York Town Square

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Ella Fitzgerald’s show was ‘memorable, not Memorex’

This 1927 Wurlitzer theater organ, upper left, can rise from a lower level to of the Capitol Theatre to stage level, just as in the old days. It is still used to provide music and dramatic sounds for silent movies. Movie theaters like the Capitol operated in many towns in York County in the 20th century including Hanover, Stewartstown, New Freedom. Small theaters in Glen Rock and Dallastown still operate. Related posts: Black soldiers from York County served in ‘Glory’ unit – Part II, Little-known facts about Hex murder trial emerge and Miss Saigon’s York County connection.

The Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center is celebrating the fifth anniversary of its most recent renovation this year.
That $17.3 million rehab project included a remake of both theaters that make up the complex, an addition of a balcony in the Strand and installation of a chandelier from a Hanover theater at the cost of $30,000.
This anniversary brings back memories of event marking the previous grand renovation of the complex – in April 1980… .

It was celebrated as a Hollywood-style gala with limousines and spotlights and Ella Fitzgerald performing with the York Symphony Orchestra.
Here’s how “Never to be Forgotten” described the scene, based on newspaper accounts:
“They came to hear Ella Fitzgerald. It was indeed memorable, not Memorex. And they came to enjoy the York Symphony in its well-deserved and long-awaited home.” (The Memorex reference stems from a commercial in which a recording of Fitzgerald’s powerful voice was clear enough to break a glass.)
The following is a review of the Strand-Capitol’s 2003 renovation, as published in the November edition of “Spaces” magazine:

Strolling through the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in
York, one could easily mistake the bright, ornate trim for gold leaf.
And, at one time, that would have been correct.
But, the 800 pounds of gold leaf that once accentuated the interior
of the Italian Renaissance-themed theater has since been replaced by
gold paint.
“Not that that was inexpensive, either,” said Bob Jones, executive
assistant to the center’s chief executive officer.
Built in 1925 by the Appell family for $1 million, the Strand-Capitol
stands in stark contrast with the concrete and fluorescent city that
surrounds the center.
Within the theater, a steel-and-crystal chandelier, weighing more
than 1 ton, illuminates a series of hand-painted murals that
depict the four seasons.
Created in 1925 by Hungarian artist, Willy Pogany, the murals had
fallen into disrepair until, as part of the center’s 2003 renovation
project, contractors and artists painstakingly restored them.
Included in the $17.3 million renovation, the Strand acquired the
chandelier from a theater in Hanover to replace a similar light
fixture that had originally hung from the ceiling, Jones said.
About four times a year, theater workers lower the chandelier by
hand for cleaning and to replace light bulbs, he said.
Below, a sea of 1,266 red velvet-lined seats run the valley that
bridges the span from the doors to the stage.
“The whole point of the décor was to uplift someone and have them
believe that they are in this magical world,” Jones said.
In 1925, the Appell family budget didn’t account for a balcony,
despite the original architectural plans.
The 2003 renovation effort sought to complete this vision by
installing a 266-seat balcony, Jones said.
While the Strand typically reserves its stage for live
performances, some residents have rented the historic center as a
place to host their weddings, he said.
At times, when the stage is empty, the sound of an orchestra can be
heard resonating throughout the theater.
No, it’s not the ghosts of long-dead musicians who once took the
The music originates from a 1927 Wurlitzer theater organ that rises
from below the stage of the neighboring Capitol Theatre.
Pipes filled with flutes and trumpets climb two stories within the
theater and are often heard prior to the showing of a classic film,
Jones said.
“The theater organ was originally designed to replace a pit
orchestra,” said Sam Groh of The Susquehanna Valley Theater Organ
“The pipes range in size from no bigger than a pinkie finger to
pipes that are 16 feet in length.”
Renamed the Capitol Theatre from the Jackson Theatre by the Appell family in 1926, the building’s interior sports a décor that heralds
back to the 1950s and 1960s when the movie house projected Warner
Bros. productions.
“These old theaters are really wonderful,” said Donna Nicklow,
marketing associate at the center. “They really act as a linchpin in
the community.”