York Town Square

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The last picture show: Glen Rock’s Glen Theatre

Stand on the stage at the Glen Theatre and this is what you’ll see. In fact, this is the view gathered in by nationally known Parade March King Roland F. Seitz when he performed there. The Glen Rock Auditorium was his band hall. To see how the stage appears today, check out: Glen Rock Theatre. Also of interest: Parade Music Prince Roland Seitz: From Shrewsbury Township -Glen Rock to Friday Night Lights.

John Hufnagel as just written a book about the Glen Rock Mill Inn.

And he’s well versed in another Glen Rock landmark as well: the Glen Rock Theatre. That 100-year-old auditorium is the last active community movie house in York County other than the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center.

Otts recently provided what journalists call a write-thru of the Glen.

He pulled together info from various places, with great help from Chalmers Sechrist Jr. Notice at the end, Otts tells about a challenge facing the theater  – an expensive conversion to digital projection equipment. Will the owners make the upgrade? Will technology spell the end of the last picture show?

Here’s is the theater’s story:

In 1913 the Glen Rock Musical Association launched a new venture. It purchased a property on Manchester Street and erected an auditorium at a cost of approximately $13,500 and with a seating capacity of 500 persons. When constructed in 1913, the Musical Association installed wooden seats which had a wire frame under the seat that held a man’s fedora-style hat. These wooden seats were probably small, which is why the seating capacity was able to be 500. The Item described it as a “splendid little opera house.” Early on, one of Americas greatest composers, Roland F. Seitz, was a part of the Musical Association’s activities in this auditorium.

In 1921, the Auditorium Company of Glen Rock was organized and 463 shares of stock were sold at $10 per share, and the building was taken over by them. The Auditorium Company operated the property from 1921 into 1932. A backstage stairway led to the basement, which ran the whole length of the building, where there were several dressing rooms and toilets / lavatories. In later years it became known as the Glen Rock Auditorium and then, the Glen Theater, a name still carried today.

Early on there was an orchestra pit in front of the stage. The Glen Rock High School orchestra played there during musical programs or stage plays. These were directed by Glen Rock High School Instructors Mr. Guy Mergenthaler and others, or Mrs. Beulah Frock who was the Instructor of Music for the Glen Rock Schools, among others. Chalmers Sechrist Jr. reminisced that he had the pleasure of being involved in the plays “Deacon Dubbs” and “Keep Moving,” during his Junior (1947) and Senior (1948) years.

One access to the orchestra pit was via a narrow stairway from the basement and through a small door under the front of the stage. In later years the orchestra pit was covered by flooring and one or two rows of seats were then added at the front of the auditorium. On September 29, 1932, Chalmers F. Sechrist Sr. (1905 – 1987) leased the Glen Rock Auditorium with the intent to present movies during the fall and winter, and close during the summer months starting in June.

In October 1935, the shareholders of the Glen Rock Auditorium Company met in the auditorium at 37 Manchester Street, then called the Glen Theatre, and discussed the possibility of selling the property for $3,500 to Chalmers Sechrist Sr., who was showing movies twice a week in the building. After discussion, a vote was cast and of the 463 voting shares in the corporation, there were 352 votes cast in favor of the sale, with no dissenting votes. The sale included the real estate, personal property and equipment. The property was to be turned over to Chalmers and Lottie Sechrist (1903 – 1992) as soon as the necessary legal instruments were executed and the Auditorium Company dissolved. Sechrist officially took ownership of the Glen Theatre at 37 Manchester Street on March 23, 1936.

In August 1936, Sechrist started to make improvements to the Theatre. These improvements included adding a marquee and an exterior box office to the front of the building. He added a sound system so that the “talkies” could come to Glen Rock. Prior to 1936, there were silent movies with a piano music accompaniment. During the late 1930’s or early 1940’s Chalmers elected to replace the original wooden seats with pre-owned (in very good condition) smooth fabric cushioned seats and upholstered cloth backs, which he acquired from a theater-supply company located in Philadelphia. When the wooden seats were replaced, the projection booth was moved from the front to the rear of the balcony so that additional cushioned seats could be added to the balcony, bringing the total seating capacity to 372 with the new seats. During the 1940’s the movie projectors and sound system were upgraded and updated. As time went on, the showing of movies increased to a movie on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday nights and two showings on Saturday night.

Occasionally, on Tuesday and Wednesday nights there would be a “double feature” which meant that the news (narrated by Lowell Thomas) and a cartoon would be followed by two different feature movies. Normally, only one feature movie would follow the news and a cartoon on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Also, at times a 20-minute “short subject” (e.g., Travelogue in Technicolor) or a serial episode (with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry or Dick Tracey, among others.) would be shown in lieu of a cartoon and then the feature movie would follow.

