Olympic Theatre

318-320 Fifth Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Unfavorite No one has favorited this theater yet

Additional Info

Previously operated by: Harris Amusement Co., Stanley-Warner Theatres, Warner Bros. Circuit Management Corp.

Architects: Charles Bickel

Nearby Theaters

Olympic Theatre

Located in the Central Business District. The Olympic Theatre was a historically important theatre for playing the first Vitaphone sound films in Downtown Pittsburgh in 1927. It was purportedly the first Pittsburgh theatre to install a ‘high-class’ pipe organ (which is open to debate). The organ was fitted with a Vox Humana attachment. The Olympic Theatre was also on the leading edge of what would become Pittsburgh’s most densely concentrated block of movie theatres in the Steel City’s history.

The building formerly housing the Olympic Theatre (1908-1930) began as a Knights of Pythian Hall, a 19th Century fraternal lodge. It was also a largely forgotten first home of the massively unsuccessful yet infamous Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railway Company housing both its offices and ticket windows in 1902. The ticketing location was purportedly a stop gap measure-lavish nonetheless-and designed to have moved to the Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal that would open three blocks away on April 13, 1904. However, when the spectacular Beaux-Arts style terminal designed by architect Theodore Carl Link launched with its 11-floors - three alone for ticketing and passenger waiting rooms - the ticketing office located here at Fifth Avenue was curiously retained until 1908 when the entire Wabash Pittsburgh Terminal Railroad Company devolved quickly into receivership.

Relaunched later in 1908 as an entertainment complex, the building was renamed as the Olympic Theatre Buildings. The complex held the Union - turned Olympic Billiard Hall, the Fifth Avenue Bowling Alley (later renamed the Olympic Bowling Alleys), Danceland - a dance hall and the Olympic Theatre which “threw motion pictures” according to reports, since opening its doors in the Fall of 1908. The Olympic Theatre would compete on its own block with movie theatres that included the Family Theatre (turned Columbia Theatre in 1913), the Minerva Theatre, the Downtown Cameraphone Theatre (turned Savoy Theatre in 1919 and Cameo Theatre in 1922), the State Theatre, the Grand Theatre (turned Warner Theatre in 1930) in the same block and there were many other theatres a block away including the Arcadium Theatre and the Ritz Theatre.

The Olympic Theatre appears to have launched with highlights of the 1908 Nelson-Ganz prize fight documenting the final of three championship fights between Matthew ‘Battling’ Nelson and Joe Ganz. The Chicago Film Exchange four-reeler shown at the Olympic theatre documented the September 9, 1908 Nelson knockout in the 21st of a scheduled 45-round fight. Also at the outset of the venue, the Olympic Theatre also hosted an outdoor screening on November 3, 1908 with the Pittsburgh Press newspaper to entertain audiences who gathered to hear live election results including the William Howard Taft win over three-time loosing Democrat nominee William Jennings Bryan for U.S. President.

The Olympic Theatre was started by the Harris Amusement group and would have several operators and updates. Owners included Baziotes & Antonopolos, Baziotes & Clark, and the Stanley Circuit (Stanley & Rowland/Stanley-Rowland-Clark/Stanley-Davis-Clark Theatres which was subsumed by Warner Bros. Circuit Management). Warner/Stanley made news by equipping the Olympic Theatre with its Vitaphone sound system and also at the Regent Theatre in early-1927.

Other upgrades included a massive Kimball pipe organ 1913 that became the hallmark of the Olympic Theatre presentations from its first day on November 27, 1913, until its closures in 1930. A minor 1916 update and a much more major update designed by architect Charles Bickel in 1918 that included a new entry/exit on Diamond Street that doubled the capacity of the Olympic Theatre from 400-seats to 800-seats. Its reboot as the New Olympic Theatre was celebrated on April 23, 1918 with William Farnum in “Rough and Ready”.

But the biggest refresh was becoming the first downtown movie theatre to get Vitaphone - Warner Brothers' sound technology - opening on March 27, 1927 with four talkie shorts, “Introductory Speach by Will Hays”, “The Four Aristocrats”, Giovanni Martinelli in “Vesti la giubba” & George Jessell in “A Theatrical Booking Office”. It was followed by the film “Let it Rain” starring Douglas MacLean (A silent Paramount feature Picture). Despite the technological infusion, the Olympic Theatre seemed dated in the movie palace era of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Warner Bros./Stanley Davis moved on from the Olympic Theatre, subleasing it to the movie studio, Tiffany Productions, on January 19, 1930. Tiffany tried out the location to show its own film productions. That didn’t work out any better for Tiffany as the superior theatres had taken away the Olympic Theatre’s clientele. Less than two months into the sublease, the Olympic Theatre unreeled its final film and Tiffany Pictures “Party Girl” starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was screened on March 26, 1930. Its closure was just two days shy of the third anniversary of the Olympic Theatre’s first sound film presentation.

Some of the theatre’s fixtures were taken to the New Olympic Theatre in Beechwood for repurposing there when it opened in November 1930. The closure of the Olympic Theatre was also followed by the closure of the Arcadium Theatre a block away. Both the Olympic Theatre and Arcadium Theatre had the distinction of becoming dime retail stores. The Arcadium Theatre was razed in favor of a G.C. Murphy store and the Olympic Theatre was retrofitted for a McCory’s 5 and 10 store. The dance hall, bowling and billiards in the Olympic building continued to operate. The last retailer in the former Olympic Theatre was a Rite-Aid in the late-1990’s and the structure was reported as demolished in 2000.

Contributed by dallasmovietheaters
You must login before making a comment.

New Comment

Subscribe Want to be emailed when a new comment is posted about this theater?
Just login to your account and subscribe to this theater.