National Register of Historic Places
Listing Date: July 28, 1998
The Embassy Theatre was opened to the public on October 17, 1927 to a huge crowd of patrons. Two shows that night were not enough to handle all those who showed up. Billed as Lewistown's finest and most luxurious theatre, the Embassy became the icon of culture in Lewistown. Its opening was featured in a special seven page supplement to the local daily newspaper, the "Lewistown Sentinel". Article after article described the theatre in minute detail, featuring the decor, organ, heating plant, and intended uses for the theatre. Feature articles on Hyman and Harold Cohen, along with an article on Lester T. Haldeman, superintendent of construction, were printed in this section. The Embassy, from the front facade to the interior, was designed to convey the "Broadway picture palace" experience, as noted in dedication remarks.
To the People of Lewistown and to their children and to their children's children: to the stranger who might sojourn within its gates either on business or pleasure bent; to all those who in future years add their achievements to the modern era of genius; does the management of The Embassy Theatre dedicate this beautiful temple of the play. That they may drink of its innocent pleasures, that they wrap themselves in the soft cloak of the arts and existence,-- that they may find surcease from the responsibilities of modern metropolitan life, --that they may enjoy the harmonious tones of beautiful music, --to them to this purpose is this theatre dedicated.
The Embassy Theatre on South Main Street in Lewistown is a 1927 motion picture / vaudeville theatre, and is an excellent surviving example of theatre architecture of the 1920's. The basic design of theatre is the Single Balcony Type. The walls of the building were from an 1918 structure known as the National Theatre Building, which was commercial Italianate style, with limited fenestration. In April of 1927, this building was gutted to the four exterior walls, and completely rebuilt was the Embassy Theatre, which opened October 17, 1927. The side and rear walls of the original building remain, however, a new brick facade was veneered over the front wall. The architecture of the Embassy embodies the Georgian Revival style. The interior is a combination of Classical Revival and Italianate. The building is as tall as a two story building, rectangular in shape, with a notched corner. The main auditorium is open from the ground floor level to the underside roof. It has changed little since its construction in 1927, and retains integrity despite a decade of neglect and non-use. The Embassy retains almost all of its 1927 architectural details. Although the front facade is imposing, the building is rather average in size and scale as compared to the buildings around it.
The Embassy Theatre is located at 6 South Main Street, in the heart of Lewistown's Central Business District, at the rear of the southwest corner of "Monument Square" at the intersection of Market and Main Streets. The square is the figurative center of Lewistown, and physical center of the Central Business District (CBD). The Theatre was located handy to period forms of transportation--electric trolley, steam railroad and business, none of which operate in Mifflin County today.
Since closing in 1981, some details have been damaged beyond repair due to dampness and failure of the roof covering. The current owner of the theatre, "Friends of the Embassy, Inc., intends to restore the theatre to its 1927 appearance. Damaged and missing features will be replicated.
The front facade (east wall) of the Embassy Theatre is Georgian Revival, is characterized by a series of formal eclectic influences of the period. The arrangement of windows, doors, and architectural details is symmetrical. The front is of deep red brick. Concrete pilasters, entablature, belt course and lintels adorn the front. The concrete features begin features at the belt course, about 10 to 12 feet above grade. Setting on top the belt course are ten pilasters, eight of which are fluted. The third pilaster in from each and is about twice as wide as the others and is not fluted. Near the top of the facade, an entablature runs corner to corner. The wider pilasters continue on top of the entablature. The facade elements are very similar to Doric order.
An elaborate marquee extends over the entrance to the theatre. The marquee roof is rectangular, 33' 6" by 10' 6" overall. The marquee panels vary between 3' and 5' in height, and are supported by four heavy gauge steel "I" beams cantilevered into the interior balcony steel framing. The original ceiling was wood painted white. Light bars of individual bulbs, typical of marquee design, were placed around the perimeter of the ceiling, and intervals running from front to back. The marquee panels were sheet metal, painted in many colors, and incorporated over 1,000 lights that were animated in chase lights and sunbursts. The front panel consisted of the word "EMBASSY" in large raised letters lit by bulbs.
The front entrance consists of four sets of two. doors, two sets on either side of the box office. The original doors were oak-veneer, stained walnut in color. Each door contains three glass panels. The top panels are adorned with silver-leaf pin striping and painted background. The top left panel in each set of doors contains a large fancy letter "E" in the pin striping. The middle panels incorporate hinged glass panels on the back, allowing them to be used as advertisement cases. The bottom panels are also colored.
The box office is constructed of varnished walnut, with turned, carved, and cast-on adornments. The office is octagonal in shape. The enclosure contains recessed panels top and bottom. Some of the upper panels are filled with glass. The front glass contains a speaker hole with screen and an opening at bottom for exchange of money and tickets. The shelf of the front is made of rose marble with a coin cup ground into the top surface. Walnut display case flank each side of the box office, and included (removed) fancy castings in the corners of the case doors. The styling of the decorations on the box office is Egyptian Revival. There is a shelf ledge approximately thirty inches from the bottom. Miniature fluted columns rest of the ledge, covering the corners between the glass panes. The columns are topped with a leaf capital. The columns support an entablature. The architrave consists of a band of walnut with "smile-like" indents. The frieze contains adornment of a lion with wings and a falcon's head, similar to a griffin, carrying bands of intertwining foliage and flowers. These border shields are centered on each face. The cornice consists of a lintels strip under the top molding. The entablature on the exterior carries onto the flanking display cases.
