Redevelopment Authority

of the City of Butler

The Penn Theater





Butler’s historic Penn Theater is the last of downtown Butler’s great 20th century moviehouses.  Situated near the corner of North and Main Streets, The Penn Theater is an anchor for Butler’s Historical and Cultural Districts.  The Penn Theater opened on April 22, 1938, and has witnessed various highs and lows, re-openings and closings, and renovations, throughout its storied history.  Styled with classic 1930s art deco appeal, geometric shapes, neon, brass, marble, and deep reds, ambers, whites, blacks, grays, and indigos, the facility features five distinct event spaces: the Lydia Mainstage, a multipurpose and reconfigurable large space; the Bantam Auditorium, a smaller box space with fixed seating; and three club or conference rooms, each able to accommodate guests for events either in the Lydia or Bantam or standalone reservations themselves.

Th                  MISSION, VISION, & VALUES

Mission: To reinvigorate the historic Penn Theater as the region’s premiere hub for arts, entertainment, culture, & heritage through community-centered, high quality, diverse events, promoting economic revitalization for downtown, while enriching the quality of life of our citizens and lifting up the needs of those marginalized across our Butler County community. 

Vision: To envision a Penn Theater that is more than a building, but a gateway to downtown Butler; an anchor for its rich cultural and historic heritage; a source for outreach and support and the region’s heart for arts, events, and culture; a multi-use, community-centered facility where all feel welcomed, where all feel a sense of what Ray Oldenburg in 1989 called the ‘third place,’ or one’s home away from home – neither home nor work, but that place where they feel a sense of belonging, and where they long to return; and collaborations with key public and private stakeholders to help the community experience the magic of Butler again. 

Values: The Penn Theater is Butler built, Butler proud, Butler resilient, and Butler strong.



Paramount Theater Service Corp, of Altoona, PA, announced a grand new theater for downtown Butler. The general contractors, Miller & Dumbaugh, had a budget of $70,000, and started work in September of 1937. Total cost of the project came in at $125,000. At the time, Butler had 5 other theaters, but this would stand out with its state-of-the-art projection equipment and geothermal air conditioning system which cooled the air by forcing it over a pool of water drawn from a 320-foot deep well, drilled under Main Street. The Penn Theater was to open on April 16, 1938, but the usher and theater worker labor union voted to strike, delaying the opening by one week. Instead, the Penn opened on April 23, showing “The Girl of the Golden West.” The Pennler Theater Corporation, charged with managing the facility, thanked the thousands of patrons who attended showings throughout its first weekend, in the polite writing of a bygone day in the Butler Eagle, “Thank you, Butler, for the splendid turnout accorded us yesterday… Thank you for the thousands of paid admissions, the praises of our beautiful theatre, and how you were thrilled by the unforgettable beauty of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's romantic 'Girl of the Golden West.” In 1954, a fire breaks out in the main cinema room, severely damaging the Penn and forcing Pennler to close the facility for three months to complete repairs. It could not have come at a worse time, too; Pennler was struggling as Paramount dealt with anti-trust pressure. Chester DeMarsh, founder of the DeMarsh Company, which eventually became Theater Management, Inc, a Florida-based cinema company, purchased the Penn Theater in 1965, and held its deed until 2004, even though company executives wanted to either sell or demolish the Penn, for it was 'always a favorite of his.' In an effort to accommodate more diverse audiences and more than one audience at once, DeMarsh added a second cinema to the Penn in 1969, named in honor of a recognizable Butler-made icon: now the Bantam Auditorium. The American Bantam Car Co famously created the formidable jeep for the U.S. Army during World War II, which gave way to the modern Jeep. James Casale, a famous New York architect, originally designed the Penn Theater for Anast N. Notopolous, opening up shop in 1910 and noted as one of the moving picture theater pioneers in the region, in Casale’s signature 1920s & '30s luxurious art deco style, with attention paid to its lighting, carpeting, marble flooring, friezes, marquee, and artwork. However, by the 1970s, such style fell out of favor, and the theater was updated in a major 1973 renovation to reflect pop art and postmodern influences, such as bright colors, carpet, and linoleum. The 1970s and '80s were turbulent for the Penn, as sales declined and community support atrophied. Trends towards mall theaters, metroplexes, and megamalls outside of downtowns took hold across America. This negatively impacted both The Penn Theater and downtown Butler. The Penn closed for the first time in 1991. However, in 1997, DeMarsh contributed $250,000 in upgrades to the facility for a revival and eventual reopening, including new food service and audio-visual equipment. After the quarter of a million dollars DeMarsh spent on renovations and upgrades failed to attract the necessary support and patronage of the greater Butler community, Theater Management closed the Penn Theater for good in May of 2001. Unsure of what to do with the physical property, and unwilling to spend any more money on the upkeep of the building, Theater Management, Inc., lists the Penn Theater for auction on eBay in 2003, the premiere auction and bidding website of the early 2000s. Starting price was $195,000. The Butler Penn Theater Community Trust (BPTCT) made the purchase from DeMarsh in 2004 for $180,000, with a total mortgage of $250,000 to also provide fiscal wiggle room for needed renovations. The Downtown Butler Association also provided $5,000 for start-up cash, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provided support through various grants, and a private supporter gave $240,000 if the large room was named after their late mother, which is now the Lydia Mainstage. In 2007, the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) loaned the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Butler (RACB) $250,000 to buy the Penn Theater, which had been threatened with condemnation by the city and was facing foreclosure, with the hopes a non-profit organization would restore and operate it once again. This launched the first Penn Theater Performance Company (PTPC). After more than a decade of decay and stagnation, new owners, Wallace Group Productions, led by Bryan Frenchak, a Butler native and true self-made success story, and Marina Silver-Frenchak, a mental health advocate, community-organizer, restauranteur, and fashion designer, set out with a new mission, new vision, new purpose, and a new future for the Penn Theater, along with downtown Butler and the entire community. The Frenchaks purchased the Penn from RACB and PHLF for $65,000 in late 2022, while also spending their own time, talent, and treasure on renovating and reconstructing the physical space, reinvigorating the non-profit organization, and rallying support from the community through meaningful connections. Looking now at 2023 and beyond, the new Penn Theater will truly be a multipurpose, community-serving event facility, focusing on art, entertainment, culture, and heritage for all of Butler. It's time to rediscover the magic of Butler again!



