Center Square Theatre
1712 Centre Avenue,
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Previous Names: Centre Square Theater
The Center Square Theatre was a silent-era movie theatre built in 1917 that operated in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. The new-build structure was a three-story high brick facility designed with an 800-seat auditorium with space to increase to 1,100 seats if needed. The Rex Amusement Company launched there on November 29, 1917 with William Farnum in “When A Man Sees Red". The venue joined the Rex Circuit’s other Pittsburgh locations, the Rialto Theatre and the Orpheum Theatre. The theatre initially catered to the Eastern European Jewish audience that had settled there during World War I living amongst a large concentration of African American residents.
Population shifts in the neighborhood were swift as the Italian and Jewish population moved elsewhere and the area became a vibrant African American entertainment hotspot with nightclubs and theatres. Rex Amusement bailed and the theatre was in independent operation under Mark Brower. In 1924, Louis Handel and Harry B. Handel of Handel Theatre Enterprises Corporation took on the Center Square Theatre venue rebranding it as an African American theatre.
Benefits, local town meetings, talent shows, Charleston contests, live and film entertainment all graced the stage of the Center Square. Goldye, the Shvartze Khaznte, had her American debut on the Center Square Theater stage in March of 1925. She was one of two known African American Jewish cantors who could sing in Yiddish. She had studied opera in Milan and sang in six languages. Samuel Abram was arrested for showing films on Sunday in 1928 but freed when it was discovered it was for charity.
The venue struggled at the onset of the Depression as Hill residents were hit hard by the economic downturn. The Center Square Theatre was unable to convert to sound to remain viable. The 13-year old venue was closed by the Hendel Corporation late in 1930. Two lightning strikes on Memorial Day of 1931 damaged the Center Square building necessitating an overhaul. The venue was converted into a long-running grocery store.
There was no known celebration at the Center Square building’s 50th anniversary in 1967 but its ending was just around the bend. During the aftermath of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination on April 4, 1968, five days of rioting and arson broke out in Pittsburgh in response. The former theatre turned grocer was firebombed just days later. Boarded up, the remains of the building were mercifully demolished in 1969 when many of the city’s damaged buildings were razed.
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