supplement
August 10, 1929
Louis Vukovcan collection

The postcard below of the east side of the 600 block of Merchant, also from Vukovcan's collection, shows the location of the Prince. If you look closely, you can see the marquee. The large building on the corner was the Ambridge National Bank building, later Mellon National Bank, now a Citizen's Bank, and the white building to the right of the Prince was Timney's Appliances. I don't know what was in the building which Vukovcan noted: "Was moved. This was the corner bldg."

600 block of Merchant St., east side,
from 5th St. looking north
circa 1930 - 1940
Louis Vukovcan collection

The Prince Theatre building also had storefronts facing Merchant St., as well as the Nadler family's apartment. In the 1991 Times article, Princeton Nadler recounts how, when he was young, he could take a walkway from the apartment into the theater's second-floor projection room to watch movies. What wonderful and convenient entertainment for Nadler and his friends.

Princeton Nadler also recounted a lovely story about his father in that article:
One time, Nadler's father gave a number of Ambridge boys handbills advertising the theater. He promised to pay them $1 each if they distributed all of them.
The father spied some of the children dumping the handbills down a sewer, but saw one of them diligently handing them out.
Later, when the children gathered to be paid, Nadler's father gave each of them $1 as he had promised. But then, Marcus Nadler went back to the boy he had seen doing the work properly and gave him a book with 100 free movie passes.
Mike Kubek, who some may remember as the owner of Ambridge's Kubek's Appliances, also once worked as a movie projectionist at a number of Beaver County theaters. In the article "Ambridge man is model worker" in the March 10, 1989, Beaver County Times, Kubek said, "Mr. Nadler brought talking pictures to Ambridge at the Prince Theatre....Very progressive, he treated those who worked with him with kindness." 

In 1930, the Ambridge Amusement Company, owned by "Nadler and LeWinters" sold the Prince and Ambridge theaters to the Warner Bros. chain. The price reported in the April 8, 1930, Daily Times, was $700,000, which, according to websites that calculate the value of money over time, would now be equivalent to over $9,600,000.

Warner Theateres ad
Pittsburgh Press
March 11, 1931

[Update June 16, 2016:

The April 21, 1923, issue of the Pittsburgh Moving Picture Bulletin supplied an answer to some information that had puzzled me. 

In the article about Kubek, he said the Prince closed in 1931, yet obviously, it was open in the 1940s and early '50s. Had the Prince closed, and then reopened? Yes! Although I'm still confused about the years it was closed. 

That 1923 Bulletin issue had a short article titled, "Ben Nadler Will Close One House and Open Another." The article said that Nadler was remodeling and enlarging the Prince which had been "closed for the past two years." The Prince, scheduled to reopen on September 1, would have 700 seats, increased from 450.

So when was the Prince closed, then reopened? Early 1920s? 1931? Did the Prince close in the '20s, reopen, close again in 1931, reopen, and then close for good in the early 1950s? I don't have the answer yet.

The theater that Nadler was closing in 1923 was the Grand. You can find more information about and photos of that theater in the May 6, 2016, article, "The Grand Theater."

End of update.]

The Prince, like the other theaters, often showed double features, and also provided special entertainment for children on Saturday mornings.

Prince Theatre ad
Daily Citizen
September 10, 1948

Prince Theatre ad
Daily Citizen
September 16, 1948

The news clipping below, from the April 30, 1978, Beaver County Times article, "Forgotten theaters mark passing era", shows the Prince in the 1950s:

Prince Theatre
Beaver County Times
April 30, 1978

The clipping came from Vukovcan's collection; he had cut and pasted part of the Times' caption in the corner of the photo:
The Prince, show at right in the 1950s, was one of Ambridge's later theaters, following a long and rich tradition. Now its building on Merchant Street houses a string of storefronts, shops, small cafes and a Christian coffeehouse. Most of the town's other theaters have disappeared, although one is now the home of a G. C. Murphy department store and a new, small theater, open on a limited basis, began on the main street a few years ago. **

The Prince was still open in late November 1950.

