In the summer of 1939, the Wilmer and Vincent theatre chain, purchased the Ruth estate at Sixth and Penn Avenues in West Reading for the purpose of building a theatre on the site. According to an article which ran in the Reading Eagle on December 23, 1939, this movie house in the western suburbs of Berks County was to be opened at a cost of $100,000 and was to feature a “bowl floor,” a new idea in theatre construction. This gave the front section of seats a slight rise, thus relieving patrons of eye strain from looking up at the screen. Another innovation for the comfort of theatregoers were seats which rose with the patron.
On Christmas Day, 1939, the theatre opened with the showing of the gangster saga, “The Roaring Twenties,” starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. Readers of that day’s edition of the Reading Eagle were apprised of the fact that, at this picture house, “parking space is always available,” a statement that already portended one of the reasons for the demise of the downtown theatres. Moreover, the Wilmer and the Vincent ad campaign boasted that, with the opening
…we bring to the heart of your community one of the finest suburban theatres in the entire State. Handsomely decorated and furnished; comfortably seated; ventilated and equipped with the latest improvements in projection and sound engineering. We want you to feel that this is your theatre, built for your amusement…
Below: The Penn Theatre, West Reading, circa 1939.
The price of a ticket at the time for all these amenities was a mere twenty-eight cents. Kids under twelve were even luckier, for eleven cents was all they needed to gain entrance to this neighborhood palace, a great bargain since most shows consisted of a double feature and, as the ads boasted, “Extra Added Good Shorts.”
The Penn continued to show quality films to the inhabitants of Western Berks until June 1, 1954, when what appears to be the last motion picture shown at this theatre, “Sabre Jet,” was featured. The site was then leased to Orth Music House, and later, Reifsnyder Music. The Olympian Ballroom, operated by Jerry and Linda Theodossiou Topaz, now occupies the main auditorium.
Ironically, according to Eugene Deeter who operated the Majestic Theatre in Mount Penn, this theatre on Penn Avenue was to be christened the Majestic and the Majestic, which also opened in 1939, was to be the Penn. However, due to a mix-up in delivery of the marquees, the names were reversed. But regardless of the name on its marquee, this “moving picture house” at 601-603 Penn Avenue always delivered top entertainment.
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