Old Address: 13 Broadway
Year built: 1917
The Pontiac Theatre had, at one time, the largest screen in central New York. Located on Broadway, just down the hill from the Berkeley Hotel, during Saranac Lake's boom years movies and stage shows played to a full house, nightly. It had a twelve thousand dollar orchestral organ.
Built in 1917, the theatre was designed by Scopes and Feustmann. A newspaper clipping of the time noted, "The Pontiac Theatre corporation opens the 'Theatre Beautiful'."
In 1926, the owners of the theatre sold it to the Schine theatre chain; after the chain was dismantled, the theatre was purchased by the Pontiac Entertainment Corp.
Al Jolson once performed a solo for three hours for a benefit.
The world premiere showing of the 1954 film, The Silver Chalice was held at the theatre; the premier was hosted by television personality Art Linkletter. Saranac Lake won the the movie premiere for having sold the most Christmas seals that year. It was Paul Newman's film debut. Several of the stars, including Virginia Mayo visited the village and participated in the winter carnival parade.
The theatre's marquee featured a painting of an Indian at the top of a triangle.
It burned to the ground on December 19, 1978. The week that it burned, the movie, "Foul Play" was showing; the next week's film was to have been "Up In Smoke".
Opening of Talking Pictures Here Last Night Wins Approval
Audiences comparing in size with those that marked the opening of the enlarged Pontiac theatre a year ago were on hand there last night for the beginning of talking picure programs made possible by the recent installation of new equipment. "The Wolf of Wall Street" starring George Bancroft proved a suitable program for the introduction of this new entertainment feature. The audiences found the talking and other effects remarkably realistic, adding much to the enjoyment of the production. An introductory symphony orchestra concert via the Vitaphone added to the program. 1
Largest Screen in North Installed in Saranac's Theatre
Installation of the largest motion picture screen in Northern New York has been completed at the Fox Pontiac theatre, according to announcement of A. B. Anderson, manager of the house. The new screen is nearly three times the size of the older one which was used for the last times Sunday night. It was installed by a corps of five, who began work directly after the theatre was darkened Sunday evening and labored until 8 o'clock Monday morning. Both screens are perforated to permit sound to issue through from the talkie amplifier behind, but the new screen is less porous than the older one, which allowed too much light to filter through, it was stated. 2
There was a small hydrogenerator in the basement on the Pontiac Theater (with a Pelton wheel), hooked to the water main that generated emergency electric power. Mike Stender thinks that Chris McGill in Black Brook has the wheel.
Adirondack Daily Enterprise, December 20, 1994
40 years ago, 'The Silver Chalice' premiered in Saranac Lake
By KEN YOUNGBLOOD
SARANAC LAKE - On a warm December day in Hollywood 40 years ago, movie stars boarded a four-prop airliner and headed east for Saranac Lake. The National Tuberculosis Association had held a contest in 1954, and Saranac Lake bought more Christmas Seals per capita than any other town or city in the nation.
To honor Saranac Lake, Art Linkletter and an entourage of Tinseltown dignitaries came to this village for a special premiere of the hottest new movie, "The Silver Chalice," starring Virginia Mayo. Edna Finn remembers Miss Mayo because Currier Press, which was owned by Finn's husband, had to print up special cue cards for the Hollywood star.
"She was nearsighted and needed big print," Finn said.
Their weekend here began with a parade of horsedrawn sleighs up Saranac Lake's Main Street. The parade featured local Olympians including Forrest "Dew Drop" Morgan. School was canceled for the occasion, so the Saranac Lake High School ski team was part of the parade.
The athletic field behind the Petrova School served as the community's ice rink in those days, and here local skaters strutted their stuff. Ted Cave, pitched as a pro skater with 27 years experience, gave those on the Hollywood set some guffaws with his "inept" attempts to stay upright. During the ceremonies, Tab Hunter revealed that he had competed at the amateur level as a skater before he became a celluloid swooner. The entourage boarded a couple of new Buicks for a tour of the Will Rogers Institute, which was still home to entertainers suffering from T.B. They also hit the slopes at Pisgah, but few could handle the big wooden boards that passed for skis back then.
The highlight of the weekend was the Dec. 17 premiere of "The Silver Chalice" at the Pontiac Theater on Broadway. A crowd stretched for blocks on both sides of the street, hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite star. They leaned over the ropes that had been strung to cordon them off, shrieking and screaming like teenagers waiting for The Beatles to put in an appearance on Ed Sullivan. Policemen in fancy blue uniforms with polished brass buttons held them back with hands swaddled in white cotton gloves. Art Linkletter, who served as M.C. for the evening, arrived first via dog sled. Then Dr. Perkins of the National Tuberculosis Association arrived in a horsedrawn sled, followed by Pedro Gonzales Gonzales, a little Mexican who made his living as an ethnic caricature.
Virginia Mayo, the leading lady in "The Silver Chalice" took her turn at the microphone under the lights of the Palace marquee, followed by Tab Hunter, the era's perpetual heartthrob. Alice Bellaire remembers being in the family car on the Wilmington Road that weekend. Her husband at the time, John Munn, drove into a snowbank when who came along but Tab Hunter to help push them out.
"My daughter, Joanne, recognized him, and she said, 'Look, mom, who it is.' Sure enough, I'll tell you he made my head turn," Bellaire said.
Saranac Lake Mayor Alton B. (Tony) Anderson arrived at the theater sporting a tuxedo. Virginia Mayo may have been the star of the show but Tony had on his arm Ann Robinson, the voluptuous starlet who is best known for her role in "The War of the Worlds."
Alan Hale, who played in "Young at Heart" and other romances, but will always be remembered as the skipper in "Gilligan's Island," put in a suave appearance that night. As for the movie, the most that can be said is that there were 115 speaking parts and 10,000 extras.
From the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, August 7, 2008: "Saranac Lake's movie theater history"
- Dec. 19, 1978 - Pontiac Theater burns.
- 1988 - Reg Clark, who owns Palace Theatre in Lake Placid, opens small Berkeley Theater in what is now the Bear Essentials store.
- 2000 - Clark closes Berkeley Theater after Lorenzo Cecunjanin, owner of Corvo restaurant upstairs, buys building and plans to charge him $1,000 montly rent.
Clark was paying no rent to elderly Mrs. Jack Davis. Clark then acquires from Mrs. Davis the Berkeley's theater equipment — projector, screen, seats, etc. —with which he later adds a fourth screen at the Palace Theater."
See also: Vaudeville Entertainers who appeared at the Pontiac.
2012-08-06 23:24:40 My grandmother, Elizabeth (Coulon) Tolbert, played the violin to provide music for the silent movies at the Pontiac. —126.96.36.199
1. Unidentified newspaper clipping, c. 1926-27, from Coogan scrapbook.
2. Unidentified newspaper clipping, c. 1930-31, from Coogan scrapbook.