Prince Theatre ad
Daily Citizen
November 25, 1950

After 1950's post-Thanksgiving record-setting snowfall, The Prince Theatre was "closed until further notice" according to the Tuesday, November 28, 1950, Daily Citizen. I don't know if it was open at the time its marquee was being cleaned of snow.

Walter Addison cleaning snow from Prince Theatre marquee
Daily Citizen
November 30, 1950

The Citizen caption for photo above:
WALTER ADDISON, 310 Park Rd., caught in the act of shoveling snow from the marquee of the Prince Theatre Building on Merchant St.
I didn't find any more ads in 1950 for the Prince after the big snow. Nor do I know yet when the Prince closed for good. Does anyone know if the Prince opened again after the big snow, and if it did, when the Prince finally closed? I do know it was not open at the time of Ambridge's Golden Jubilee celebration in 1955.

Former Prince Theatre building
circa mid 1970s?
Laughlin Memorial Library archives

Oddly, although the Prince's lobby area became a storefront after it closed, the remainder of the theater, including stage and screen, remained, not maintained and deteriorating, until the summer of 1991 when it was razed.

Prince Theatre interior
Beaver County Times
July 7, 1991

Times caption:
Bill Anderson of Hopewell Township, an employee of the demolition company working on the Prince Theater, remembers his mother taking him to see "Gone With the Wind" at the Prince when he was 8.
The rest of the Prince Theatre building is now gone too, its spot on Merchant is the location of a Dollar General store and parking lot. The photo below is a then-and-now photo of the 600 block of Merchant St. from P. J. Shotter showing the former location of the Prince building. The "then," from the K & N Restaurant's collection of vintage photos, appears to be from the late 1950s to early '60s era, after the Prince had closed. The "now" was taken on Sunday, April 17, around noon.

600 block Merchant St.
"then" circa late 1950s - early '60s
"now" April 17, 2016
courtesy P. J. Shotter

Thanks to Jackie Vukovcan for sharing Louis Vukovcan's photos.

* Dr. Princeton Nadler was a Sewickley ophthalmologist for many years, and was my eye doctor when I was growing up. But before he became an ophthalmologist, he was an obstetrician (or perhaps a GP who delivered babies) and was the doctor who delivered me in 1950. Every time my mom would take me for an eye exam, Dr. Nadler would ask her, "Are you ready to give Nancy back yet?" My mom always answered something like "I guess I'll keep her." And I would react to this annual corny adult banter with an internal groan.

** The theater that later became the location of Ambridge's G. C. Murphy was the Grand, also owned by Marcus Nadler. The "new small theater" mentioned in the article was the 200 seat Ambridge theater at 645 Merchant St. that opened in 1972, now also closed.

Other long-gone Ambridge theaters include: Majestic, Colonial, Family, Idle Hours, Palm Gardens, and Rainbow Garden.

1 comment:

  1. Annabelle Nadler was the wife of Marcus and Princeton's mother. I worked for Mrs. Nadler 2 days a week after school and on Saturday cleaning her apartment and running errands. I started working for her at the age of 12 (1963) and continued until she became gravely ill and passed away. My aunt preceded me this position in the '50s when she was a teenager. Annabelle spoke fondly of her husband who had been dead many years. It was a very lovely apartment but it felt haunted to me whenever I was alone which was often. All of the living room furniture was covered in plastic. There was a wrought iron and glass dining room table that was so heavy I wondered how anyone could have moved it up to the second floor. She was obsessed with cleanliness. I scrubbed her floors with Fels Naptha soap four tile squares at a time and waxed the floors EVERY week. You didn't just vacuum her had to brush away from the baseboards toward the middle of the rug with a whisk broom before you ran the sweeper. Milk and meat dishes were separate and not to be mingled. She made a wonderful honey cake and loved to cook. While it may seem strange that I write about my experience here, I can say that she was incredibly proud of Princeton and often talked about Dan, Princeton's son and her grandson.