Webmaster's note: The following articles and letters about Nanty
Glo's Capitol Theater originally appeared on the Nanty Glo Home
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
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?)
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
And there's a desolate cemetery just on
the far side of the woods!
Oh, for the good old days,
This entry about the Capitol Theater was contributed by Frank
Charney, now of Arlington, Va.
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.
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.
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
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.
anyone have any memories, direct or indirect with local tie-in, of Jimmy Stewart?
Charney wrote in response to my hazy recollection of Alexander the Great:
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 Taylortwice.
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.
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.
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