Barry Theater

637 Penn Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Shubert Brothers Theater Company, Skirball Brothers

Architects: Maximilian Nirdlinger, Victor A. Rigaumont

Previous Names: Kenyon Opera House, Shubert Pitt Theatre, Penn Avenue Theatre, Miles Theatre

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Barry Theater

The Kenyon Opera House was opened on December 23, 1912, and was designed by architect Maximilian Nirdlinger. It was remodelled in 1936 to the plans of architect Victor A. Rigaumont and was renamed Barry Theatre. The theatre operated in downtown Pittsburgh up until at least 1951.

Contributed by jrs99cinefile

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

edblank on May 29, 2008 at 1:58 pm

Originally called the (New) Kenyon Opera House, it opened Dec. 23, 1912. It already had become the Pitt Theatre by the time it played “Birth of a Nation,” though not necessarily as part of the silent blockbuster’s initial release.

Later it became the Penn Avenue Theatre and then the Miles.

I believe it might have become the Barry in 1935. Estimates of capacity during this period range from 900-1,000 seats. It closed on or about June 1, 1951.

The Barry played almost exclusively first-run double bills of minor, hour-long movies from distributors such as Republic. Sample bills: “Loaded Pistols” with “Leather Gloves”; “Baby Face Morgan” and “Bad Men of Tombstone”; “Hold That Baby” and “Brothers in the Saddle.” Holdovers were extremely rare.

Notable exceptions: The Marx Brothers' “Love Happy” got a 12-day run as a single feature. And most notably, about a year after “The Red Shoes” had concluded a roadshow (reserved seat) engagement elsewhere, it moved to the Barry for a six-week run that did business far beyond the norm here.

edblank on May 29, 2008 at 8:05 pm

An oddity of the Barry is that for several years after the theater was razed, its marquee lingered there, hanging over the sidewalk on Penn Avenue heralding what the property had become: the Barry (surface) parking lot.

It was as if a mansion has been razed but that no one removed the roof from the former front porch – a neat remnant.

The land is occupied now by a theater of a different sort – the O'Reilly thrust-stage theater, Pittsburgh Public Theatre’s present home.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 1, 2012 at 4:04 pm

The lighting system in the Pitt Theatre was redesigned as part of an early renovation, and the theater and its lighting were described at length and rather effusively in an article in the trade journal Electrical Review of June 20, 1914:

“Artistic New Lighting in Old Theater.

“The theater-going public must be pleased not only with the performance but also with physical comfort at the theaters it attends. Realizing this, the Pitt Theater, of Pittsburgh, Pa., recently remodeled the entire house and installed the latest improvements in lighting.

“The details are of interest, as there is much theater building going on now owing to the steadily increasing popularity of motion pictures. Illumination for this class of work is special and there is a noteworthy lack of definite information on the subject. In the following description of the Pitt is given a good example of recent practice in this line.

“The main ceiling has three Parian bowls, a 500-watt lamp in each, hanging 20 feet from ceiling. In front of the second balcony are 14 eight-inch Parian acorns with a 40-watt lamp in each. In front of the first balcony are 17 Parian panels with two 16-candle power carbon linolite lamps and Frink reflectors behind each panel. The ceiling over the first balcony has four Parian bowls with 250-watt lamp in each. The second-floor corridor has six bowls each with 150-watt lamp. In the first-floor corridor are five bowls, 250-watt lamp in each.

“On the newel post at the foot of the stairs are Parian urns with a 150-watt lamp in each. Under the first balcony are four bowls, 250-watt lamp in each. In the first-floor box eight bowls are used as ceiling lights with three 25watt round-bulb tungsten lamps in each. The second-floor boxes have eight Parian acorns suspended with arms so that they give the appearance of urns, a 150-watt lamp being in each. The height of the main ceiling is about 40 feet. The floor space of main floor, including corridor, is 80 by 100 feet. The area of the first balcony is about 35 by 100 feet.

