Columbia Theatre

339-341 Fifth Avenue,
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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Additional Info

Operated by: Harris Amusement Co.

Previous Names: Fifth Avenue Family Theatre, Family Theatre

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The Fifth Avenue Family Theatre launched on November 3, 1907 in what would become Pittsburgh’s most densely concentrated block of movie theatres. The theatre was worked into an existing, two-story retail building that appears to have dated back to the 1880’s. On opening day and worked between the vaudeville acts were the short films, “Bobby and his Ballroom” and “The Blacksmith’s Daughter”. The “Fifth Avenue” would eventually fall off the theatre’s moniker becoming the Family Theatre.

As competition increased, the Family Theatre moved away from vaudeville to films and even tried billing itself as the home of color Kinemacolor films. This was a licensing deal made by some 250 theatres worldwide and would immediately provide differentiation from other movie theatres which by 1913 had included the Olympic Theatre, the Minerva Theatre, the Downtown Cameraphone Theatre, and others in the same block and yet other film theatres a block away to either side.

John P. Harris Entertainment ran the Family Theatre for its first five years before dropping it at the end of March of 1913. The venue was “thoroughly cleaned” upon takeover by Fred Hilton and renamed the Columbia Theatre on March 30, 1913 with the Kinemacolor film license apparently terminated. But the Columbia Theatre would scuffle as World War I ended.

The film exhibition business was changing rapidly. Newer theatres in the 300-block of Fifth Avenue including the behemoth new Grand Theatre across the street launching in 1918 and the transformation of the neighboring Hotel Newell into the Blackstone Theatre in 1919 – along with major refreshes at competing venues including the doubling in size of both the Olympic Theatre and the Minerva Theatre and the refresh of the Camaerphone Theatre to Savoy Theatre under new operators in 1918 made the Columbia feel dated.

The Columbia Theatre, however, didn’t quietly fade away as others would; instead it competed right to the end booking some high-profile live shows while movies remained the major form of programming. Its scrappiness remained right through to what it called its closing week celebration booking the first-run Priscilla Dean and Lon Chaney opus, “Outside the Law” for a week-long run ending March 26, 1921.

The building was retrofitted for other retail purposes with fixtures and flooring sold off. The last occupant of the building was a Revco drug store. The building was demolished in 2009.

Contributed by dallasmovietheaters
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