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Manor Theatre celebrates a century in Squirrel Hill


You know a movie theater has been around for a long time when the first film it ever showed was a silent hit at the time.

That’s a boast that the Manor Theatre in Squirrel Hill can make.

When it opened on Murray Avenue exactly 100 years ago on May 15, 1922, as a single screen theater, it showed a movie called “Hail the Woman,” starring Florence Vidor, Lloyd Hughes and Theodore Roberts.

The Manor has operated continuously ever since – except for when it was shut down for most of 2020 in the midst of the pandemic.

“It’s pretty amazing to have a theater that’s been in operation for a hundred years,” said Manor Theatre owner Rick Stern.

On Sunday at 7:30 p.m., the Manor will celebrate a century in existence with a 100th birthday showing of the silent movie that started it all. It will include a live piano accompaniment just as it did when it was first shown.

Made in 1921 and considered to be ahead of its time, based on comments on the film’s Internet Movie Database page, “Hail the Woman” tells the story of a woman kicked out of the house by her Puritanical father. She ends up taking care of a child fathered and abandoned by her brother.

Bring extra tissues, because the movie is supposed to be a tear-jerker.

It’s just one of many movies representing various decades of the Manor Theatre’s existence that will be running during a special centennial film festival from May 13 through May 19.

During those seven days in May, the Manor is dedicating one of its screens to showing a classic film from each decade since it opened. They include “Casablanca” (1942), “Singin’ in the Rain,” (1952), “2001: A Space Odyssey,” (1968), “The Godfather,” (1972), “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” (1981), and “Pulp Fiction,” (1994). Each film will be played between three and four times.

But how was it decided which films would represent the different decades? Stern called it a painstaking process.

“My film buyer in New York and my two managers and I kind of went round and round and considered the obvious ones, but then selected films that were in keeping with the kind of programming that we try to do at the Manor,” he said. “We also tried to do a diverse selection of films.”

Stern said they wanted to have a musical and chose “Singin’ in the Rain,” not only because it stars Pittsburgher Gene Kelly, but also because there is a new 70th anniversary restored version of the film. They will also be playing the newly restored 4K version of “The Godfather.”

“The quality of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ will be a lot different than it was when they were originally exhibited,” said Stern.

Stern and his family have run the Manor Theatre on and off for over half of its existence. He said it’s an honor to be celebrating 100 years of movies at the Manor.

“I grew up in Squirrel Hill so as a child and a teen I was going to the theater as a patron,” said Stern. “This was in the ‘60s and there were 17 cartoons running on Saturday.”

Things have changed a lot since those days and while the Manor now has four screens, one has to wonder how it manages to compete with the bigger multiplex cinemas.

Stern said the formula for staying open this long really comes down to a cozy neighborhood theater showing cutting-edge movies.

“Thankfully for the Manor, we’ve been able to carve out a niche for ourselves by offering specialized films, select films that people in the community couldn’t see elsewhere.”

More information is available at www.manorpgh.com

Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or pguggenheimer@triblive.com.

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