347 5th Avenue,
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Previously operated by: Universal Chain Theatrical Enterprises Inc.
Previous Names: Cameraphone Theatre, Downtown Cameraphone Theatre, Savoy Theatre
The Cameo Theatre in downtown Pittsburgh opened in 1908 as the Cameraphone (not to be confused with the Cameraphone in East Liberty). It became the Savoy Theatre from 1918-22. On September 23, 1922, it changed identities for the final time to the Cameo Theatre and in 1925 it was taken over by the Universal Pictures chain. It was destroyed by fire July 4, 1927.
The Cameo Theatre was adjacent to the State Theatre, which survived three decades longer.
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The theater may have has as few as 349 seats when it was the Cameraphone. If indeed it grew to 700 seats, one of the renovations may have included taking over an adjacent building.
aka Downtown Cameraphone Theater
The Greater Pittsburg (sic) Cameraphone Company was the first U.S. circuit to attempt to market itself as a sound movie exhibitor. It launched its second Pittsburgh-area theater here on October 16, 1908 with “Krausmeyer’s Birthday,” “Foolishness” and “Roller Skaters.” The five-story building housed many other tenants.
Billed as the “marvelous Cameraphone,” the venue was a quick success. The Company then added the East End Cameraphone that opened within two months. This venue became marketed as the Downtown Cameraphone Theater when the fledgling circuit was growing. It would have a half dozen local locations.
The theater would drop the sound films’ concept and find new operators. The Downtown Cameraphone closed along with the other Pittsburgh theaters for the Spanish Flu pandemic on November 6, 1918. Rowland & Clark acquired the venue and reopened it as the Savoy Theatre in 1919. Rowland & Clark dropped the venue at the end of a leasing period on June 29, 1922.
Universal Film Co. exhibition took on the venue giving it a shocking transformation making it a movie palace. The three month, high-profile project was carried out to the plans of architect W.E. Snaman. It cost north of $150,000 including a Wurlitzer Hope Jones pipe organ upon completion.
It relaunched as the Cameo Theater for the Universal subsidiary Cameo Theatre Co. on September 18, 1922 with the Universal Jewel feature “Human Hearts” supported by a newsreel and comedy short. Lowry Curran and A.H. Ritter shared opening day organ playing.
In 1925, the Cameo subsidiary was folded into Universal’s portfolio. The Cameo was destroyed by fire on July 4, 1928 that shot straight up and out collapsing the building’s roof and out across the street to the Grand Theater. Although blamed on the beauty shop in the third floor, the projection booth appears to be a significant player in the theater’s spectacular finale.