History

material excerpted from:

Chase Putnam, editor Stepping Stones, Vol 27, No. 3, September 1983 (Warren County Historical Society)

Chase Putnam and Charles Tranter, Library Theatre Grand Re-Opening Gala Program, 15 October 1983 (Friends of the Library Theatre)

Genesis:

In early 1882, Thomas Struthers proposed to erect, at his own expense, a building suitable for the accommodation of the Library, and rental spaces, including a Public Hall, the rents and profits from these to be for the use of the Library Association. Struthers’ offer was dependent on the citizens of Warren expressing their interest in the project by the purchase of a suitable site for the building. A committee was established to confer with Struthers relative to his generous proposal, and a fund for the purchase of the site was subscribed. In June 1882, the chosen site was deeded to Thomas Struthers in consideration of $7,050 paid to the landowners by the committee. Work commenced on the building shortly after.

Thomas Struthers named 7 trusteesin his declaration of trust to manage the building. Two of the original trustees were women. Struthers designated one of the trustee positions to always be filled by the current President Judge.

Architecturally speaking

The 1883 Struthers Library Theatre Building is an interesting architectural amalgamation of styles popular in the late Victorian period. The building shows influences of the Victorian Second Empire as well as elements seen in Italianate commercial architecture. A student of historical architecture will recognize traits of the Second Empire apartments in Paris and a return to the Italian Renaissance as depicted in Victorian commercial buildings of the Italianate style.

A new lease on life:

In early 1982, the community was invited to join the newly formed “Friends of the Library Theatre”. Within three months, more than 1,000 persons had enrolled in this new group, organized to promote and support the renovation of the theatre. With such a ground swell of support, the Friends moved quickly—a fund campaign was launched—a goal of $300,000 established. Fourteen weeks later, 10,011 individuals and corporations had oversubscribed the goal with gifts totaling $437,453! These funds made the extensive renovations in the early 1980’s possible.

Subsequent capital campaigns have facilitated the renovation of the Library Room and the Friends Room. In its renovated state, the auditorium seats 977 individuals and is handicapped accessible.

Milestones:

  • December 3, 1883: Library Hall opens, with the opera “Iolanthe” as the entertainment.
  • November 10, 1919: The new Library Theatre opens after a complete gutting and remodeling of the auditorium, with a popular Broadway play “My Lady Friends” starring Clifton Crawford on the evening’s program.
  • October 15, 1983: The Library Theatre celebrates an extensive renovation and its 100th birthday with a Gala Re-Opening featuring a varied program with jazz pianist George Shearing, classical pianist Eugene List, opera singers Julia Lovett and James Sergi, a professional dance company, and a bagpipe and drum band.
  • 1984: The Library Room is restored to its original splendor and outfitted for special events and gatherings.

A History of the Struthers Library Theatre Building

by Chase Putnam and Quinn Smith from Historic Buildings in Warren County, Pa.,Volume I, 1971 (Warren County Historical Society, Warren,Pa.)

Warren acquired on of its most imposing structures through the generosity of Thomas Struthers, an outstanding citizen of the town in the 19th century. The Struthers building—or the Library Theatre Building, as it is known today—stands as a monument to the spirited public concern this man expressed during his lifetime.

Born in Ohio in 1803, Struthers was of Scotch ancestry; his father was a pioneer immigrant to the Western Reserve, the “far west” of those days. After a limited secondary school education, Struthers attended Jefferson College for two years and then entered his uncle’s law office in Greensburg, Pa., as a student. He was admitted to the bar in 1827. He came to Warren in 1828, married Eunice Eddy in 1832, and joined in a law partnership with S. P. Johnson in 1834. Dissolving this partnership in 1840, he retired permanently from active law practice.

In the year of his marriage, Struthers had purchased 25,000 acres of land in the Warren area; real estate became his chief occupation for the next 25 years.

In addition to his activities as a land baron, Struthers was instrumental in the organization of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad project; he also purchased an interest in a foundry, which ultimately became Struthers Wells and Company. Having found coal and iron on his father’s property in Ohio, which he purchased after extensive travel with his family in Europe, he developed these interests along with his other burgeoning occupations.

