Hershey Theatre, A Spectacular Experience
Hershey Theatre is located in downtown Hershey, Pennsylvania. The magnificent theatre presents the finest touring Broadway shows, musicals, and concerts. Visitors enjoy International recording artists, comedy shows, and special events throughout the year.
Mr. Hershey’s Grand Plan
The spectacular Hershey Theatre was born from Milton Hershey’s desire to keep his crews working, even during the depression. His philosophy, stated in 1938, applied to all his enterprises. He said, “The more beautiful you make something, which people can see and use, the more enjoyment they will get out of it.”
That is our underlying philosophy here at Annville Inn too, as we adopt Mr. Hershey’s guidance. In fact, if attending a large audience affair isn’t what you wish to do, enjoy the Annville Inn Theatre! We have a 72” high-definition screen, tiered seating, a stage, Dolby 7.1 surround sound, a plethora of videos to enjoy…or stream anything.
Hershey Theatre, Now in its 80th Year!
Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban designed Milton Hershey’s dream theatre. Mr. Urban drew the plans for the Community Center Building in 1915. Construction was delayed by WWI. The theatre was finally built between 1929 and 1933. The construction was part of Mr. Hershey’s “Great Building Campaign” during the Great Depression. The campaign also produced The Hotel Hershey, the Hersheypark Arena, and the Hersheypark Stadium.
The theatre was dedicated in September of 1933. The opening coincided with the town’s (Hershey, PA) 30th anniversary celebration. The $3 million (in 1933 dollars) Community Center’s star occupant was the Hershey Theatre. Hershey Theatre soon became center stage for the world’s leading performers and shows. From its inception, the theatre was designed to be a beautiful place for Central Pennsylvanians. The objective was to become a place for people to gather and enjoy a variety of entertainment.
Our Guests often enjoy a “cultural” weekend by attending a performance at Hershey Theatre, and also visiting area art galleries, or perhaps touring a vineyard or winery. Our Annville Inn Travel Guide is invaluable to planning, our Guests tell us.
Nearly 600 skilled workers, unemployed due to the Great Depression, found work as part of Mr. Hershey’s “Great Building Campaign.”
When next visiting the Hershey Theatre, count the number of lions that the architect placed throughout the theatre. Hint: There are more than eighteen!
The theatre’s Aeolian-Skinner organ has over 4,000 pipes. The largest are over thirty feet tall; others are smaller than a child’s finger.
ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN of Hershey Theatre
The beauty of the architecture and the workmanship is evident from the moment the doors open into the Hershey Theatre Grand Lobby. From floor to ceiling, the tile area is breath-taking. The floor is laid with polished Italian lava rock. Four different types of marble, both imported and domestic, shape the walls and an exquisite series of arches. The ceiling is filled with bas-relief images of sheaves of wheat, beehives, swans, pastoral scenes. Apollo and Assyrian war chariots join the other appointments, attracting patrons’ eyes to the beautiful art above.
St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy inspired the inner foyer’s “canopy of gold” arched tile ceilings. Two German artisans labored for two full years to create the beautiful blue and gold pin-point mosaic design leading to the main floor seating area.
In the orchestra, or main level of the auditorium, the Hershey Theatre theme is fully revealed. The audience is transported to the grand style of Venice, Italy. Prominently mounted above the stage is the winged lion, the symbol of the city of Venice. The sides of the auditorium appear to be the outer walls of a Byzantine castle, complete with balconies on windowed towers. We have heard this design appealed to Mr. & Mrs. Hershey, reminding them of their travels in Europe.
At times, the theatre’s six-ton fire curtain is lowered. When this happens, patrons see an amazing watercolor picture of the city of Venice, with the Grand Canal flowing past the Doge’s Palace. The overhead proscenium arch is inspired by the design of an ancient canal bridge, such as the noted Bridge of Sighs.
HERSHEY THEATRE FEATURES
Atmospheric ceilings were a hallmark of early 20th-century theatre design. The Hershey Theatre “stars-and-clouds” ceiling is suspended from the roof. Utilizing the radiance of colored lights, the sky changes scenes from sunset to dusk, from dawn to sunrise. Within the hanging ceiling, 88 small holes are fitted with 10- and 25-watt light bulbs. When lit and twinkling, patrons can feel as if they are indeed outside of a huge castle, awaiting a royal performance, passing the time by stargazing.
Supplying the finishing touch, a stereopticon machine is housed on a side balcony. An irreplaceable 18-inch round glass disc, resembling a record album and etched with images of small clouds, rotates slowly. The light from a 1,000-watt bulb projects through the disc, transforming the clouds to more than forty times their etched size. As the disc turns, they gently float through the evening sky.
Though the front of the Hershey Theatre house is magnificent, its heart lies backstage, where the magic is created. The stage measures 75′ from wall to wall, and 44′ from the apron to the back wall. The stage is equipped with five elevators. They can rise to a height of seven feet; the back elevator can also be moved below stage level to transfer scenery to and from storage. The elevators can be stopped at any level to provide a variety of settings and platforms for plays and musical attractions.
1930’s “Cutting Edge Tech” is still impressive today!
The technology for these elevators came from aircraft carrier elevator systems. When they were installed, word has it that U.S. Navy representatives were present for the installation to protect the integrity of the new leading-edge technology. Also, backstage are 44 counter-weighted lines for sets and lights. These lines permit the stagehand, or “flyman,” to lower the pipes (onto which the various backdrops and sets are attached). Counterweights match their heft on the pulley apparatus. They then “fly” them to their appropriate spot with relative ease.
The theatre’s historic four-manual, 78-rank Aeolian-Skinner concert organ was commissioned by Milton Hershey. Other features include a sophisticated lighting system with three super trouper spotlights, a complete house sound system, plus an infrared listening system to aid in hearing. Five floors of dressing rooms accommodate the entertainers. A tour of the theatre’s catacombs below grade reveals a network of hallways leading to the dressing rooms, green rooms, prop storage, etc. We have been there and realized how actors can become disoriented. To solve this, there are actual “street sign” types of wayfinding. One sign, for example, can display a large arrow and read, “To Stage Right.”
The grand lobby provides a lavish entrance. It features polished Italian lava rock, four types of marble, and several hand-painted artistic motifs. This art depicts the ancient legacy of the performing arts. The inner foyer shimmers with an intricate blue and gold mosaic. The tiles are patterned after St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy. Two German artisans labored for two years to create this beautiful artwork. The Venice theme continues into the main auditorium. There, visitors are delighted by the illusion of being in an Italian plaza. Above the plaza is an atmospheric “sky” we described earlier in this post.
Many of our guests at Annville Inn love attending shows at Hershey Theatre. One feature of the Theatre, not heavily publicized, is a behind-the-scenes tour. These must be arranged in advance, and Rosalie, your innkeeper, will be happy to make the arrangements for you. You would need to plan a couple of weeks in advance. Sometimes the tour is not possible if there is a conflict with a show either in rehearsal or production.