On Friday nights there would be one showing of the News and a cartoon, followed by the feature movie. And on Saturday nights there would be two showings each consisting of the News, cartoon (or short subject or serial) and then the feature movie. The first showing started at 7.00 p.m. and the second showing started at 9:00 p.m. On rare occasions, when a movie was very popular, there would be three showings on a Saturday night. The showing on Tuesday night was identical to the showing on Wednesday night and the showing on Friday night was identical to each of the showings on Saturday night.

The cartoons were usually “Merry Melodies” or “Looney Toons” with cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny, Road Runner, Popeye the Sailor Man, etc. Generally, the total duration of a show was around two hours.

The town’s law enforcement officer was Mr. Bollinger whose nickname was “Brassy.” He would come to the Theatre during the movie and stand near the top of the stairs leading to the balcony. At times the young folks in the balcony would talk noisily during the movie and they would be silenced by Mr. J. Wallace Brungart who served as custodian, usher, maintenance department, and “sergeant-at-arms.” Chalmers recalled that noise was a problem in the late 1930’s when there were numerous Civilian Conservation Corps personnel in the balcony.

The cashier / ticket seller was Willis Rohrbaugh and the ticket taker was usually a Glen Rock High School student or Chalmers Jr. The price of admission was 18 cents for children and 35 cents for adults. Chalmers Jr. and his sister Lorie (1925 – 1990) served as ushers on Saturday nights when the Theatre was well attended by residents from Glen Rock and the surrounding areas. On many Saturday nights there were standing-room only movies with cars parked on both sides of Manchester Street which caused traffic too slow to a crawl. However, with the development of television in the late 1940’s, the movie business started to taper off.

In Chalmers’ preteen years he opened a small candy stand in the Theatre and sold candy bars for five cents each. Eventually his little business was replaced by a candy vending machine and a popcorn machine. Candy bars were five cents each and a bag of popcorn was ten cents.

In the 1940’s when Chalmers attended Glen Rock High School, his father, Chalmers Sr., taught him how to run the projection equipment which was located in a fire proof “Projection Room” at the rear of the balcony. And at the age of 16 years he acquired a state License to operate the projectors during movies. Chalmers Jr., also recalled helping with various custodial duties during his Glen Rock High School years.

Also, while young Chalmers was in school, he and two or three other boys from school would distribute flyers advertising the Glen Theatre movies. They would visit towns and deposit the flyers at stores and homes in Seitzland, Brodbecks, Jefferson, Seven Valleys, Loganville, Railroad, among others. They were driven to these towns by Mr. J. Wallace Brungart who worked at Sechrist’s Garage and the Glen Theatre. He was a talented and skilled “Jack of all Trades” who did painting, carpentry, designed and built numerous devices, etc. Once he built a small gasoline-driven car for Chalmers Jr., when he was about 8-10 years old. He was also the bookkeeper who pumped gasoline and checked the oil in customers’ cars at Sechrist’s Garage.

One other means used to promote the movies was the “Glen Theatre” movie poster display case mounted on the creek side wall of the Ben Able complex located on the square and bound by Main Street, Hanover Street and the creek. On the Main Street side from Hanover Street towards the creek were: Ben Able’s Tavern / Restaurant; the Nut House and the building next to the creek that was home to H. S. Zarfoss Quality Green Groceries and Sea Food, and later Ed Erdman’s Produce. The display case was near the front corner of the Zarfoss building, but on the side over the creek. There was a wooden “catwalk” (a board about 10 inches wide ) mounted under the poster display case, and Chalmers Sr., would install the posters while balancing on this catwalk. With the creek directly under the catwalk it was necessary for him to maintain his balance at all times.

In the early 1940’s a large air blower (not refrigerated air) was installed in the basement of the Theatre in order to provide cool air via a large duct to the auditorium on hot summer evenings. The basement air was usually several degrees lower than the outside air.

One reason the basement air was a bit cooler could have been the creek. It starts further out Manchester Street near Wetzel’s Grocery Store at 139, then it flows almost parallel to Manchester Street, goes beneath the Glen Theatre about 20 feet in from the rear wall, under Trinity United Church of Christ’s parking lots and their lawn, then continues under other lawns, and under Winter Avenue, before going through the basement of the building that used to be Bixler’s, next to the bank. Right, through the basement. Then under Hanover Street to empty into the South Branch of the Codorus Creek.

A fire occurred at the Theatre in the early 1940’s. It was discovered by members of the Paul Stermer family who lived next door to the Theatre at the time. The late-night / early morning fire was confined to the stairway leading from the rear of the Theatre to the basement. It was believed that the fire was caused by a cigarette butt in the trash, which was not completely extinguished. The prompt response by the volunteer Glen Rock Hose and Ladder Company avoided a major fire.

