History and Memorabilia | Erie Pennsylvania

The History of the City and County of Erie, Pennsylvania.

Warner Theater

Since its grand opening, the Warner Theatre has established itself as a major cultural center for the region. Millions have passed by the freestanding ticket booth of solid bronze through the doors and stepped into the luxurious gold-gilded Grand Lobby. There they saw the beauty of rich tapestries and French gold-backed mirrors. A regal staircase with exquisite bronze banisters leads them through an archway of marble, gold gilding and draped tapestry to the mezzanine. Czechoslovakian glass and crystal chandeliers create the soft lighting that enhances the grandeur of a structure unmatched in stature, opulence and beauty.

Warner Brothers today one of the world's largest producers of film and television entertainment, commissioned the building of the Warner Theatre in 1929. The design goal for their luxury movie palaces was to create an environment "twice as rich, three times more fanciful than life." Designed by architects Rapp & Rapp, the theatre was constructed at a cost of $1.5 million Depression-era dollars. The Chicago architectural firm built some of the nation's most ornate theatres including New York City's Times Square Paramount.

Warner Brothers also appointed the world-renowned Rambusch Studios in New York City to decorate the interior. Rambusch created a lavish art deco interior that would invite generations of theatre-goers to a palace of magnificence and fantasy. Considering the quality of the design and cost of the building materials used, the theatre would be virtually impossible to replace today. It was Erie's first and has remained Erie's only deluxe downtown picture palace.

When the Warner Theatre opened its doors April 10, 1931, more than 8,000 colored lights illuminated the 10-ton marquee that announced the feature film of the opening evening, "The Millionaire" starring George Arliss with James Cagney. Excitement and wonder of the patrons about the palatial splendor of the breathtaking new showplace filled the atmosphere.

In its early history, the theatre hosted various traveling shows. As well as presenting the pick of the major film releases, the theatre became an important link in the vaudeville circuits of the 1930s. On November 8, 1931, the Warner formally initiated a vaudeville season. Bob Hope made an appearance that November telling stories while sitting downstage on a barrel.

The Mighty Wurlitzer organ that once rose out of the floor and into the corner of the orchestra pit, provided music for vaudeville shows and accompanied the early talking motion pictures. Warner Bros. eventually donated the organ to the Western Reserve Chapter of American Theatre Organ Enthusiasts in 1969. The Cleveland Gray's Armory Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, now houses the organ.

In 1971, Cinemette Corporation of America bought the Warner Theatre from the Stanley Warner Corporation. In 1974, the Erie Philharmonic had its first concert at the theatre. Since then, the philharmonic has continued to perform there. Cinemette operated the Warner until 1976, when the late Erie Mayor Louis J. Tullio heard the chain might want to sell the theatre. The mayor recognized the importance of saving it from planned demolition and had a vision of a civic center complex to provide venues for sports and arts entertainment to the region. With assistance from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, he negotiated a successful purchase of the building from Cinemette. Critical improvements were then made including installation of a new roof, restoration of lighting fixtures and rewiring of the house front and foyer areas.

In 1977, the Erie Civic Center Authority was formed and given the physical and fiscal management of the Warner Theatre, also referred to as the Center for the Performing Arts. With this change, the policy of the theatre once again included the production of live performances.

In 1981, the Broadway Theatre League began to bring in a series of top Broadway musicals performed by New York-based touring companies. Additionally, the Erie Civic Ballet Company began performing on the Warner's stage. That same year, the Warner was listed on the commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Inventory of Museums and Historical Places, and on April 13, 1982, it was placed on the National Register for Historic Places.

The Warner Theatre's stage has been host to many world-renowned performers through its years, including the Temptations.

 Warner Theater (1932)
Warner Theater (1932)

Warner Theater (1933)
Warner Theater (1933)

Warner Theater (1968)
Warner Theater (1968)


Share: Email Print

Erie County Almshouse

The Erie County Almshouse was established in 1870 and built three and a half miles west of the City of Erie. It stood in the vicinity of 23rd and Pittsburgh Avenue in what is now Millcreek Township. The building stood four stories tall, measuring 190 by 57 feet, with a rear wing of three stories extending off the rear measuring 84 by 32.5 feet. The building was constructed of brick and featured three towers, one at the center and one on either end of the building. The building was built to accommodation a population of 270 poor, 135 of each sex.

In 1870 the building cost $1440,000 dollars, which was levied from taxes According to the 1885 State Report building center contained the apartment for the Steward and his family, separating the East and West wings of the building which contained the male and female paupers respectively. The first floor of the two wings each contained a sitting/smoking room, a large hall, and a store room. The second, third, and fourth floors contained the paupers rooms as well as water closets and bathrooms. In the rear wing the basement contained the heating and machine equipment for the hospital while the first floor contained the kitchen, dining room, and pantries. The second floor contained additional rooms for female patients and the third floor was utilized as a hospital for the male patients.

Fifty feet from the main hospital building was located small two story brick building which formerly housed the male insane of the institution. By 1885 the male insane of the county had all been transferred to Warren State Hospital. The 14 female insane housed at the time of the report were housed in the main building, likely the second floor of the rear wing, and considered incurable. The hospital sat on 105 acres of land which was given to ti by the state. All the land was under cultivation, with six being set aside for garden husbandry. The crops grown were wheat, barely, corn, and various vegetables which were all used to feed the inmates of the institution. An exercise yard was available at all times to the resident paupers.

At some point around 1918 the Original Almshouse complex was abandoned when a new one was opened in Girard Township, at 8300 West Ridge Road. This building remains to this day, however is now in use as a nursing home.

The Almshouse, at Pittsburgh Avenue location, maintained a cemetery located on its grounds where the indigent dead as well as the unidentified from the county were buried beginning in the mid 1800s. This cemetery was used until December 2, 1920, when a 72 year old man became the 690th, and final soul to be laid to rest at the Pittsburgh Avenue location. At this time burials were moved to the new county potters field in Fairview  Township at Dobler Farm. Over time this cemetery grew to hold the remains of over 1000 unknown and unclaimed dead of Erie County.

As happens all too often the old potters field was forgotten, only being rediscovered in 1977 when a newspaper discovered on a map due to proposed industrial park on the site. The remains of 443 of the dead where exhumed and moved to the Dolbler Farm Potters field, where they were interred in seven vaults and given proper religious ceremony. The remaining 247 remain at the original site to this day, buried under the end of West 23rd street and Pittsburgh Avenue. Many are under businesses and the roads themselves.

A 1991 news story brought attention to the neglected County Potters Field and public support for its maintenance. As a result in 1994 the rededicated the cemetery, adding a memorial plaque and a history of the cemetery. The plaque reads: On This Memorial Weekend May 27, 1994, We Rededicate This Cemetery To All Those Souls Who Rest Here, The Sanctity of This Ground is a Reminder That All Life is Precious, And in Death We Are All the Same — God's Children.


Erie County Almshouse, Millcreek Township, 23rd and Pittsburgh Avenue.
Erie County Almshouse, Millcreek Township, 23rd and Pittsburgh Avenue.

Erie County Almshouse, Girard Township, 8300 West Ridge Road (around 1918)
Erie County Almshouse, Girard Township, 8300 West Ridge Road (around 1918)

 Handwritten Letter, Erie County Almshouse (1902)
Handwritten Letter, Erie County Almshouse (1902)

Share: Email Print