Originally, there were four walnut advertisement cases between the doors and the corners of the building. They were fashioned after similar cases on the Roxy Theatre, New York City. These were later replaced with modern aluminum cases (date unknown, but prior to 1949).
There are seven casement windows on the mezzanine level (second level). Each window consists of a transom over two operating sash. Five of the window have pediments on top. The second from each end has flat hood molding, topped with a cast stone bracketed cornice. The windows are painted white. There are three single-sash casement windows on the third level. Two open from the projection room. The remaining window is in the auditorium.
The side (north and south) and back (west) walls are of brick construction, three courses thick, with a hodgepodge of different red colored bricks. Along the second story level, bricked-up windows are evident. These windows have curved double soldier-course lintels, and are supporting evidence that the shell of the building pre-dates the Embassy Theatre. The top eight feet or so of each wall is of a different brick composition, indicating the height of the building was increased when the Embassy was constructed. The side and rear walls are capped with terra-cotta capping. There are nine sets of fire exit doors on the side and rear walls, all faced with plywood and painted red.
The north wall originally faced a dead-end pedestrian alley between the Embassy and the National (later renamed Taft) Hotel. The hotel was gutted by fire in 1970, and was demolished shortly thereafter. The vacant lot where the hotel was located is a separate parcel of land associated with the theatre by common deed. There are three grilles near the top of the wall, which were for the original ventilation system. A smaller grille is centered of the wall. There are two small round arched double hung windows and a rectangular double hung window opening into the restrooms. There are three sets of fire exit doors on this wall.
The northwest corner of the building is notched around another building, known as the Laskaris Building (historically the "Elder property"), at 6 West Market Street. Although the two buildings are in physical contact with each other, they are separate and distinct buildings, and there is no interior connection between the two. At the rear corner of the notch is fire exit and three foot easement for egress of patrons.
The south wall is along the edge of a public alley. This wall also contains a set of ventilator grilles, two windows, and three fire exit doors. The front and middle set of doors are raised panel on the inside, and appear to be original fire exit doors.
The west wall is the rear of the building, set back from the property line three feet. As an egress easement in common with the Laskaris property. There are two original sets of doors from the stage on this wall. The center of the wall contained a projecting wooden structure, which was known as the "Horn Room". This small enclosure housed the speaker horns behind the screen, and was installed in December of 1928 when sound equipment was installed. The room was removed in 1991 due to advanced deterioration.
The roof is constructed of wooden curved trusses (setting on steel I-beams), wooden rafters, and sheathing. The covering is a hot-tar roof. All four walls form parapets along the entire edge of the roof, hiding it from view from street level. The roof shape is best described like "an elephant's back". The high point of the roof is forward of the center of the building.
The interior of the theatre is eclectic in many styles, including Classical Revival and Italian Renaissance Revival. It is an excellent example of theatre décor and styling of the 1920's. The layout of the building is typical of the period, and consists of four principal components: the foyer and inner lobby, the mezzanine, the auditorium and balcony, and the orchestra pit and stage. (See drawings in Floor Plans section for exact layout.) The Embassy incorporated the latest stylistic features including indirect lighting and a standing rail. The interior consists of mostly plaster; wood trim of walnut or other wood stained walnut color, and marble. Paint schemes were in shades of cream gray tinted red and yellow, highlighted with red, green, and gold. Later redecorating included painting over varnished woodwork and simplifying complex paint schemes. Total seating capacity was 682, including 446 on the main level, and 236 on the balcony, including 70 loge seats.
The foyer walls are rose travelle marble, imported from France. The floor is terrazzo with a black and green border. The interior doors are full- panel glass and wood doors. They are located in a direct line behind the front doors. The ceiling is vaulted and divided into three panels, each separated by a rinceau band. Rinceau bands bracket the panels at the room ends as well. Each panel consists of a decorative plaster border and a rosette centered in the panel. Original light fixtures are missing.
The end walls of the foyer contain doors with full glass mirrors. These doors open into rooms under the grand staircases. The room to the north was originally a cloak room, the south room contains electrical panels. Circa 1940, the northernmost set of entry doors were sealed shut and a candy counter was placed in this end of the foyer. The mirrored door to the cloakroom was removed and no longer exists. A valance was built over the counter, hiding part of the ceiling.
