Embassy Theatre – 700 block Penn Street

Historical Society of Berks County

Built on the site of the Empire Theatre. The Embassy Theatre in Reading, PA opened April 4, 1931, with the movie “Stolen Heaven” starring Nancy Carroll. It was owned by Wilmer and Vincent Corp. The Embassy Theatre was designed by Philadelphia architect William H. Lee with his associates Armand de Cortieux Carroll and Charles E. Horn. Dazzling, semi-Atmospheric Art Deco style movie palaces designed by Lee’s firm had opened in late-1930 in Norristown, PA (the Norris Theatre) and in Philadelphia (the Erlen Theatre).

image from the Passing Scene

Like the Norris Theatre and the Erlen Theatre, the Embassy Theatre was a movie palace that combined an Atmospheric style with the new decor of Art Moderne and the more lavish materials of Art Deco. Yet this theatre was even more fanciful, and could have been named ‘The Embassy of the Future’. The futuristic design of the theatre appears inspired by Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) and the German Expressionist architecture underlying that movie.

The facade was glazed and polychrome Terra Cotta from Conkling-Armstrong of Philadelphia. The oval shaped aluminum ticket booth had carved glass and a marble base. The copper marquee had a glass ceiling. As if it were a rocket, an illuminated lantern topped the 80 feet tall, copper vertical tower! More than 2,000 feet of glass tubing was used for the neon, red neon for letters, and blue and green for the rest.

The lobby’s movie poster frames were set in a wall of black marble. The foyer had copper walls with aluminum horizontal molding and a ceiling of geometric design. Stairs from the foyer led up to the auditorium’s rear loges. A main lounge was on the lower level. Every last detail was Art Deco, including furniture, oval mirrors, drinking fountains, telephone booths, chandeliers and carpet.

The most amazing feature of the Embassy Theatre was in its 2,246 seat Atmospheric style auditorium, which used rolling metal gates instead of a stage curtain! Instead of the curtain, a metal grille with rolling gates was provided from two tons of carved wood, steel track, and steel draperies. Six grille gates with Art Deco style carvings slowly opened in series. The setting represented an aluminum gateway and arch on a terraced lawn. Silhouettes of tall tree tops faintly illuminated in the shadows of the night appeared in the distance.

image from the Passing Scene

In place of the usual stage, a green terrace rose from the auditorium floor with stone steps, such as might be used in ascending from a sunken garden to the heights of an upper lawn. On the stage level, shrubbery and ornamental garden benches furnished a screen at the sides.

image from the Passing Scene

The auditorium’s side walls near the stage had large columns to accentuate the screen as the focal point. The balcony, side walls and projection booth simulated an outside garden pavilion connected with arcades. Ornamental sea horses were at the balcony pavilions and front. The domed ceiling had a deep blue sky effect curving down behind the garden gates, and with the tall pillars and lights gave the impression of a still greater vista beyond. On the ceiling, stars twinkled, and there were moving clouds.

image from the Passing Scene

There was a section for the hard of hearing, with ear phones.

Source – CinemaTreasures.org

Click to Enlarge

The Embassy Theatre was damaged by fire on March 16th, 1970. It was was demolished on Nov. 10th, 1972 for the Penn Mall, which was never built.

Currently, the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel sits on the site of the former Embassy Theatre.

On this Day – June 19th 1972

See what was happening in the June 19th 1972 Reading Eagle-

(click to enlarge)

Hurricane Agnes hits the Florida coast, 14 people were killed. The hurricane would hit Berks County hard just three days later, wreaking havoc on the area.

This morning’s rain delayed until this afternoon the opening of Reading’s playgrounds, but it didn’t dampen things at Hillside Playground where these youngsters decided not to wait and improvised their box hockey equipment – sticks and a stone. Jeffery A. White, left foreground, 10, and Glenn A. Sell, right, 12, square off at the hockey box. Donald P. Boyer, squatting, 12, and Jeffery’s 12 year-old sister, Marcia, watch the contest while Todd D. Evangelista, left, 12, and Timothy L. Clawges, 14, find comfortable perches on the back of a park bench. – Eagle Photo

Schells in West Lawn, now the location of the Ranch House
In the theatre’s in June 1972

Bob Parmer in the Bad Habit AA/Fuel Altered Flat readies to go against Wild Willie Borsch in the Winged Express Saturday night at Maple Grove Dragway in the East vs. West Fuel Altered Challenge. Parmer set two Grove marks in this final run as the East was a 4-2 winner. Parmer, Wrightsville, had a 6.86/205.01 on this run.

