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Visit theaters that are part of the show
By Dave Hurst
© 2013 Hurst Media Works
That the small proscenium-style stage was designed more for movies than for the live
show we were there to see didn’t matter. Windber’s Arcadia Theater offered warmth,
charm and an experience that only happens in vintage entertainment houses.
Stately pairs of columns flanked each side of the proscenium arch. The curtains were a
deep, rich red. Soft up-lighting emerged from faux boxes, rimmed with wrought iron.
And keystone-topped arches blended into decorative molding that traced the hall’s walls.
The Arcadia was opened in 1921 as a vaudeville house for the coal-mining families of
Windber. As was typical of so many of the theaters of that day, it was soon converted to
show movies and continued to do so until closing in 1975.
While most of the classic vaudeville/movie houses have been claimed by time and
demolition, the vacant Arcadia was acquired by the Eureka Coal Heritage Foundation,
which spent about a decade lovingly restoring the theater’s original look. It reopened in
My companion and I were there to enjoy a live show of Irish dance and music – one of at
least a dozen music performances that the Arcadia now schedules each year. (For more
information, visit
Much of our cultural and natural heritage is connected and best-experienced outdoors.
But if you are among those who try to minimize exposure to winter weather, one great
way to enjoy our cultural heritage at this time of year is to patronize one of our region’s
classic theaters.
The Palace Theatre Center for the Performing Arts is an outstanding example. This
downtown Greensburg theater opened in 1926 and faced the threat of demolition before
being acquired and revived by a group now known as the Westmoreland Cultural Trust.
Today you can still see the Palace’s original golden Grecian marble, impressive murals,
brass railings and distinctive ticket booth. But this 1,300-seat theater also has been
impressively renovated with modern lighting and sound systems, air conditioning,
carpeting and upper-level seating.
The Palace also offers the region’s most-extensive playbill. It’s the home of the
Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra, a frequent venue for the River City Brass, and
attracts a wide variety of contemporary performers that range from the Duquesne
Tamburitzans to famous-rocker tribute bands.
Another classic – and impressively restored – theater is the Mishler in Altoona. Opened
in 1906, this building was the first in the United States that was specifically developed for
theatrical use. (Until that point, theaters usually occupied an upper floor of some
commercial building dedicated to other purposes.)
Named for Isaac Mishler, a local theater manager who built it, this theater featured a
baroque interior and played host to some legendary entertainers: W.C. Fields, John Philip
Sousa, Ethel Barrymore, Al Jolson, Helen Hayes and Houdini among them.
Today, the Mishler is owned and operated by the Blair County Arts Foundation and
offers a seasonal schedule that blends music and a variety of theatrical productions. It’s
the home-venue for the Altoona Symphony Orchestra and the Altoona Community
The Rockwood Mill Shoppes and Opera House is the oldest entertainment venue on the
list, dating to 1898. Located on the second floor of a former feed mill that’s been turned
into retail shops, the opera house now offers a variety of musical entertainment and
dinner theater.
And Vandergrift’s Casino Theatre is almost as old: It was built in 1900 as a vaudeville
hall then remodeled into a movie theater in 1927. Closed in 1981 then reopened in 1995,
the Casino is operated by volunteers and offers occasional shows and performances.
If great entertainment amid grand ambiance is your ticket, you have a broad selection of
sites and shows this season. Reserve a seat and enjoy your heritage warm.