“The color scheme of the theater is blue and old ivory. The hangings, draperies, etc., dark blue. All the glass work is decorated light blue and old ivory, with a blue band, the fret work on the Grecian band being brought out in blue. For the ladies' retiring room special bowls colored old rose to match the hangings were selected. Frink reflectors are used over the ticket window, around the inner edge of the marquise, and inside the framework of the two billboards in front.

“Parian balls are set on the marquise and on the top of the theater. The inside brackets use blue and old-ivory decorated shades. Special bracket fixtures for mirrors, handle trimmings and silk shades, candelabra fixtures, fire logs, etc., complete the lighting installation which, was furnished throughout by the H. W. Johns Manville Company, New York City.

“The architects, Simpson & Isles, of Pittsburgh, Pa., have received much praise from the management and patrons for the excellent effects they have secured. Formerly with the ordinary fixtures the lamps were exposed and gave the usual disagreeable glare. With the new equipment, beside accomplishing a decided current decrease, not a lamp is visible and the restful comfort and beauty are conspicuous.”

Here is a drawing of the theater made by Anthony Dumas during the period when it was known as the Shubert Pitt Theatre (1919-1935.)

I doubt that Simpson & Isles were the original architects of the theater. They probably only designed the later renovation. About the only thing I can find about them on the Internet is that the partnership was dissolved in 1915. An earlier Pittsbrgh house built by Thomas Kenyon was designed by William Kauffman, so Kauffman might have designed the New Kenyon as well, though so far I’ve found no evidence that he did.

Will Dunklin
Will Dunklin on June 9, 2012 at 6:48 am

The Wurlitzer records indicate a large instrument (opus 27 IV/22) was installed at the Pitt Theatre, Pittsburg PA in August 1913. The organ apparently not only had the usual left and right chambers, but also a stage division and a balcony division – seriously deluxe upgrades.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on June 21, 2012 at 1:45 pm

The Pitt Theatre was again remodeled in 1936, after the Shuberts gave the house up. This is probably when it was renamed the Barry and began showing movies. Here’s the item from the “Pittsburgh Patter” column of The Film Daily for February 5, 1936:

“Victor Rigaumont, local architect and member of the Variety Club, is in charge of the Pitt Theater remodeling work now under way.”

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 4, 2014 at 5:45 pm

This article from the April 28, 1912, issue of the Pittsburgh Gazette Times says that bids were being taken for construction of this house, which had been designed by architect M. Nirdlinger (Maximilian Nirdlinger.) The theater had already been leased to Thomas Kenyon in advance of construction, and the name Kenyon Opera House chosen.

The house did not keep its original name long after opening on December 23, 1912. An item about the renaming of the Kenyon Theatre on Federal Street that appeared in the June 21, 1913, issue of The Moving Picture World noted that the Kenyon Opera House had also been renamed the Penn Street Theatre, though it appears that Thomas Kenyon was still in control of both houses.

The name Penn Street Theatre must have had an even shorter life, considering Will Dunklin’s earlier comment saying that a Wurlitzer organ was installed in the Pitt Theatre in August, 1913. The name Miles Theatre was probably short-lived as well. A guide book to Pittsburgh published in 1916 noted that the house had gone back to the name Pitt Theatre in January that year. I still haven’t been able to confirm that the name was changed to Barry Theatre in 1936, when the house was remodeled to plans by Victor Rigaumont, but it does seem likely.

PghBonnie on July 3, 2016 at 11:56 pm

Maximilian Nirdlinger was my grandfather, and he was the original architect of this theater. I am doing a lot of legacy research about his works, which drew me to this site. Almost all of his work – residential and commercial – was built in Pittsburgh. His early career began in the office of Frank Furness in Philadelphia, and an early commission lead him to Pittsburgh, thereafter.

rivest266 on February 17, 2021 at 12:27 pm

Opened on December 23rd, 1912 as Kenyon Opera House. Grand opening ad posted.

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