The Penn Theater features 14,000 sq.ft. of events and operations space across the Lydia Mainstage, its first-floor, other-abled accessible multipurpose and reconfigurable large room, the Bantam Auditorium, its second-floor smaller box room with fixed seating, and three club or conference rooms, each able to accommodate guests for events either in the Lydia or Bantam or standalone reservations themselves. The Penn also features a beautiful art deco overhang marquee facing Main Street featuring bright neon and LED event boards, as well as a medium-sized lobby, perfect for pre-event staging space. 

      • Exterior: The exterior consists of a two-story ceramic tile cinderblock rectangular structure actively being renovated and restored to its former glory. The building originally had glass block and awning-style windows on the second floor, some of which have been removed and the spaces blocked for the Bantam Auditorium’s installation. Initially, there was a center elevation, accommodating the original ticketing booth, to the front marquee that has banding thrusting from the flat roof, now featuring the iconic P-E-N-N neon sign. These features are currently being restored to their as-original-as-possible configuration to the 1938-design.

      • Interior: The downstairs interior is divided into two principal spaces: the lobby and the Lydia Mainstage.  The Lydia was originally the 1100-seat Cinema #1 and the largest of the Penn’s event spaces. The space, when completed, will feature original, restored comedy and drama murals, an original, restored shallow-depth vaudevillian proscenium stage, a built-in, full-service bar, state-of-the-art lighting and sound, and three distinct seating areas: pit (closest to the stage), mid (largest and evenly spaced between the bar and the stage), and bar (closest to the bar). The Lydia will be reconfigurable with all seats (theater-style), no seats (standing room only), all tables (conference/trade-style), or seats and tables (cabaret-style). It will be perfect for large events or events that have specific configurable needs. The Lydia’s art deco theme continues from the façade and lobby with their terrazzo brass-inlaid marble floors. The stage will feature a spiral staircase, leading to artist dressing rooms. A new backstage area will also feature expanded storage, a catering prep area, and a lift for vendors from the Cedar Street loading dock. The lobby will feature restored and reconfigured concession, ticketing, merchandise, and pre-event areas, personal care and restroom facilities, a small prep kitchen, and access to the Penn’s small basement. The original lobby was more expansive than it appears today, as two commercially-zoned rental properties have been divided off at 145 N. Main and 151 N. Main to help generate revenue for The Penn Theater. Added to the Penn in 1969, the Bantam Auditorium originally served as the 125-seat Cinema #2 on the original mezzanine level; over time, however, the Bantam started to accommodate Butler’s need for smaller, community-driven film festivals, speakers, small performance companies, poetry slams, and similar events. This is how the current iteration of the Bantam Auditorium, with upgraded lighting, sound, and projection equipment, will be used, serving as the perfect complement to the Lydia. The Bantam does not have the detailed or artistic flair of Lydia, which makes it perfect for corporate or non-profit meetings and conferences, speakers, and community or film events. The mezzanine also featured an elevated balcony, which sat on either side of its original arc-weld projection room. Today, the projection room and associated balcony rooms are being converted into three (3) separate club or conference rooms, up for sponsorship lease with naming rights and usage privileges. These rooms can be utilized for events hosted in either the Lydia or the Bantam, since they will be soundproofed and will be retrofitted with collapsible privacy screens for their amazing birdseye views of the Lydia, or when events are not taking place, the rooms can be utilized as conference or meeting spaces individually. Each box will feature comfortable event seating, intuitive conference and event furniture and audio-visual equipment, ambient lighting, and private bar and catering access. Box 1, the former projection room, will accommodate approximately 20 people; Box 2, the former left balcony turned administrative office, and Box 3, the former right balcony turned storage room, will accommodate approximately 10 people.

To get information about upcoming events, services, policies, or amenities, to buy tickets, to book your next event at the Penn, to volunteer, to learn about career opportunities, to donate to the non-profit, or to discover how we’re helping Butler, visit: