The Mishler Theatre first opened its doors on 15 February 1906. It was the first structure in America to be completely devoted to theatrical pursuits.  The theatre was designed by Albert Westover for Isaac Charles Mishler.

Isaac Charles Mishler was born 30 September 1862 in Lancaster, PA. Mishler would marry twice but never had any children.

Mishler would be the first person employed by Frank W. Woolworth at his first “Five-and-Ten” store, and would work for Woolworth into his late teens. He would then move to Altoona, and at the age of 18 would work for the Pennsylvania Railroad. After several years with the railroad Mishler would open a cigar store on 11th Ave. in Altoona, PA. The store would become  a gathering place to talk about sports, and soon Mishler would become a promoter of professional baseball. For a number of years Mishler would place teams with the Pennsylvania state league.

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Mishler Theater. Photo credit: http://mishlertheatre.org/.

Mishler’s career in theatre began in 1893, when he took over the the Eleventh Avenue Opera House from E. D. Griswold, with his partner Charles S. Myers. Together they would manage the theatre under the firm name Mishler & Myers. Just a few years later Mishler would assume total control of the theatre when Myers sold his share of the business to Mishler.

After the Eleventh Avenue Theatre, Mishler would build his own in 1905, and he would open the Mishler Theatre in Altoona, PA on 15 February 1906.

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Isaac Charles Mishler. Photo Credit: libraries.psu.edu. http://pabook2.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/Mishler.html

Many of theatre’s big stars would preform at the Mishler. Including Eleanor Robson, a famous British actress, who stared in “Merely Mary Ann” on its opening night, 15 February 1906. Robson was married to August Belmont of the Belmont Racing fame. Other notable stars to perform at the theater were Sophie Tucker, Al Jolson, Isadora Duncan, Russian violinist Efrem Zimbalist. John Philip Sousa was a close friend of Mishler’s and he would perform at the theater 8 times.

On 19 October  1906, just 9 months after opening, the theatre was destroyed by fire. Mishler quickly rebuilt it, using his own money, in September of 1907, the theatre would reopen in Altoona, PA. The new Mishler Theatre would be able to seat 1,900 people, and has 16 dressing rooms.

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Photo credit: Blair County Arts. http://mishlertheatre.org/cms/

While he managed and then rebuilt the theatre in Altoona, PA, Mishler also owned and managed other theatres; the State Street Theatre in Trenton New Jersey, and the Cambria Theatre in Johnstown.

By the 1920s and 1930s traditional theatre had started to decline and the Mishler was showing motion pictures. In 1931 Isaac Mishler would sell the Mishler theatre, but would remain in the entertainment business til his death in 1944. He died at the Penn-Alto Hotel in his hometown of Lancaster, PA, after battling a long illness. Isaac Charles Mishler is buried in  Calvary Cemetery, Altoon, PA, along side his two wives; Mary Drass (1860-1932), and Alice Gleason (1876-1956).

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Head stone of Isaac C. Mishler and his wives. Photo Credit: Find A Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=131556519&PIpi=103704015

The theatre today is still active, and has been restored and converted back into a play house, by the Blair County Arts Foundation. Entertainment is booked by the Altoona Community Theatre. The Mishler also still uses the rare and original sandbag method to raise and lower the curtains.

Photo Tour of The Mishler Theatre:

Photo credit: Blair County Arts. http://mishlertheatre.org/cms/

 

Bibliography

“A New Theatre is Built.” http://mishlertheatre.org/. 2012. http://mishlertheatre.org/cms/mishler-theatre/building/.

Sell, Jessie C. Twentieth Century History of Altoona and Blair County, Pennsylvania, and Representative Citizens . Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Publishing Co., 1911.

Leavitt, Michael Bennett. Fifty Years in Theatrical Management. New york, NY: Broadway Publish Co., 1912.

Zeak, Matthew. “The Mishler: Blair County’s Historic Playhouse.” Libraries.psu.edu. 2010. http://pabook2.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/Mishler.html.

“Isaac C Mishler.” Find a Grave. 2014. https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=Mishler&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSst=40&GScnty=2247&GScntry=4&GSob=n&GRid=131556480&df=all&.

Mishler Theater (Documentary) . Produced by Garry Delph. Wn.com. September 12, 2012. https://wn.com/mishler_theatre.

Grau, Robert. The Business Man In The Amusement World. New York, NY: Broadway Publish Co., 1910.

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