Cameraphone Theatre

6202 Penn Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15206

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Warner Bros. Circuit Management Corp.

Architects: Victor A. Rigaumont

Previous Names: East End Cameraphone Thetare

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Cameraphone Theatre

The Cameraphone Theatre was opened on March 7, 1913. It was modernised in 1941. I came across this theatre listed in an old newspaper from 1951. By the early 1960’s it was screening soft porn adult movies and by 1966 adult movies. It was closed in January 1967. It was located in the East Liberty section of Pittsburgh. Since that area has undergone extensive urban renewal projects through the years it’s safe to say it has been torn down.

Contributed by jrs99cinefile

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

Denny Pine
Denny Pine on May 9, 2007 at 10:15 am

That is one of the coolest names for a moviehouse: Cameraphone. There’s a great photo of this theater in the local book “Pittsburgh: Then & Now”. I believe its last year was 1967, I’m not sure. If I can pinpoint the last day of operation in my continuing research on Pittsburgh theaters, I’ll post it.

jflundy on April 21, 2008 at 2:56 am

A fine photo of this theater taken on February 10, 1935 exists at this url:
View link

jflundy on April 21, 2008 at 3:04 am

The photo above shows view of the Cameraphone Theater, Werners Beauty Shoppe,and Hays Store along Penn Avenueas as seen from Frankstown Avenue.

edblank on June 4, 2008 at 4:23 am

The theater existed from 1915 (initial capacity possibly 850) through maybe as late as 1964 (776 capacity corroborated). Of the six East Liberty moviehouses that survived into the 1950s, it ranked fifth in the pecking order of when it played movies as they moved through the then-high-earning neighborhood.

Movies began their East Liberty showings at either the Sheridan Square or the Liberty (depending on the distributor) and sometimes the Regent, then moved on into mix ‘n’ match double bills at the Enright, the nearby Shadyside (often concurrently with the Enright) and finally the Cameraphone. (The Triangle got them last.)

The Cameraphone sometimes used the same double bills as the Enright, normally about two weeks later. Usually the bill of fare changed twice a week.

In January 1953 the Cameraphone had the exclusive rerelease of the landmark 1945 exploitation film “Mom and Dad” (1945), an occasion so heavily hyped for its daring content that the booking of the film condemned by the Legion of Decency led to the theater being placed off limits for Catholics for several weeks.

The picture played for 26 days, complete with gender-segregated showings daily and book-selling appearances by the ubiquitous Elliot Forbes, who was portrayed by different actors/lecturers in dozens of theaters around the country concurrently.

The success of the booking and decreasing attendance for late-run movies in the mushrooming TV era led the Cameraphone’s management to try racier fare (“We Want a Child,” “The French Line,” “Bitter Rice,” “Striporama”) with increasing frequency but with none of “Mom and Dad’s” exceptional success.

By 1955 the Cameraphone was trying triple bills of action films.

Advertising vanished from the daily newspapers during most of the theater’s final decade except when it joined the Art Cinema (Downtown) and/or several drive-ins in playing especially adult and softcore sex films.

The theater was razed in the mid-1960s and the property enveloped by the disastrous Penn Circle redevelopment. The specific plot of land once occupied by the Cameraphone became a lawn with benches, a small traffic circle and possibly part of the busway.

The relatively narrow theater was characterized by the fact trains passed by behind its screen wall and by the slightly musty smell of its popcorn and aged carpeting. Theater maintenance was functional at best.

There was a vestibule and a concession area, but minimal separation of the lobby from the auditorium, so that if one entered the theater before an earlier performance had concluded, it was almost impossible not to be aware of what was happening on screen.

TLSLOEWS on March 19, 2010 at 12:11 am

Its name was way ahead if its time.