The political scene did not miss Thomas Struthers’ devoted attention: in 1850 he was elected to the state legislature, and in 1857, he was re-elected to serve another term of office. Furthermore, he managed to find time to serve as president of both the Corry National Bank and the First National Bank of Warren.

In 1882 Struthers made an offer to the people of Warren, which was to culminate in the erection of a building, that fast became the center of the town’s cultural activity. Had he been remembered for nothing else, this one gift would serve as a testament to his fondness for Warren and its citizens.

The Warren Library Association was the outgrowth of the private library of The Honorable G. W. Scofield, which he gave to the Presbyterian Church and its rector, Reverend W. A. Rankin, in 1871. The books were first kept in the church and later—under the aegis of the YMCA—removed to the second floor of the Verback building on Second Street (now the Printz store). This first real library room was finally opened in February of 1872, after an additional 609 volumes were purchased at a cost of nearly $500; a permanent library committee was elected in October of the same year. Eventually, in 1873, the Warren Library Association was formed; officers and a board were elected; and the Association was incorporated the following year. Over the next few years, as the use of the library expanded and the collections grew, it became apparent that a new space would have to be found. The concept of a public library was eminently successful; Warren was responding to the service, and the prime movers of the entire plan were ready for their next move.

On January 9, 1882, Thomas Struthers offered to erect a library building on a lot that would be provided by the citizens of Warren; the structure would house not only the library but rental spaces as well, to meet the expenses of library upkeep. A committee was appointed to raise funds, select and purchase the site, and oversee the enterprise to its completion. Not surprisingly, a fund was promptly subscribed; in June of 1882 the parcel of land at the northwest corner of Liberty Street and Third Avenue was deeded to Struthers by A. J. Davis and his wife and Mrs. Sally Miles for $7,050 paid by the committee. An ambitious construction program was soon underway and the Struthers building began to take shape.

By the winter of 1883 the Struthers Library Building was ready for use; it was opened in 1884. For a total cost of over $80,000, Thomas Struthers provided Warren with a structure that promised something for everyone. The brick edifice, 162 feet long by 73 feet wide, rose over 95 feet from the ground to the top of its southeast turret. There were two store spaces on the ground floor, one fitted out with ash woodwork and 1020 lock boxes for use by the post office. Until it was moved to the southwest corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Market Street, circa 1917-1918, the post office remained in this space.

On the ground floor center a twelve-foot-wide passageway led between the stores to the theatre and to stairways to the upper stories.

The second-floor library room measured 57 feet by 45 feet by 20 feet high. The ceiling was supported by four massive iron columns and all woodwork was fashioned of oak. An alcove and a meeting room stood adjacent to the west wall of the library and a room on the northeast side was set-aside as a “conversations room.” A single tier of stacks about 20 feet deep covered a large portion of the west side of the entire space; a checkout counter, reading tables, chairs, an enormous brass gasolier, and other necessary fixtures rounded out the picture. (At some later date, two additional tiers of stacks were built above the existing one, and an enclosed office area was constructed in the northeast corner of the room. The result was a well-outfitted library with facilities which would serve the public for the next 33 years, until the new library on Market Street was opened in 1916.

The third floor was designed specifically for the use of North Star Lodge #241 F and AM, to be leased to that organization for a term of 99 years. A wide door opened to the main Masonic Hall, nearly the same size as the library room; in addition to an anteroom on the west side of the hall and small apartments “sacred to mystery”, there was a banqueting room which extended over the space occupied by the theatre auditorium. From about 1917 to 1922, the New Process Company occupied the large hall, before embarking on its own construction program.

All windows in the front of the building were of plate and cathedral glass, and the floors throughout were made of select Georgia pine.

At the end of the passageway on the ground floor originally stood the entrance to “Library Hall,” the gem-like opera house which was a brilliant focal point for the whole building. The auditorium itself measured 67 feet by 64 feet, and the ceiling towered 39 feet above floor level at the front of the stage. A gallery curved around over the dress circle, leaving room for a second gallery; the side walls were tinted and the ceiling was frescoed in a Moorish design.

