HERSHEY THEATRE (1933) STAGE ELEVATORS

To sustain his unemployed construction workers during the depression, Pennsylvania chocolate bar magnate Milton Hershey had them construct a lavish community theatre which opened in September, 1933.  Designed by Scranton architect C. Emelen Urban, the 1904-seat Venetian-style Hershey Theatre was one of a kind:  an atmospheric legit house with nine stage elevators.

The auditorium in longitudinal section showing the sky dome.

The theatre's many delightful incongruities included a well-proportioned stage (forty-one feet deep); talking picture apparatus; and in case silent films returned,  one of the last theatre organs ever assembled, at the foot of this terribly realistic asbestos canal.

As with most east coast houses of note, the stage rigging was installed by Peter Clark who had standardized counterweight systems.

Although Peter Clark perfected stage lifts, Otis Elevator was selected to perform the Hershey install, perhaps their only stage job.  From the Motion Picture Herald of August 29, 1931:

Beneath the original valance, the two chorus lifts are shown, which in the Hershey were subdivided into six. 

Lifts were provided for the organ and orchestra, and the former could also revolve ninety degrees.

An extraordinary lift was Movietone (downstage center), upon which the talking picture horns descended to storage as the picture sheet flew to clear the deck for vaudeville.  Only five other Movietone lifts were ever installed, all by Peter Clark and all in Fox Theatres.  To learn more click here.


Plan drawing of the stage showing all nine elevators.  Movietone (3) could ascend seventeen feet and the stage lifts seven feet, with the exception of upstage center (6) which could rise twelve feet.

Lifts shown in section, from the orchestra pit (left).  Only the upstage lifts could descend below the deck.

Stage elevators seen from DSR.

Orchestra lift pit showing the drive train and stair which folds as the elevator descends. 

Positioning and limit switches in the stage lift pit.

The elevator controls were located to the right of the Peter Clark "cut rope" sign on the stage right smoke pocket and to the left of the Trumbull stage lighting switchboard.

Switching presets in later Trumbull boards, such as Hershey and the Hartford Bushnell Auditorium (below) were centralized and inset, as shown on the cover of this 1937 bulletin.

Although the Trumbull board was demo'd in the 1970's, all of the elevators continue to function.  A portion of the stage lift controls:

Below is the complete 1983 promotional brochure for the Hershey Theatre.   






















Grateful acknowledgment is made to Kim E. Barger at the M.S. Hershey Foundation for permissions and photographs and to Mike McNally, head carpenter at the Hershey.  Brochure from the Joe Patten collection, Trumbull catalog courtesy Rick Zimmerman. 
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September, 2017.