A Forum On

Nanty Glo's
Capitol Theater

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Webmaster's note: The following articles and letters about Nanty Glo's Capitol Theater originally appeared on the Nanty Glo Hom
e Page's Webmaster's Jonal. As the Jonal's items are not individually cross-indexed from other pages, we've brought them together here as their own Forum page, to commemorate one of the Blacklick Valley's most important historic institutions. My article opens the Forum. Both the photo in the first paragraph below and the one at the bottom of this article are from other, similar theaters. Photos of Nanty Glo's Capitol are rare, and ironically the best photo this feature has received is the one of January 3, 1968, below, when the building was on fire and in the course of the night, destoyed (enhancing the marquee reveals that the feature is The Taming of the Shrew). The inset in paragraph two farther down, a copy of a black and white newspaper photo, is the only other one we've found. —Jon Kennedy


During my youth Nanty Glo had no institution it could be prouder of than the Capitol Theater. Operating under the slogan, “The Showplace of Cambria County,” it may not have surpassed the Embassy and State theaters in downtown Johnstown, but it outshown any other outlying town's theater in the county by far. The Capitol occupied a whole block on Chestnut Street, the one now occupied by the Post Office. It was a massive brick building which had a full highway-size billboard always featuring an upcoming movie on the First Street end and large framed posters on the longest side, the one from First Street up Chestnut to the lobby. The outside lobby itself had additional large posters under glass, and inside there were numerous black and white movie stills advertising upcoming features. The Capitol had a real marquee, with hundreds of lights, and the titles of the movies were changed with each program change, of which there were three or four per week (Sunday and Monday, Tuesday through Thursday, and Friday and Saturday...or was it Sunday through Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday and Saturday?)


Rare photo of Nanty Glo's Capitol Theater
is from the NTAMHS historical calendar for 2003. The former 'Showplace of Cambria
County' was destroyed by arson in 1968. Click the photo for slightly better view of photo

At the time, the Capitol was Nanty Glo's nearest equivalent to today's McDonalds', in that, sooner or later, any youth in town would have a job there, if he or she wanted one. Teens were hired to work the ticket booth, candy-popcorn counter, and serve as ushers, girls for the former; boys for the latter. If memory serves, there were two of each at any given time. Pay was a dollar a night and all the movies you could watch (the girls couldn't watch many, in fact, as their jobs didn't give them the opportunity to slip into the auditorium like the boys' jobs did).

The Capitol's manager was Thomas A. Bello, who was there every night, except the one night per week he spent in Pittsburgh selecting future features, until the theater started closing some nights as movies started losing their audience. That didn't happen immediately with the advent of television as many predicted, but by about 10 years later theaters like the Capitol were having a very difficult time. In the '60's the Capitol closed altogether for a while, then reopened part time. Finally, arsonists struck (apparently; I'm not sure that has ever been proven, but what else could have done it?), and the Capitol like most of its predecessors in Nanty Glo movie history was gone, this time forever. So was a major part of the history and youth of many of us.

During the days Mr. Bello would be all over the central part of the county, delivering handbill programs for the theater. You could find them in every service station and candy store and who knows what else for miles around; no other theater did that. There were always ads in the Journal, too, and if I remember correctly the Capitol did not advertise in the Johnstown daily, out of loyalty to the home town. I'd bet that a deal had been worked out between Mr. Bello and Journal editor Andy Rogalski about that...maybe Betty Nedrich would know (probably no one else would, any longer).

I worked at the Capitol during the transition from age 15 to 16, just before getting my first car, meaning I hitchhiked the four miles from the intersection of Red Mill Road and what is now Route 271 every night, into town and back. Though I'd had a "girlfriend" in Nanty Glo for over a year before that, it was on the job that I met John Golisas, a frequent moviegoer. He recognized me from my picture being on the teen column in the Journal every week, and we soon developed a fast friendship which, with some ups and downs like most friendships, continues to this day, more than 40 years later.