Folding chairs were used for seating, some leather and plush upholstered, the rest with backs and bottoms of perforated wood veneers. There were 916 seats with room for more as needed. Two boxes, each connecting with an open balcony leading from the aisle, filled the space between gallery and stage, on either side. The right hand box was reserved for Struthers and his family.

The stage, 27 feet deep, 70 feet wide, and 35 feet from the boards to rigging loft, boasted a proscenium opening 31 feet wide and 25 feet high. The theatre opened with 16 sets of scenery and many additional set pieces. Gas footlights illuminated the stage. Eight dressing rooms, in two tiers of four each, stood on each side of the stage. Below stage were a music room, a green room, and the supers’ dressing room. The drop curtain stage front depicted the Port of Leghorn.

The opera house could be converted to a ballroom when a folding wooden dance floor, stored in the basement, was assembled over the entire orchestra, or pit; it extended to the front edge of the stage, thereby making a continuous floor from one end of the room to the other.

The front part of the large basement beneath the auditorium contained storage space and two rooms for rent. Each store in the front of the building had a basement, and the boiler room housed a furnace which provided steam, natural-gas heat. Shortly after the building was opened, the Warren “Ledger” offices took over a portion of the basement.

Like any other building of its kind which is widely used by the public, the Struthers building has undergone periodic renovations. In 1902 an attractive children’s room was opened in the library behind the stacks, in what must have been the original meeting room. Later this space was broken up into smaller rooms.

Sometime before 1907 the post office was enlarged and the theatre entrance was moved to the Liberty Street side of the building. The box office was raised on stilts, facing north, over the rear portion of the post office. Later of course, the entrance was shifted back to Third Avenue.

Another major change, possibly before 1907 (and certainly before 1916), entailed the moving of the stairs to the second and third floors to the west side of the building where they remain today; this stairway also provides access for theatre personnel to the balcony and the projection room.

In 1915 the original dress circle and orchestra seating arrangements in the theatre were eliminated to allow for the installation of seats which ran from side to side. By that time an enlarged, more practical seating capacity was needed; vaudeville and motion pictures were becoming important attractions, soon to replace legitimate theatre almost completely.

Major renovations changed the entire aspect of the old opera house in 1919. At a cost of $80,000 (curiously enough, nearly the cost of the original building in 1883), a “modern, up-to-date” theatre, managed by the Columbia Amusement Company, opened to the public on November 10, 1919. The floor was lowered and inclined; boxes and gallery were removed; a new balcony was constructed; the depth of the stage was reduced; the proscenium arch was enlarged by several feet and a three-story addition was built on the north side which housed new dressing rooms to replace the old ones on the stage.

Designed by Wetmore and Warren Company of New York City, the “New Library Theatre” seated over 1100. A modern ventilation system changed the air every 45 seconds. The ladies’ lounge and the mezzanine promenade were tastefully decorated and accented with wicker furniture. New paint and carpeting throughout completed the renewal of the “metropolitan theatre in Warren”… “equipped for handling any line of entertainment.”

The lease for the theatre was transferred to Warner Brothers in 1930; in 1966 Blatt Brothers, operators of a chain of movie houses in western Pennsylvania and New York, took over the operation.

The store spaces on the ground floor have had many tenants over the years. The corner location, long the post office, has been used as (among other things) a brokerage office, tea room, beauty parlor, flower shop, shoe store, and –since 1940—Turner’s Radio Shop. The other store was for many years, beginning in 1928, the office of Warren Plumbing and Heating Company. Prior to that time it had housed a print shop, a clothing store, and the addressing department of the New Process Company. Putnam’s Book Shop currently occupies the space.

About 1900 a three-story addition was attached to the west wall of the building, the A. J. Davis house having been moved one lot west to make room. A steady succession of tenants has included physicians, the U. S. Forest Service, and realtors, as well as renters in the second and third-floor apartments.

Updates of note—June 2007:

Since the early 1980’s renovation of the Theatre, the store space on the corner of Liberty Street and Third Avenue has housed Ring Around A Rosy, a flower and gift shop. The store space to the west of the main entrance, formerly Putnam’s Book Shop, then Villa Pizza, has been renovated as an elegant meeting and reception room, and named the “Friends Room”, in honor of the Friends of the Library Theatre.