History

1905    John P. Harris and Harry Davis of Pittsburgh open the first theater in the country created exclusively for the showing of motion pictures. Its name, the Nickelodeon, becomes part of the American lexicon.

----       Harris forms Harris Amusement Company, eventually including at least 15 theaters in the mid-Atlantic states.

1922    Harris elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate.

1926    “Senator Drops Dead in Committee Room” reads the New York Times on January 27, 1926, as Senator  Harris dies at work after presenting arguments in favor of election reform and Prohibition enforcement.

Harris Amusement Company taken over by the late Senator Harris’ brother, Denis.

1938    The Denis Theatre, a grand one-screen moviehouse with a capacity of over 1200, opens on Mt. Lebanon’s main street. The marquee in the original architectural plans reads “HARRIS”.

1960    Denis Theatre sold to Ernest A. Stern, owner and president of Associated Theaters. Sale includes South Hills Theater, Liberty Theater and J. P. Harris Theater. Stern also owns the Forvm Theater in Squirrel Hill, an art house.

1965    Open mezzanine of Denis Theatre closed off and second auditorium built.  Denis Encore opens as first art house in South Hills with larger seats and modern décor.

1967    To Sir with Love plays at the Denis – considered “art” at the time for its controversial theme.

1968    The Graduate gets exclusive first-run in Pittsburgh at the Denis and Forvm theaters. Billed as art film it becomes a blockbuster, running 25 weeks at the Denis. Lines regularly go around corner and down Alfred Street.  It eventually explodes into mainstream theaters.

1974    Associated Theaters sold to Cinemette.

1978    Cinemette declares bankruptcy, Stern regains possession of the theaters he sold, and more.

1981    Main Denis auditorium is “twinned” and projection booth relocated to front of balcony. Remaining balcony area becomes small auditorium. Denis now has four screens. 

1988    Associated Theaters sold to Jeff Lewine of Cinema World, Stern retains ownership of the building for the Denis.

----       Ernest Stern passes away, business taken over by his son, Richard Stern

1993    Cinema World sells theater business to Carmike, but Stern regains the Denis, groups it with Manor and Bellevue theaters and forms CineMagic.

1994    Denis briefly closes for updating of carpeting, seats, restrooms

1995    Old pornographic movie house on Liberty Avenue rehabilitated and reopened as The Harris Theater, named after John P. Harris in recognition of his contribution to film history.

----       Stern becomes business partners with Milo Ritton

2004    Stern-Ritton business partnership dissolves, Ritton takes possession of Denis and closes it.

2007    Denis Theatre put on the market and purchased by Raja, a Mt. Lebanon entrepreneur.

             The Denis Theatre Foundation formed as a non-profit organization

2008    The Foundation signs 15-year lease, with plans to renovate and reopen the theater.

             The Foundation granted 501(c)(3) status, making contributions exempt from federal income tax.

2009    After the economy crashes, the Foundation hires A. L. Brourman Associates, professional fundraising counsel, to guide the capital campaign

2010   The Foundation receives a $100,000 grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation and a $155,000 challenge grant from an anonymous donor. 

   The Foundation purchases the Denis Theatre building on October 29.

2012    Ellie Hall purchases naming rights to concession stand in honor of her late husband. 

2013    The design phase commenced October 23

            Board announces new vision upon opening the doors .The vision includes two theaters on the main floor, seating 200 and 100 patrons, a learning center screening room, concession stand and comfortable lounge area, visual art year-round.

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