The Kirby Center, A Staple of Wilkes-Barre Through the Years

By Jessica Mulligan

Beyond the Doors Photo by Jessica Mulligan (April 13, 2016)
Beyond the Doors Photo by Jessica Mulligan (April 13, 2016)

An American flag sits atop the building, a symbol national pride. Below, the building has seen immense evolution and magic, but some secrets are left untold. This is small-town America, and this little theatre is what this country and this city are all about. The F. M. Kirby Center has stood for over a century and a half, through trials, tribulations, and devastation. Originally, it was not even the Kirby Center at all, however. In 1938, the building opened for the first time under the name of Comerford Movie Theatre. Reaching roaring success, the business brought excitement to the little town of Wilkes-Barre. This theatre was part of a chain in Northeastern Pennsylvania and New York State, and yet somehow, it was different. It was special.

Hidden Gem Photo by Jessica Mulligan (April 13, 2016)
“Hidden Gem,” Photo by Jessica Mulligan (April 13, 2016)

Once a combination of a bus terminal, a printing company, a stonecutter and a drugstore, this movie theatre was designed to be a thing of wonder. And it was. It featured lobbies and mirrors, columns and glass doors, a chandelier and thousands of other intricate design choices. At its height in the 1930’s, the theatre featured a Hollywood movie premiere. Excited moviegoers from all over flocked to the theatre to take part in the history-making event. Tall and proud, the theatre was a symbol of pride for the city. As it aged, however, the theatre required a facelift to maintain its beauty and intrigue. After a renovation in 1949, it became the Paramount Theatre, keeping its class and dignity but losing part of its original identity.

Hurricane Agnes nearly destroyed the theater in 1972, as floodwaters brought several feet of water that threatened its structure and style. Heavily damaged, the elegant structure was stripped. Gone were the days of deco art designs and luxury. The original bronze and brass accents and fancy lights were ripped down, separated, and sold. The theater was thrown into modern times and nearly lost all traces of its past. By the early 1980s, despite protests and efforts to save it, the theatre became abandoned. It may have drowned completely without Mr. Boscov, who came to its rescue in 1985. With donations and assistance from all over, the efforts to revive the theater were triumphant. Officially, the F. M. Kirby Center was born.

Visit Photo by Jessica Mulligan (March 19, 2016)
“Visit,” Photo by Jessica Mulligan (March 19, 2016)

Today it brings concerts and shows of every genre and style. It brings audience members of every interest to the glamour of its vintage interior design and lush red seats. It brings people through its doors and gives them an escape, a place to cry, laugh, love, and hope. Celebrating its twenty-fifth birthday in 2016, the Kirby Center remembers its evolution and trying past. More importantly, it knows of its bright future and ability to overcome obstacles to continue prospering. Much like the city in which it stands, the F.M. Kirby Center will survive. It will always be there.

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