On this Day – May 1st, 1973

Above the fold in the May 1st, 1973 Reading Eagle (click to enlarge)
Pee Wee Wallace in the Alabamian Vega Gets a slight jump on the Hill Brothers car Sunday at Maple Grove Dragway where eight funny cars competed in the annual Spring All-Pro Series of drag racing. Pete Hill had to shut off on this final run and Wallace sped to victory, his first in three years at Maple Grove. -Reading Eagle
Joseph A. Leiendecker, state game protector, helps Thomas C. Laucer and Danielle J. Drewett, both kindergarten pupils at Whitfield Elementary School, plant a crimson king maple tree on the school grounds. Looking on are Mrs. Richard E. Woodward, left, committee chairman, and Mrs. Robert E. Frederick, comittee member, both of the Whitfield Woman’s club which sponsored the tree planting Monday in observance of Arbor Day. – Eagle Photo
The current furniture trend
What’s in the theatre’s?

The Park Theatre – 1016 Penn St

The Park Theater opened November 11, 1926, and it was closed by a fire on May 19, 1978. The theater was demolished the following year.

James S. Maurer operated the theater as a X-rated movie and live burlesque house, and in 1964 he was arrested along with two strippers in a raid by the Reading police.  In the late 1950s and 1960s, the raids were fairly common.  Maurer eventually bought the theater building, circa 1975.  The building may have been leased to a New Jersey company in 1976, but Maurer was still involved in the management and operation of the theater.  Burlesque shows returned, and he was arrested in another raid in January 1977. On May 3, 1978, the city declared the Park Theater and the adjoining Daniel Boone Hotel “unfit for human habitation”.  Maurer appealed the ruling and both businesses stayed open, but shortly after, the fire destroyed everything.

1936

One of the featured strippers, “Jada” was connected to Jack Ruby and the Carousel Club in Dallas:

According to his 1993 Obituary,

James S. Maurer, died June 28, 1993, age 69.

President of James S. Maurer Investments, Inc.

Owned the Park Theater, the Park Luncheonette, the Frontier Bar, the Daniel Boone Hotel and the Park Bowling Alley.

In May, 1978, a fire destroyed the theater and damaged the hotel.  Two months later, a fire destroyed the hotel and taproom.

In January, 1979, charges of arson against Maurer were dropped following a hearing before a district justice.  He had been charged in December, 1978, with starting the blaze.

He was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for mayor in 1967.

He appeared several times before a federal grand jury in Philadelphia, which probed kickbacks to officials in Reading and Berks County.

Huge thanks to David Procter for putting together all of this information!

“The Racers” Screening at the Astor -1955

"The Racers" Screening at the Astor
Ralph Houck took this 1955 picture of the Astor Theatre – Photo Courtesy of Richard Houck

From Rotten Tomatoes;

The CinemaScope process gets a rugged workout in Henry Hathaway’s The Racers. Kirk Douglas stars as an Italian bus driver who dreams of entering the Grand Prix as a world-famous race car driver. Being Kirk Douglas, he achieves his goal, racing in all the major events around the globe. Dedicated to the philosophy of “winning is the only thing”, Douglas alienates his fellow racers and everyone else with whom he comes in contact. Only when he is on the verge of losing his sweetheart Bella Darvi does our hero put his priorities in order. Adapted from a novel by Hans Ruesch, The Racers was remade in a 60-minute version as Men Against Speed, an entry in the weekly TV anthology The 20th Century-Fox Hour.

“The Racers” was released on May 24th, 1955.

"The Racers" Screening at the Astor
The cars parked along the 700 block of Penn Street were a promotion for the screening – Photo Courtesy of Richard Houck

Images from “Berks Countians; The Wonderful Way We Live”