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We recently went to a musical at the Casino Theatre in Vandergrift, PA. The theatre, along with the entire town of Vandergrift, has such a rich history so I thought I would share a little bit about it here. If you love visiting places off the beaten path, this is definitely one to check out!
Built in the year 1900 by George G. McMurtry, the Casino Theatre is a performance arts theatre located in Vandergrift, PA. The Casino Theatre has a rich history and operates today by the 501c3 non-profit organization Casino Theatre Restoration and Management (CTRM).
The Casino Theatre
145 Lincoln Avenue
Vandergrift PA 1569
Origins of the Town and Planning for the Theatre
McMurtry was the president of the Apollo Iron and Steel Company, which was built in 1855. In 1894, the steel mill was running out of room and needed to expand. At the same time, the profitability of the mill was threatened by ongoing labor union strikes. To solve these two problems, McMurtry was inspired to build a town near the original mill to attract non-unionized workers.
McMurty’s trip to Chicago World Fair led to the hiring of architect Frederick Law Olmstead, the layout designer of the fair, and George Westinghouse, who designed the World Fair’s electrical system.
The ideal model town would certainly not be complete without a center for the music and performing arts, and so the theatre was built.
History of the Architecture and Design of the Theatre
Architect John Allison designed the theatre in Greek revival style. The layout of the theatre includes a lobby and on either side of the lobby are stairs which lead to the upper balcony sections of the theatre.
The lobby entrance has a mirrored ceiling and many chandeliers in nearly every room. The stained glass windows were designed for the theatre by the Rudy Brothers.
Many aspects of the original design remain intact today, largely in part due to the restoration efforts for the theatre that went underway in 1995.
The theatre opened its doors to the public in 1900, where performances included plays, traveling Vaudeville shows, as well as lectures and other events.
A silent films gained popularity through 1917 – 1928, the theatre was updated to be able to show the popular silent movies on the era, complete with a live performing orchestra to provide musical accompaniment.
In the 1950’s, after the invention of the television, the theatre was updated once more to be able to show wide-screen movies and the theatre did very well for several years until the 1970’s when it could not compete with the popularity of multi-plex cinemas, closing its doors in 1981.
In 1992, local high school English teacher Eugene Iagnemma led a group of volunteers to save the theatre from the threat of demolition. The Casino Theatre Restoration and Management non-profit was formed to restore the theatre. The Casino Theatre was reopened to the public in 1995 and still operates today.
Famous Guests of the Theatre
The halls of the theatre have been graced by many famous people over its lifetime over the past 120 years. Notable figures include:
- Lewis Comfort Tiffany, founder of Tiffany & Co. and creator of famed Tiffany Lamps
- William Howard Taft, 27th president of the United States between 1909-1913
- Bob Fitzsimons, professional boxer and champion
- Hoagy Carmichael, composer of the songs “Heart and Soul” and “Georgia on My Mind”
- The Lone Ranger
- Tex Ritter
- Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger
- The Three Stooges
- Actor Mickey Rooney
- Actor James Stewart
Do you have anything you would like to share about The Casino Theatre? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!
References and Further Reading
- History of The Casino Theatre, http://www.casinotheatre.org/history.htm
- Vandergrift Historical Marker, https://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-23C