Embassy Theatre

739-49 Penn Street,
Reading, PA 19601

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Fabian Theaters, Wilmer & Vincent Corp.

Architects: Armand de Cortieux Carroll, Charles E. Horn, William Harold Lee

Styles: Art Deco, Atmospheric, Streamline Moderne

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Embassy Theatre

Built on the site of the Empire Theatre. The Embassy Theatre in Reading, PA opened April 4, 1931, with the movie “Stolen Heaven” starring Nancy Carroll. It was owned by Wilmer and Vincent Corp. The Embassy Theatre was designed by Philadelphia architect William H. Lee with his associates Armand de Cortieux Carroll and Charles E. Horn. Dazzling, semi-Atmospheric Art Deco style movie palaces designed by Lee’s firm had opened in late-1930 in Norristown, PA (the Norris Theatre) and in Philadelphia (the Erlen Theatre).

Like the Norris Theatre and the Erlen Theatre, the Embassy Theatre was a movie palace that combined an Atmospheric style with the new decor of Art Moderne and the more lavish materials of Art Deco. Yet this theatre was even more fanciful, and could have been named ‘The Embassy of the Future’. The futuristic design of the theatre appears inspired by Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) and the German Expressionist architecture underlying that movie.

The facade was glazed and polychrome Terra Cotta from Conkling-Armstrong of Philadelphia. The oval shaped aluminum ticket booth had carved glass and a marble base. The copper marquee had a glass ceiling. As if it were a rocket, an illuminated lantern topped the 80 feet tall, copper vertical tower! More than 2,000 feet of glass tubing was used for the neon, red neon for letters, and blue and green for the rest.

The lobby’s movie poster frames were set in a wall of black marble. The foyer had copper walls with aluminum horizontal molding and a ceiling of geometric design. Stairs from the foyer led up to the auditorium’s rear loges. A main lounge was on the lower level. Every last detail was Art Deco, including furniture, oval mirrors, drinking fountains, telephone booths, chandeliers and carpet.

The most amazing feature of the Embassy Theatre was in its 2,246 seat Atmospheric style auditorium, which used rolling metal gates instead of a stage curtain! Instead of the curtain, a metal grille with rolling gates was provided from two tons of carved wood, steel track, and steel draperies. Six grille gates with Art Deco style carvings slowly opened in series. The setting represented an aluminum gateway and arch on a terraced lawn. Silhouettes of tall tree tops faintly illuminated in the shadows of the night appeared in the distance.

In place of the usual stage, a green terrace rose from the auditorium floor with stone steps, such as might be used in ascending from a sunken garden to the heights of an upper lawn. On the stage level, shrubbery and ornamental garden benches furnished a screen at the sides.

The auditorium’s side walls near the stage had large columns to accentuate the screen as the focal point. The balcony, side walls and projection booth simulated an outside garden pavilion connected with arcades. Ornamental sea horses were at the balcony pavilions and front. The domed ceiling had a deep blue sky effect curving down behind the garden gates, and with the tall pillars and lights gave the impression of a still greater vista beyond. On the ceiling, stars twinkled, and there were moving clouds.

There was a section for the hard of hearing, with ear phones.

The Embassy Theatre was closed by Fabian Theatres on March 31, 1970 and was heavily damaged by a fire later in 1970. The Embassy Theatre was demolished in 1972 for a shopping mall, which was never built.

Contributed by Graeme McBain, Howard B. Haas

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

Karen Colizzi Noonan
Karen Colizzi Noonan on January 23, 2008 at 6:44 am

Do any interior photos exist of this theater? From the brief description above, it sounds like it may have resembled the Auburn Schine Theater which also takes a futuristic bent. I would be very interested in seeing photos.

JohnMessick on February 14, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Warren…how can I access your photos of the Embassy. The site tells me they are not there? Can you repost them or send them to my email address? Thanks Warren

kencmcintyre on February 15, 2008 at 9:45 am

Someone is selling programs from the Embassy on eBay:

JimmiB on May 18, 2009 at 12:44 pm

When I was an usher at the Astor, across the street, I often went to the Embassy (we could get in for free). It was a magnificent building. I remember the fire. That was a shame. The same company owned the Reading Drive-In Theatre in Temple, PA, the first drive-in in the Reading area, where I also worked as a ramp boy, the drive-in equivilant of an usher. That was like a promotion! I went from an usher at the Astor at 50 cents an hour to the drive-in for 75 cents.

kencmcintyre on August 11, 2009 at 11:27 pm

Here is a larger version of the circa 1931 photo posted on 2/26/05:

rivest266 on February 7, 2010 at 2:17 pm

April 4th, 1931 grand opening ad is at View link

rivest266 on June 21, 2014 at 4:16 pm

April 4th, 1931 grand opening ad also in photo section.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on January 28, 2018 at 9:06 pm

The Embassy was built on the site of a silent era house called the Empire Theatre, which appeared at 739 Penn Street on a list of Readings movie theaters that was published in the January 1, 1916, issue of The Moving Picture World.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on March 16, 2018 at 3:42 pm

Boxoffice of February 16, 1970, reported that Fabian Management Corporation would not be renewing its lease on the Embassy Theatre in Reading, and that the house would be shuttered on March 31.

HowardBHaas on August 4, 2019 at 2:34 pm

There is an old comment that states Richard Wolfe (who operates the Roxy in Northampton) was the last operator. Actually, he informs me today as to the following: “Paul Angstadt and myself had a lease for the Embassy when it burned. The fire occurred two weeks before we were to take over.”

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