Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Historic Pelham Picture House at 175 Wolfs Lane in Pelham, New York

The Pelham Picture House is believed to be the last single screen movie theater showing first run films in Westchester County. The theater opened in 1921 and still stands at 175 Wolfs Lane in the Village of Pelham.

In 1999 an 18-screen movie plex opened in the neighboring City of New Rochelle. As attendance at The Pelham Picture House declined, plans were made to demolish the structure to make room for alternative business development.

A non-profit group named Pelham Picture House Preservation Inc. was formed to purchase the theater from its owner and to convert the structure into a regional not-for-profit film and education center. The organization developed plans to seat 250 movie-goers in the main theater and to add two smaller theaters in the rear capable of holding 120 and 55 movie-goers, respectively. The development plans also include space for classrooms, multipurpose spaces, and a studio / editing room. Plans are to exhibit art house films and to present historical events, documentaries, workshops, photographic exhibits, children's programs and more.

On November 1, Pelham Picture House Preservation Inc. closed its acquisition of the theater, reportedly for $1.5 million. The theater closed for clean up, repairs to the electrical system, and installation of a new projection and sound system. It will reopen on Friday, November 18 with showings of the movie "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire".

Immediately below are two images. The first is a recent photograph of the theater. The second is an illustration that depicts plans for development of the theater as a regional film center.

On November 6, 2005 (nearly a week after the theater closed), I was provided an opportunity to take several hundred high-resolution digital photographs to document the condition of The Pelham Picture House.

The theater remains a virtual time capsule with treasures hidden in virtually every corner. There was even a monumental stack of decades worth of film trailers lying in a pile in one storage area of the theater.

The theater opened during the silent film era in 1921. Peering beneath a more recent wooden "stage" built in front of the movie screen, one can still see a piano pit surrounded by a short railing to keep patrons from falling into it. The photograph below shows that piano pit and the railing.

Note that the far end of one of the ladders rests within
the Piano Pit with a Railing Above That Follows Its Contour.

The magnificent interior truss system that supports the massive roof of the structure is pictured below. As noted by Barbara Bartlett, an accomplished architectural historian who resides in the Village of Pelham, the truss system is reminiscent of a similar system used in nearby St. Catharine's built in the 19th century.

On each side of the movie screen behind wall fabric that covers the walls are ornate ornamental curtains that may be original to the theater. The scalloped curtains appear to be made of velvet with a metallic fringe. A photograph of one of them appears immediately below.

Climbing into the projection room of the theater, there is a 1940s era projector within an extensively fire-proofed room due to the volatile inflammable nature of early film stock during the silent film era. Sliding metal plates sit above each projection opening in the thick masonry walls. Each is held by cables attached to fuses designed, when softened by the heat of a fire, to snap so that the metal plates slide shut over the openings to slow or contain a fire. They appear original to the theater. The image below shows one view of some of the projection equipment in the room.

To become a supporter or to learn more about the plans to turn the historic Pelham Picture House into a state-of-the-art regional film center, visit http://www.ThePictureHouse.org or call (914) 738-3160 or mail your donation to The Picture House Regional Film Center, Box 539, Pelham, NY 10803.

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