Shillington Theatre

Shillington Theatre
Shillington Movie Theatre pictured in 1957

The Shillington Theatre was located at 29 E Lancaster Ave between Liberty and Brobst St. It opened Sept. 3rd, 1949.

Shillington Theatre
Sept 3rd, 1949 Reading Eagle Ad for Shillington Theatre
Shillington Theatre
1956 ad

It was not until the late 1960’s that the Shillington was able to run movies on Sundays due to the local municipality refusing to repeal and continuing to enforce Pennsylvania’s antiquated “blue laws”. Blue Laws forbade entertainment (and bars) being open on Sundays unless the local municipality voted otherwise. Around this same time manager of the Shillington Theatre, Marguerite Nagle, purchased the theater and would run it as an owner for the next decade and into the 1980s. She began her career in 1965 when she was hired as assistant manager at the Colonial Theater on the 700 block of Penn Street. She then became manager of the Colonial when Bert Leighton retired until the Colonial Theater closed in 1969.

Marguerite (on the right) pictured amongst other theatre business people at a retirement party in the 1960s. Do you recognize any of these faces? picture courtesy of Keith Verros

Around 1968 the Shillington was switched to first-run for a short time; after most of the aging downtown Reading first-run theaters were closed or burned down. Once the suburban mall theaters around Berks County opened the theater reverted back to showing second run films. In 1976 Marguerite converted to an automated platter projection system.

Marguerite then twinned the building in May 1978. A wall was built directly down the center of the theatre, turning it into two smaller theaters. She also added an apartment above the marquee in 1979. Her ownership of the theater came to an end when she sold it to Fox in June of 1983.

Marguerite Nagle inside the apartment she built above the Marquee – Photo Courtesy of Keith Verros
Shillington Theatre
Shillington Theatre in the 1970s – Photo Courtesy of Keith Verros
Shillington Theatre
Shillington Theatre lobby in the 1970s – Photo Courtesy of Keith Verros

In the late 1970’s through its closing in the late 1980’s the Shillington became a quasi- art house showing more popular art house product. If I recall “The Gods Must Be Crazy” played one screen of the Shillington for at least 6 months to the point where the print became almost destroyed and missing the last few minutes (but they continued to play it anyway).

(User muviebuf’s recollections from Cinema

Shillington Theatre
The building today, housed by a Church, Google Street View

Sources: Cinema Treasures, American Classic Images, Reading Eagle

Huge thanks to Keith Verros who contributed images and information to this article

Born and raised in Berks, I am fascinated by the style, design & culture of the mid-late 20th century. I started this website to research and build a collection of the places, things and stories I have heard about my entire life. Read more here.

16 Replies to “Shillington Theatre”

  1. The very first movie theatre in Shillington was on New Holland Avenue. It was about 2 properties in back of the former Ibach’s Pharmacy that was on the corner of Lancaster Avenue and New Holland Avenue. It was at that location until the Shillington Theatre was built on Lancaster Avenue.

      1. I think there is a correction as to when the Shillington Theatre opened on Lancaster Avenue. I think the first movie theatre on New Holland Avenue opened in 1949 and was at that location until the Shillington Theatre opened on Lancaster Avenue in 1956.

    1. No other source than I went to the movie theatre on New Holland Avenue until the Shillington Theatre was built on Lancaster Avenue in 1956. I was born in Shillington in 1940, raised in Shillington, and still reside in Shillington. I have no other source than that.

    2. I wanted to also add, the add in the paper on 09/03/1949 for the new Shillington movie was for the first movie theatre on New Holland Avenue.

  2. Hey again Carol, the building that the old Shillington theatre resided in was built in 1942 according to records, and everything I can find said the new theatre on Lancaster Ave replaced it in 1949. Perhaps your visits to the New Holland Ave theatre were before you were 9ish years old?

  3. My Dad was one of the managers at the Shillington Theatre in the 60s and early 70s. He was in the newspaper article that would list how he was ticketed every Sunday for being open. It happened every Sunday until the law was changed. I use to work there with him some times working the concession stand. I remember watching many movie there.

  4. According to the Berks Recorder of Deeds website, a theatre building already existed on the New Holland Ave site in 1938, when Shillington Theatre, Inc was formed. There are ads for the Shillington Theatre in the paper in 1938, so we can assume it was located on New Holland Ave. I grew up two blocks up the hill from it and went to a couple of movies (probably Disney films) there as a child with my parents in the ’40s. In 1949, the owner took out a mortgage on the Lancaster Avenue property, and in 1953 sold the New Holland Ave. site to Shillington Athletic Association, with a restriction that the new owner could not run it as a theatre for 10 years.. That timeline agrees with the ad for the opening of the new theatre in 1949. I seem to remember that the old building was used for some kind of public or school functions off and on after it closed.

    1. Thanks for clarifying Bob! The Berks deeds website was going to be my next stop once I had some time to dedicate to going down that rabbit hole. The 1949 ad verbiage of “New shillington Theatre” struck me as insinuating a new location of the theatre, not just a new theatre. Plus I also read somewhere that the first theatre was called the Roxy when it opened but I’m not sure if that’s true.

  5. i was born in 1936 and lived in Shillington. I was an “usher” at the movie theater on new holland avenue in my early teens. My “pay” was free movie tickets. The owner, a mr. Shverha, had operated other theaters in Pennsylvania. His wife sold tickets in the ticket booth. He built the “new” theater on lancaster Avenue. It had a unique air conditioning system that used cold water from Deep well under the theater. I worked there for a short time as an usher. The theater was scrupulously claned after each performance and no candy or snacks were allowed.

    Donald Lotz

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