The inner lobby contains two grand staircases to the mezzanine level and two sets of fire exit doors. The south end fire doors have an entablature-like hood molding on top, the north doors do not. The men's restroom is located at the north end of the inner lobby. The standing rail separating the inner lobby and the rows of seats was a new feature of theatres in the 1920's. The raid was intended to reduce blasts of air and noise of people entering the theatre. There are three entrance aisles to the main floor in the standing raid, one at each end and one in the middle. The standing rail's overall height is about eight feet. The base of the rail is constructed of walnut-colored wood, and is four feet high. The inner lobby side of the base includes recessed panels, while the auditorium side is made of vertical wainscoting. The top of the rail is made of re-curved glass panels supported by vertical posts, which are fluted and topped with a capital and finial. The grand staircases are open on the auditorium side, with a rail and balusters. The stairs are made of oak. Carpet runners were on the stairs. The main auditorium has a bowl shape concrete floor on grade and a tiered balcony that slopes toward the stage. There is a large rectangular ceiling dome in the main ceiling, which includes hidden cove lighting and an oval rosette. The stage is on the west end of the room, opposite the inner lobby and foyer. The opening is bordered by a rectangular proscenium arch 28 feet wide and 20 feet high. To either side of the proscenium are plaster pilasters, arches, and decorative plaster. The grouping consists of four fluted supports pilasters, with Ionic capitals, supporting an entablature, which in turn support three arches in an arcade, at balcony height. The arches are filled with diamond lattice plaster grille, which are the openings into the organ chests on both sides and one of the ventilation rooms (south side only). The middle arch contains a metal ventilation grill below the diamond grille, and the third arch contains a rinceau. A cornice divides the walls and proscenium pilaster. The south exit also contains the bottom of a staircase from the balcony. A niche is located between the second and third pilasters. Just lass the last pilaster, the auditorium widens under the balcony. There are fire exit doors in the alcoves on each side. Wall decorations consist of wood moldings framing plaster panels.
Directly in front of the standing rail are four columns, with Doric capitals, and are painted to look like gold-colored marble. There are three round domes in the ceiling under the balcony, which incorporate hidden cove lighting.
The stage is rather small. As it was not designed to accommodate large theatrical productions. Non-movie performances were limited to small concerts, amateur talent shows, and traveling vaudeville era entertainers. The stage floor is three feet above the main floor of the theatre. The stage itself is 12 feet deep by 28 feet wide at the proscenium arch. There are small wings on each end. The only lights were a row of footlights. The walls of the stage are plain white plaster. The horn room was located in the center rear wall of the stage. A wooden 1950's vintage Cinemascope screen frame sets on the stage.
A small orchestra pit was located directly in front of the stage. The width was twenty-two feet. The rear wall was set back under the stage floor two Feet, and was plastered. The front of the pit was curved to match the curve of the seats. A low railing enclosed the pit from the aisle in front of the seats. This rail was made of walnut, and included turned balusters. A large Kimball organ, which was sold in recent years, once stood in the pit. A wooden floor was erected over the pit in the 1960's. The front of the stage was brought out, and the footlights were removed. Parts of the pit railing have been found under the stage. In early 1994, the stage floor was dismantles to allow reconstruction, for the beams underneath are rotting due to dampness.
The mezzanine is located over the foyer and under the upper part of the balcony. A staircase rises from the center of this level to the balcony cross-over. The manger's office, usher's closet and ladies lounge are on this level.
There are three of rows seats at the front of the balcony. This area is known as the loge, and historically it cost a dime extra to sit in this area. There are four short stairs accessing the loge from the cross-over. Two are along the side walls of the theatre and continue past the loge to the end of the organ chests, where there are staircases for fire exit. The front of the balcony is a low wall with a brass handrail.
To the upper side of the cross-over are two balcony seating areas. Another iron-pipe rail is mounted on the front of the first row above the cross- over. A single stairway ascends through each of the two balcony sections.
The projection room sits on the upper balcony, roughly dividing it in half. The staircase from the mezzanine is directly under the room. There are two square columns in front of the projector room. The door of the room enters from a balcony level on the north side. A rewind room and a restroom are along the east end of the room. The inside of the projection room is finished with concrete for fireproofing. The room contains vintage equipment, providing information on the period theatre technology.
The original seats were wooden back with deep red velvet backs and red Spanish Moroccan leather seats in the main floor and balcony, and upholstered tapestry/leather in the loge. The carpeting through out the theatre was the finest Wilton Carpets. The color was deep red highlighted with gold diamond and flower patterns. The seats and carpet were replaced in the 1950's. A few surviving seat backs, cushions, and carpet remnants have been found in the theatre.
Since closure, some plaster damage has occurred, due to roof deterioration. Luckily, very little of decorative plaster was damaged; most of the plaster damage is confined to non-decorative plaster. All of the exterior doors and many of the interior doors are damaged from moisture, some beyond repair. Mechanical, electrical, and all other systems are antiquated and worn out.
The Embassy Theatre is an outstanding surviving example of a small town theatre that embodied the stylistic and eclectic features found in metropolitan theatres. Almost all of the essential architectural characteristics comprising the integrity of the building are present. Although not colossal in scale, the theatre achieves the "romantic and fantastic spirit of the theatre" typical of the larger Broadway style pictures palaces of the late 1920's. The features both outside and inside all contribute to a sense of elegance and grandeur that is uncommon in modern movies houses.