We've discussed Nanty Glo's theaters on the Forum a number of times, but I thought the topic might evoke some memories from those of you who remember the Capitol or its predecessors, and some thoughts or questions from those who don't remember it. Maybe you have another movie theater experience you'd like to share; that too would be appropriate.


Next, Barb Hakanen shared these memories about working at the Capitol Theater:

I was one of the Popcorn/Candy Gals at the Theater for a while and still have a love for popcorn to this day.

Every Wednesday Mr. Bello would go to Pittsburgh to get new movies for the following week. It was then that the popcorn was the very best. We were only to put one and one half turns of the crank (this was the way the oil got into the kettle). But on Wednesdays when he wasn't standing in the lobby watching everything that went on (like any good boss should), we would give that old crank several spins until the popcorn was dark gold in color and so rich in flavor. The oil probably was not a healthy item to be eating but when you're 14 or so, who cares...?

The other memory I had was working the Midnight Shows on Friday nights, then having to walk home by myself. The movies were always the Frankinstein-type films. I lived on the bottom of Caroline Street and at that time it was not only tree lined but like a tunnel with the huge branches joining over the street. I would run as fast as I could down the middle of Caroline Street and dash into the front door all out of breath but “safe.” Anyone remember the first Invasion of the Body Snatchers?

Oh the good old days. LOL

I think the Friday midnight shows stand out the most in my mind, too. There was always some concern about getting a ride home so late, but usually someone from out Belsano-way would be there that I could ask for a ride or, better yet, would offer. I remember most of the films as being from American International Pictures, which always seemed like a cheap imitation of Universal-International (now just Universal). A-I was king of the “B” movies, but compared with real B movies they should have been called “C” movies. One that impressed me as head and shoulders above the rest, however, was The Blob. It was Steve McQueen's first starring role, for one thing, but even the plot is better than most of its kind, though it has a refreshing way of poking fun at its kind all at the same time. It's definitely one to rent for some fun, and safe for the kids, too.

And if you think Caroline Street was tree-shrouded, try walking down Redmill Road from 271, through the woods with no streetlights in sight at 2 a.m. Many nights it was so dark I couldn't see the road beneath my feet!

And there's a desolate cemetery just on the far side of the woods!

Oh, for the good old days, indeed! —jon

This entry about the Capitol Theater was contributed by Frank Charney, now of Arlington, Va.

My memories of the Capitol Theater were those rare occasions where students from St. Mary's Catholic School were allowed to attend a movie on a school day. As restless youngsters, the students always enjoyed the brief escape from the strict discipline of the classroom, and there was discipline in those days. The sisters marched the students as a group to the Capitol Theater where the featured movie was either Song of Bernadette (1943) with Jennifer Jones in her first film role (did any of you know that the beautiful actress, Linda Darnell, was unbilled as the Virgin Mary in Bernadette?), or Going My Way (1944) with Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald. There were no Bruce Willis-type movies in that era.

At the Capitol, many of the older generation also recall the many Abbott and Costello movies that had you either laughing, or crying in a movie with the East Side Kids (Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall) when James Cagney had his appointment with the electric chair.

Also, the Capitol Theater management (Mr. Bello) awarded an entire dinnerware set, acquired one piece at a time, to women for attending a weekly Thursday night feature. Many of those sets can be seen in china cabinets in homes today.

More movie trivia. Most Cambria County natives are probably aware that Charles Bronson (Buchinski) of Death Wish 10 fame is originally from Ehrenfeld (South Fork). He visited the Ebensburg area about three years ago. Charlie is 78 years of age (as of 1999).

Carroll Baker of '50s and '60s movie fame was born in Johnstown. She is 68.

I once heard that Gene Kelly (now deceased), a Pittsburgh native and Penn State graduate, had a dance studio in Johnstown and gave lessons in Nanty Glo. I can't confirm this. And we all know about James Stewart from Indiana, Pa., who recently passed away in his late eighties. Jimmy's unique speech can be a good topic for area dialect discussion.