Frank Sechrist (1934 – 2001) a brother to Chalmers Jr., did photography and magic shows at the Theatre when he was in Glen Rock High School during the years 1948 to 1952. He was named after his grandfather Frank Sechrist who owned the Trail Theatre located in downtown Shrewsbury, near the town square, the New Theatre in New Freedom and the Dallas Theatre in Dallastown. Frank’s magic shows were well attended with a full house on most occasions. Frank would make trips to Baltimore to attend magic shows and visit stores where magic accessories were purchased.

In 1946, Ted Logan purchased Sechrist’s Garage from Chalmers Sr., and his family had to move from the apartment above the garage, to a new location. They moved into the house previously owned by Paul Stermer at 39 Manchester Street. Since this house was located next to the Theatre, the Sechrists wanted a short cut between the house and the Theatre, so a door on the left side of the building (facing the front) was placed there after they moved into the Stermer house. Chalmers and Lottie Sechrist lived next to the Theatre from 1946 – 1952, at which time they moved to Shrewsbury.

The Glen Rock High School class plays, the Class Day and Commencement programs were held in the Theatre and the Glen Rock High School Band would rehearse there under the direction of Mr. Gottschal or his successor. During the commencement exercise in May 1948, Chalmers Sechrist Jr., who was the class Salutatorian spoke for about 5 – 10 minutes on the subject of Human Rights.

The AMF (American Machine and Foundry) plant in Glen Rock stored heavy, metal castings in the basement of the Theatre. Attached to the rear of the Theatre building was a crane (with chain-hoist) that had been salvaged from the old fire damaged Read Machinery building that was located next to the Neuhaus building on Main Street. This chain-hoist was used to transfer the stored, heavy AMF castings to and from the basement floor and a fork-lift truck which would shuttle the castings between the Theatre and the AMF plant which, since 1940, was located across the tracks from the railroad station on Main Street.

Chalmers and Lottie Sechrist officially owned and operated the Glen Theatre for 30 years and nine months. On January 9, 1967, they sold the building and property to Gerald (1927 – 2002) and Ruth Bortner who operated the Theatre for eight years and three months. During the Bortner ownership a lot of things got boarded up and / or removed when they were in the process of converting the building into apartments. But only two basement apartments were constructed in the theatre building.

On April 18, 1975, the Bortners sold the business to Mr. and Mrs. Fred Strausbaugh, who have owned and operated the Theatre since, showing movies on Friday and Saturday evenings.
They opened on July 9, 1976 with a movie called Mother, Jugs and Speed followed the next week with Blazing Saddles. Ticket prices at that time were Adults $1.50 and Children $1.00.
When the Glen Theatre re-opened, the only competition in the immediate area was the New Theater in New Freedom, PA which closed circa 1988 and is presently a Bonkey’s Ice Cream and Snowball shop.

One of the Saturday evening shows had so many people show up to see the movie that they had to use the balcony. That was in February 1978 for a showing of Smokey and the Bandit. The balcony was never used again, as it was pure chaos with people casting shadows on the screen by getting in the projectors light beam which interrupted the movie.

While Mr. and Mrs. Strausbaugh have owned the theatre they to have made some renovations. When they acquired the Theatre, the main floor had 228 seats. In order to provide the patrons with more leg room, 58 seats were removed, leaving 170 seats for customers. The balcony had 144 seats, and still does, as they have not made any changes upstairs. Besides the seats, they replaced the projection and sound equipment. When they bought the business the concession counter and the movie screen were gone, so new ones had to be installed. The new screen is on wheels and can be rolled back so that the use of the stage can be accomplished.

There was one live concert in the 1970’s and a church group used it for a couple of months in the 1980’s, but those were the only times the stage was used since the Strausbaugh’s have owned the building. It is believed that the stage curtains were sold by a previous owner to another venue.

Their current format is to show one, but no more than three previews for a total of two to seven minutes of previews. It seems that if they are longer than that, they are too long. The present pricing is $6 for adults, $4 for children and $4 for everyone during bargain shows. Fred reports that he has looked behind boards, and has found what he believes was once the door from the basement into the orchestra pit. One of the biggest challenges ahead for the present owners will be the change from the present type of film (35mm) to the new digital movie. The conversion would require new projection equipment, computers and a sound system. Presently, the Strausbaughs have owned the Theatre for the greatest length of time – more than 37 years.

Also of interest:

– A visit to the Glen’s website and found that the theatre is currently closed. There’s a note: ‘Wishing all a fun filled Super Bowl Weekend.’

– Check out these other yorktownsquare.com posts about the Glen Theatre.

Also about Glen Rock:
Museum goer: ‘I really like these old pictures of Glen Rock’.
Mystery of Glen Rock-area’s Narrow Gauge Road deepens.
This time, entrepreneur in York County’s Glen Rock bet on the wrong horse.
Glen Rock hilltop farm: ‘You cannot stay stressed here for long’.
Add obscure marker to list of things to see in Glen Rock
Glen Rock marked site of AMP/Tyco’s first Pa. plant .