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Dormont’s Hollywood Theatre reopens with a twist

Pittsburgh Post GazetteBy Laura Pace,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Boris Karloff would be rather at home in the dark, dank basement beneath the remodeled Hollywood Theatre in Dormont.

So mused the film buffs who have taken over the old-style movie theater, which opens tomorrow after a total restoration.

“This is the only theater I’ve worked in that isn’t haunted,” said manager Dan Bahur, who is reprising a role of his own. He managed the theater 20 years ago and will oversee its re-opening tomorrow.

But the rebirth of the Potomac Avenue theater has a twist. It is being operated by The Bradley Center, a residential program for children from traumatic backgrounds of abuse and abandonment, said the center’s chief financial officer, Garry McGrath.

The Mt. Lebanon campus houses about 70 youths in its McNeilly Road facility, which is within walking distance of the theater.

The theater has hired about 14 of the kids, ages 16 to 19, as staffers, to sell tickets and snacks and be ushers and cleaners. For many of them, it will be their first job interacting with the public.

They will start out making minimum wage but will have the chance to move up to higher pay as they become mentors for other children who want to work there.

The three-pronged goal is to provide a “sheltered vocational opportunity” for the kids, who also will be part of a revitalization of a community by bringing the theater, which closed in 1998, back to life, Mr. McGrath said. Also, if the theater brings in more than its projected $380,000 annual operating budget, the funds could help raise money for needed programs and items such as clothes for the kids.

A staff counselor will be available to help them through the challenges of the job and the theater will be part of their education.

Upstairs from that musty basement is a totally refurbished theater, replete with high definition DVD projectors and digital cable TV projectors alongside the classic 35mm film projectors. Dolby Digital sound surrounds the room. The red, comfortably cushioned seats rock and armrests, which fold up, have cup holders.

According to cinematreasures. org, the theater was built by Warner Bros. Theaters in the late 1940s.

The seats are 23 inches wide, some of the widest in the industry, Mr. McGrath said, and they are set back 50 inches from the row in front — so far that patrons won’t have to get up if someone in the row has to leave, nor will they get kicked in the seat back by a toddler.

Red runway lights line the aisles and new curtains cover the walls. A bank of coffeehouse-style seating sits off to the side in the back of the theater and the original balcony has been preserved. Plans include a party room or cry room for infants on the side of the balcony.

The renovation to seating and A/V equipment cost $260,000 and was paid for by grants. Since The Bradley Center leases the building, the landlord kicked in some improvements as well.

The theater will be showing second-run movies and the hopes are that the center can get permission from the NFL and the Steelers to run Steelers games. Scaffolding over the stage could allow for musical events.

Concessions are half of what they are in conventional theaters, with a candy case stocked with the ubiquitous Sno Caps and Raisinettes for around $2.

A handicapped accessible bathroom is in the refurbished lobby but the general Art Deco-style rest rooms are downstairs, along with a lounge that will host an art show of pieces the youths have produced at the center.

Mr. McGrath grew up in Mt. Lebanon and spent some of his youth at the Hollywood Theatre, which also was known for midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Nothing that salty will be shown these days. Films will be rated PG-13, PG and G only.

Admission is $3 and opening movies include “Dreamgirls” and “Night at the Museum.” Friday’s show times are 5:15 p.m. for Night and 7:45 for Dreamgirls. Saturday and Sunday show times are 2:30 and 7:45 p.m. for Dreamgirls and noon and 5:15 for Night.

The phone number is 412-343-1756.

(Laura Pace can be reached at or 412-851-1867. )

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633