90th Anniversary at The Palace Theatre

I know I promised to write about the Great American Banana Split Celebration in my next blog post, but… it’s been nearly two weeks and, journalistically, I’ve missed the mark. The event has come and gone, and interest has died down until next year.

Bad blogger, bad!

Instead I’ll save my observations on that amazing celebration for just before next year’s event, and focus on a more timely topic for this blog post: The Palace Theatre’s 90th Anniversary!

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Opened on September 2, 1926 as the Manos Theatre, The Palace Theatre has been a major cultural venue in the Greater Greensburg area and beyond for decades.

14212176_1259421857424643_5613909476645167147_n.jpgBut for me, it was always “that fancy theatre in downtown Greensburg.” I was just a kid when it was going through the first major stages of its revitalization/restoration in the 1990s, and my only real experiences with the place were with Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra performances (fourth grade field trip!) and Laurel Ballet (thanks to an older sister who was in that dance company, then called "Laurel Youth Ballet," for years). So, for years, my perception of The Palace was:

  • A fancy place that showed only “high culture symphony and ballet performances”
  • A place only people in Greensburg knew about

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However, the history of The Palace Theatre continues to blow my mind. At first it showed vaudeville acts and silent films, and then newsreels, movies and cartoons with sound. In the 70s the movies left the theatre, and live acts became predominant. What blows my mind is the whole “The showed movies there?!” aspect. And yet, my grandmother confirmed that she, a girl from McKeesport, went to many shows and movies at the then Manos Theatre—that it was a real treat for herself and her peers in the 1950s to attend a show or see a movie at the grand Manos Theatre in Greensburg.

The theatre was under threat of being torn down several times in the latter decades of the 20th century, but it remains today, still showing live acts—not only local acts, but also national acts. I was astounded in the mid-2000s when alternative rock band Breaking Benjamin graced The Palace Theatre’s stage… and frustrated that their concert date coincided with an out-of-town trip.

The Palace Theatre remains today, with its beautiful marble entrance, its 1970s mirrored walls, and its plush seats and walls in various states of repair/restoration. And the acts it attracts! In the next three months alone The Beach Boys, Wayne Newton, and Bob Saget will be performing there, not to mention The Clarks, Ace Frehley, and the Goo Goo Dolls. And, of course, Stage Right, the Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, and Laurel Ballet still provide the public with wonderful seasonal performances. Where else outside of Pittsburgh can you see a wonderful performance of The Nutcracker, that classical Christmas ballet?

The Palace Theatre’s staff has been prepping for this big 90th Anniversary all year. In the spring they publicly requested people’s souvenirs, ticket stubs, stories, and memories to share for the big celebration. They created a special logo and set up a series of free tours for September.

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Last Friday, September 2, they had a press conference, with representatives from Governor Wolf’s office, Westmoreland County Commissioner, PA State Senator Kim Ward, and U.S. Congressman Tim Murphy. They all had such lovely and personal things to say about The Palace Theatre. Who knew that Congressman Murphy went to college on a theater scholarship? Or that the parents of Jim West Jr., from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, had their first date there? One of the prestigious speakers even admitted to sneaking in to The Manos Theatre as a kid to see movies for free. It was just relaxed, almost casual, and definitely heartwarming as the memories were shared and praise heaped on The Palace for being the cultural hub of Greensburg despite the difficulties it constantly faces with restoration needs.

After the speakers we had delicious cookies and cupcakes, and Teresa 

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Baughman, Director of Operations, Programming and Marketing at The Palace Theatre, gave a public tour of the historic building. I caught about half of that tour via Facebook Live before my cell phone battery died. You can view it at this link, or catch the last two free tours in person this Saturday, September 10 at 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. respectively. If you’re debating about doing the tour, stop questioning and JUST DO IT. Teresa has a knowledge and love of The Palace Theatre that only two decades of experience with it gave give you. Her tour is fun, informative, and takes you to parts of the theatre that only performers or box seat ticket holders normally have access to. She also has insight on where the best seats in the house, acoustically, are located.

Don’t have time for a video tour? Read a more detailed account of The Palace Theatre’s 90 year history here. 

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