Friday, July 26, 2013

The Centre Theater Building

I plan to discuss Arts Hill a lot on this blog, since I think it's one of the best concepts for Norristown's downtown that's come along. But today's Friday, the weekend's near, and I think we need a break from grand visions until next week. So, though I'm going to talk about Centre Theater today, I'll start with the building itself.

208 Dekalb Street is one of the best-looking pieces of architecture in town. The building dates to 1851, erected as an Odd Fellows Lodge and public auditorium. Between then and 1873, if you wanted to see a Vaudeville show in Norristown, this was where you came. The place hosted many famous speakers, including General George Meade, who had commanded the Union Forces in the Civil War. Native Norristonian General Winfield Scott Hancock ran his campaign for President of the United States from the lodge.

The Odd Fellows sold the lodge in 1877, but the building continued to host entertainment and lectures, as well as Town Council meetings. In 1910, it changed owners again, and was turned into office space. It remained so through most of last century, becoming more and more run down. I remember it, when I was growing up, as having grimy stonework, boarded-up windows, and a roof in major disrepair.

In the 1990s, the building's exterior was beautifully restored, and the inside renovated to be a professional theater and educational space. It was renamed the Montgomery County Cultural Center, with The Centre Theater on the top floor, under the mansard roof.

Truly a landmark we can all be proud of.

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