Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Norristown's Look

One of our old movie houses, W. Marshall St.
One of the things I love about Norristown is our architecture. We don't LOOK like any other town on the planet. So once in a while on this blog, I'm going to indulge myself and show off our buildings.

On any one street in town, you might find architecture styles spanning two centuries.  Even where we have blocks of brick rowhouses or twins, their designs and details differ depending whether they were constructed in the 1830s, 1880s, turn of the 20th century, or in 1950. I just discovered that, although there are 5 houses like mine on my street, the design can't be found anywhere else in town.

Many of our public and commercial buildings, too, are unique. Some of them, like the former county prison, were designed by famous architects, or like Eisenhower Middle School, are prime examples of uncommon styles or important periods of history.

I want to start out, though, by mentioning some of the treasures we've lost over the years, through sheer shortsightedness.

Back in the first half of the 20th century, Norristown had 6 movie theaters. They were built in the style of the Grand Opera houses of Europe. Here are some of them:

An old postcard of the Garrick Theater

The interior of the Grand Theater.

The Norris Theater, opened in 1930, was designed by architect William H. Lee. When I was a kid, the Norris was the only theater still open. Even if the movie was bad, the inside of the theater was worth the visit. It had stained-glass windows, a fountain with goldfish, a pipe organ, and a blue ceiling with tiny lights like stars. I can still recall the feel of the reclining, red velvet seats. I saw probably a dozen Disney flicks there, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In 1982, despite the interest of an investor who wanted to make the Norris the centerpiece for downtown development, and a borough planning director and grassroots group of citizens who wanted to preserve and restore the place, the old theater was sold and in 1983, demolished, to make way for the construction of...a McDonalds. The sad part is that not long after, Mickey D's decided they didn't like the location and moved to the corner of Markley and Main.

What most Norristonians didn't know at the time is that the facade of the Norris was bought by a salvage yard in Connecticut, who sold it to the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach, Florida, where today, it's one of their most prominent displays.

Yes, people now pay to see it. And we gave it away.

Let's make sure we're never that shortsighted, ever again.


  1. As always another stellar Blog Elena, I love knowing someone that remember Norristown like I do and show so much passion when describing it...Too bad Norristown.org does not make you a weekly contributor for the Marketing of Norristown.

  2. Elena,

    This is from a July 16 post, You mention that there was 6 theaters in Norristown at one time.
    I remember the Westmar, Garrick, Norris,Grand, and the Tower.

    My curiosity has got me and I was wondering what was the sixth ?