Best Regards, Frank Charney

Frank's description of the St. Mary's School outings to the Capitol reminds me of a couple of vignettes. Students who attended first through fourth grades at Belsano School, as I did, attended fifth grade in a classroom in the Blacklick Township High School building, Red Mill Road at Rt. 271. When the high school had assemblies with movies, which was also rare, we fifth graders got to attend, even though the movies were usually over our heads. The year I was in fifth grade, for an Easter-time fundraiser the senior class sold raffle tickets for a ham. My parents, especially my Baptist mother, were very anti-gambling and virtually never bought such tickets, but they bought one, only one, of these to avoid offending the student and neighbor who came to the door selling them.

At the Easter week movie assembly in the school gym, who should Principal Elmer Smith call to come up and pull the lucky ticket out of the barrell but me. And whose ticket did I pull (and it was one of those rare instances when I just knew this was going to happen), but, of course, my parents'. Triple embarrassment.

I remember a school outing (when in junior high in Twin Rocks) once to the Capitol. We saw Alexander the Great, with a young Richard Burton as Alexander. I'd never heard of Alexander the Great, but it was an impressive movie experience.

Does anyone have any memories, direct or indirect with local tie-in, of Jimmy Stewart?


Frank Charney wrote in response to my hazy recollection of Alexander the Great:

Marlon Brando was in Julius Caesar in 1953. Richard Burton starred in Alexander the Great in 1956. I can't believe the movies are that old, because I was a great moviegoer back then.

Marlon Brando was the first name that popped into my head and I immediately thought it wasn't right. Racked my brain. “Oh, I know who it was...he was married to Elizabeth Taylor—twice. I took pictures of his family home in Wales....” But Brando was all I could think of. I should have used the Alta Vista search engine on the home page!


Ah, the Capitol Theater

This entry is a guest essay by Paul Simendinger who was for many years employed at the Capitol.

Ah, the Capitol Theatre. It was built for Vitaphone, which was another way of describing the newest sound of the era. Vitaphone was a huge speaker located in the center of the screen. It sat atop a platform on wheels, which could be rolled away for stage performances.

All seats were leather and repairing one rip or tear took about a half hour. The lights (12) were lowered by rope to be relamped. We changed every bulb when we had it down. There were four circuits for each light and they were plugged in in the ceiling. We had to be careful that we did not mix the lights as we had red, green yellow and white. The theatre orginally had over a thusand seats, but when they enacted a federal amusement tax, the last row in the center and several rows in the front were removed to keep in the lower category of tax. Our air conditioning was basic. The air was pulled in from the outside, and passed over a room filled with blocks of ice, then pushed up to the ceiling and out to the auditorium. We had to pump the pressure up for the fan to run at the higher speeds...and it worked. All summer long we had a banner out front advertising the air conditioning.

POSTERS: All advertising was rented, and had to be returned to National Screen Service in Pittsburgh. We used stills (8x10's, 11x14's, 22x28's, 1-sheets, 40x60's) which were displayed in the front of the theatre, and 3-sheets, 6-sheets and 24-sheets which were pasted onto the billboards along Chestnut and First Street. The 24-sheet in the alley near the Ford dealer was advertising “the Capitol Theatre, the showplace of Cambria County.”

There were four changes of films per week: Sunday...which was always a double feature, Monday and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday and Saturday. Wednesday/Thursday was dish or silverware or cosmetic (Constance Bennett) nights. Friday was sign-in night for the drawing of bank nite on Saturday. They signed a proxie slip and were eligible for the drawing. I was the drum turner for many years and assisted Mr. John Gustin, the high school principal, in the drawings. We had over 30,000 people signed up for the drawings, and it took four books on stage to see if they were signed up....

Enough for now, will give more information later. If anyone has any questions, I will attempt to answer them.

Paul Simendinger


About the photos on this page: Though reminiscent of memories of Nanty Glo's Capitol, they are of other theaters. If you have any photos showing the real Nanty Glo Capitol, or if you have additional memories to share in writing, please write webmaster.

Click here for an enlarged view of Nanty Glo's Liberty Theater, the Capitol's longest-surviving competitor

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