Denny Pine
Denny Pine on August 18, 2010 at 11:34 pm

These dates are unconfirmed as there is no indication of a grand opening, but the first ad I found for this Cameraphone (as well as two others in Pittsburgh) was from March 2, 1913. This one, the best known of the three, opened on March 6 with the silent short “Pickwick Papers' starring John Bunny. The last ad I came across was from January 31, 1967, by which time the Cameraphone was an adult cinema (I’ll be looking for the transformation date soon). The features that day were "Everybody Loves It” and “Tales of a Salesman”.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on May 7, 2011 at 10:33 am

The East Liberty Cameraphone dates to 1908. It was one of five Cameraphone theaters that were opened that year by T.M. Barnesdale. Three of them, including the East Liberty house, presented early talking pictures. The experiment with sound soon failed, and the theater was taken over by H.B. Kester and W.C. Beatty, who operated it as a regular silent movie theater. The house opened with 400 seats, was expanded to 700 seats in 1910, and expanded again to 900 seats in 1914.

Trade journal The Moving Picture World had an article about Pittsburgh area exhibitors in its issue of July 15, 1916, and it included a section titled Kester and His Cameraphone. Kester operated the East Liberty Cameraphone at least as late as 1926, when it was mentioned in the Film Daily Yearbook.

The 1941 Catalog of Copyright Entries from the Library of Congress includes a copyright issued to architect Victor A. Rigaumont for: “Alterations to Cameraphone theatre, 6202 Penn Ave., Th. Ward, Pittsburgh. © June 3,1941” There’s no indication of how extensive the alterations were.

Metal_Headz on September 21, 2017 at 6:42 pm

I posted 2 pictures of The Cameraphone Theatre Token. How old might the token be?

dallasmovietheaters on July 12, 2022 at 4:09 pm

Guessing by ads that this launched on March 7, 1913 as the Cameraphone Theatre’s, the Cameraphone - East Liberty. Its proximity - within two blocks - of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s bustling East Liberty station. The venue was the longest-lasting Cameraphone operation closing just two months shy of its 54th anniversary for the small chain. The Cameraphone - East Liberty location was equipped for sound in 1929 to remain viable. With daily ridership of over 10,000 passengers a day, it was safe to assume a lot of foot traffic reached the Cameraphone.

The Cameraphone - East Liberty was modernized in 1941. The programming was a grind policy and the management was open to exploitation titles and independent films in addition to double and triple feature third-run Hollywood fare. The clientele and neighborhood were changing dramatically. The combination and television and the use of automobiles made for a challenging environment to operate a parking-starved aging movie theater. Passenger traffic at the East Liberty had gone from about 11,000 passengers a day in 1930 to just 500 daily passengers in 1960 - a 95% decrease. The venue turned to risqué, soft core adult fare in the early 1960s before going all-in with adult films and live burley shows trying to hang on. The East Liberty Station closed in 1961 and was bulldozed in 1962 - a portent of things to come in East Liberty’s business district.

The Cameraphone Theatre - East Liberty closed January 7, 1967 at the end of its lease and under litigation from ASCAP for copyright royalties owed; and under pressure from the local law enforcement for showing obscene content; and, ultimately, under eviction notices by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) which targeted the East Liberty area for a 254-acre renewal zone which was part of Penn Circle.

A classified ad in January of 1967 offered all of the movie equipment and fixtures at the Camerphone for sale. The neighboring Rio Bar and Restaurant offered all of its fixtures for sale which included the “longest bar” in Pittsburgh. The corner hotel housing the Rio and offered everything in and attached to its 63 rooms and lobby for sale. And even the other long-time Cameraphone neighbor, the shoe shine parlor, offered all of its equipment and fixtures as the East Liberty businesses in the URA zone scrambled to get anything of value out ahead of the bulldozers. They came a month later.

For at least two decades, the spot was just a grassy patch with some benches looking forlorn. However, in the 2020s, a large apartment / condo building sits on the spot of the former Cameraphone Theatre - East End while a large Target department store took up the opposite side of the street which once housed late 19th Century and early 20th Century retail structures. The few period buildings that survive can be found a block away.

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