A Timeline of Warner Theater History

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Here’s a timeline of events in the history of the Warner Theater in Erie, which will reopen to the public in late January after a nearly $27 million renovation:

‘A nice place’: Take a closer look at the renovations of the iconic Warner Theater

What the artists say: Warner’s renovations create better space for performers, which translates to better shows for audiences

April 10, 1931: The dedication of the new Warner is an exceptional social event

Drum roll please: Erie Philharmonic eager to begin 2022 live show lineup

After more than 40 years, the marquee at the front of the Warner Theater in downtown Erie was fully re-lit on December 3. The marquee and vertical “Warner” panels are filled with 6,910 LED lights. The marquee cost $700,000 and is a replica of the original marquee, which was part of the iconic art deco theater, which opened in 1931.

  • 1929: Movie giant Warner Brothers commissions the construction of a new 2,250-seat Art Deco and French Renaissance theater in Erie at a cost of over $1.5 million. The Warner was designed by Chicago-based architectural firm Rapp and Rapp Company. Warner Brothers officials said at the time that the design goal for their luxury movie palaces was to create an environment “twice as rich, three times as whimsical as life”.

  • April 10, 1931: The Warner Theater opens its doors to the public with the screening of the film “The Millionaire” starring Oscar winners George Arliss and James Cagney. The theater features a 10-ton marquee with over 8,000 colored lights; a stand-alone solid bronze ticket office and solid bronze doors leading to a gold gilded grand foyer; French gold-backed tapestries and mirrors; a staircase with bronze railings leading through an arch of marble, gold gilding and draped tapestry to the theater mezzanine and balcony; Czechoslovakian glass; and crystal chandeliers.

  • November 8, 1931: Warner officially launches a vaudeville season. Later that month, Bob Hope made an appearance at Warner’s, telling stories while seated on a barrel.

  • 1971: Cinemette Corporation of America buys Warner from the Stanley Warner Corporation.

  • 1974: The Erie Philharmonic gives its first concert at the theatre.

  • 1976: State officials and the city of Erie negotiate the purchase of Warner from Cinemette, largely to prevent the demolition of the theater. Shortly thereafter, the theater will stop showing first-run films.

  • 1977: The Erie Civic Center Authority is created to oversee the physical and financial management of the Warner Theatre.

  • 1981: The Broadway Theater League begins performing the best Broadway musicals at the Warner Theater and the Erie Civic Ballet begins performing on the Warner Stage. The theater is also listed for the first time in the Pennsylvania Inventory of Museums and Historic Places.

  • April 1982: The Warner Theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • 1996: The Pennsylvania legislature first approves an $11 million grant for the renovation of the Warner Theater. The project would receive additional government funding in future years.

  • 2002-2003: Over $3 million in public funds funds two phases of Warner Theater upgrades that included new seating, a new roof, and interior decorative painting.

  • 2007: An additional $2.5 million renovation phase, combining taxpayer dollars and private donations, pays for a theater expansion that includes additional restrooms, concession areas, and a new electronic entrance and marquee off French Street.

  • May 2020: Work begins on the $27 million final phase of Warner Theater renovations after years of delays, including cost overruns and a complicated real estate arrangement involving land near the Warner needed to expand the stage. This agreement took more than 15 years to negotiate. The work also includes an enclosed walkway attached to the theater along French Street; new orchestral practice and event space; new rigging; an updated sound system; new loading docks; and additional production equipment. Construction is expected to take at least 18 months. An outdoor video screen is also provided.

  • October: Erie Events officials announce that the planned December reopening of the Warner Theater in Erie will be delayed by at least a month, until January 2022, due to construction delays.

  • December 3: Warner’s restored marquee is fully re-lit for the first time in about 40 years in a public ceremony. The marquee was restored as part of the final phase of theater upgrades.

  • January 23: The Warner Theater is set to reopen to the public with a performance by the Erie Philharmonic.

Sources: Erie Events, Erie Times-News archive

Contact Kevin Flowers at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ETNflowers.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Erie’s Warner Theatre, 1931 to 2022: A Timeline of Key Events


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