Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Prince Theatre Building

Prince Theatre Building
600 block of Merchant St., East (even numbered) side
courtesy Jeffrey Snedden

This wonderful photo of Ambridge's Prince Theatre Building came from Jeffrey Snedden, the writer of the "Histories and Mysteries" column in the Beaver County Times. Ambridge's Dollar General store and its parking lot are now where this building once was.

Although the long-closed theater auditorium, which was behind the row of storefronts on Merchant St., was razed in 1991, the storefronts remained for a number of years, but were gone by 2008.

In the photo you can see the Prince Theatre's marquee and entrance to the theater at 638 Merchant St., as well as the stores that lined the theater's facade. To the theater's right is Maynard's Jewelry, 628 Merchant St. On the theater's left is a storefront that says "Children's Wear." That would have been Stork's Nest, owned by Sally Rubenstein, wife of Ambridge High School's legendary football coach, Moe Rubenstein, 650 Merchant St.

That sliver of white on the far right of the photo was Timney's Appliances, 612 Merchant St., razed in July 2013. Its location is now also part of the Dollar General building.

On the second floor of the building there's a sign advertising "Signs of all kinds" and at the far end, another sign for "Guardian Loans."

Right now, I can't say with confidence what businesses were in the three storefronts to the left of Stork's Nest at the time the photo was taken, but I think I see a barber pole between the last two. If I can later confirm what those businesses were, I'll update this post.

New information about the Prince Theatre.

Here's some information I learned about the Prince since my blog post about the theater on April 30, 2016. To put the new information in context, I recommend you read that earlier blog post as well as this one.

The Prince was opened in late 1919 by G. W. Prince and at that time, it was managed by Marcus (Ben) Nadler who later owned the theater. In January 3, 1920, The Citizen announced that the Prince would temporarily close, but planned to give occasional performances. No explanation for its closing was provided.

According to the April 21, 1923, issue of the Pittsburgh Moving Picture Bulletin, the Prince had been "closed for the past two years," but was scheduled to reopen on Sept. 1, 1923, after Ben Nadler remodeled and enlarged the theater from 450 to 700 seats.

It's not clear to me yet whether the planned 1923 remodeling was ever completed or perhaps delayed, or if the theater was remodeled again three years later, or torn down and replaced.

In August 1925, S. P. Nadler (not Ben Nadler) announced on behalf of the Ambridge Amusement Co. that it would tear down the then-existing Prince Theatre and replace it with a "modern building" the following spring .(The Citizen, August 5, 1925)

But then, the April 16, 1926, Citizen reported that remodeling, not a demolition, of the Prince had begun. The theater would be 25 feet longer, 14 feet higher, and a balcony added. After the remodeling, which would cost about $85,000, the theater would seat about 1500. The theater would be closed for several months until the work was completed.

The reason the theater may have closed in 1931, as mentioned by Mike Kubek when reminiscing about working at the Prince in a 1989 Beaver County Times article, remains a mystery yet to be solved.

When I wrote the original article about the Prince, I didn't know if the theater ever re-opened after 1950's record-breaking Thanksgiving snowstorm. However, based on the photo, the answer is "yes, it did."  Maybe. The posters on the theater announce that the theater was showing Werewolf of London, originally released in 1935, and The Phantom of Paris, originally released in 1942 as The Mystery of Marie Roget. Those two movies were re-released as a double feature in 1951 according to several sources. But I'd feel more confident if I could find confirmation of the information in one of the 1951 local papers.

[Update August 5, 2019: Jeffrey Snedden found and sent to me the local newspaper reporting I was hoping to find, confirming that the Prince reopened in 1951. I'm always grateful for your help, Jeffrey.

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 21, 1951:

End of update]

And while I still don't know exactly when the Prince closed, I know that it didn't survive beyond 1951 thanks to the December 15, 1951 Billboard Magazine which said the theater had become a Timney's store annex.

I also am still seeking information on when the Prince Theatre building was razed. I do know by 1980 it was a vacant lot.

Part of the photo at the top of this post was published in a Beaver County Times article about old Beaver County theaters, April 30, 1978. The caption accompanying the photo said it had come from the collection of Al Tomaszewski. That cropped photo was in my April 30, 2016 blog post about the Prince.