Tuesday, April 9, 2019


This column first appeared in the April 2019 GreeneSPEAK!

The Wilson Building today.

Viewed from West High Street, the former Eclipse Theatre, now Wilson Building, looks like an average office building of the 1930s. But, there’s a lot of history behind its façade of patterned bricks and stepped parapet. From 1912-1954, it was one of two movie theatres in downtown Waynesburg, located side-by-side across Fruit Alley.

This 1929 construction for Charles Silveus was supervised by local architect Thomas S. Knox.
The photo above shows the current façade in construction, ca. 1929. The addition created a wide theatre lobby and ticket office. Later, the openings were enclosed when the building was converted to offices and apartments after the theatre closed in 1954. Inside, nothing of the theatre remains today.

The Eclipse Theatre between 1925-1929 before the facade renovation. The sawtooth brick cornice is a stylistic detail that  appears on other early 19th century buildings in Waynesburg.

Cinematic history began here in 1912 when Charles Silveus opened the “Eclipse Moving Picture Theatre” showing silent movies exclusively. It was a “Nickelodeon,” so called because the price of admission was one nickel. At that time, the Opera House on the other side of Fruit Alley featured mostly live acts, both traveling and local. 

Early view of the Eclipse Theatre entrance. The building next door was replaced in 1925. Site of the C. A. Black house, far left, is now the PNC Bank parking lot. greeneconnections.com
The Eclipse Theatre, December 22, 1914.  On left, William Gray, assistant picture operator.  In the middle, Ocie Long and on the right, Ellie Tharp, ticket sellers.  Reprinted in "Cornerstone Clues," November 2012.

In 1915, the Eclipse Theatre was extended to include all of the first floor. Six years later, a large brick addition was attached to the rear. It extended to Strawberry Alley, increasing seating to 600. Both projects were supervised by local architect Thomas S. Knox who, interestingly, had a second career as the printer of “The Waynesburg Republican” newspaper, owned by his brother.

Theatre card for the Eclipse, December 1917.

Back of same theatre card for the week of Dec. 3, 1917.  Admission-Adults, 15¢; Children, 5¢.

Charlie Silveus continued to run the Eclipse, and later also the Opera House, throughout the silent film era. When “talkies” arrived in 1929, he retired from the industry, selling to Larry Puglia and Rose Pishionery, a brother-sister team. They updated equipment in both theatres, changed the Eclipse façade, renamed it “The Wayne,” and continued to show movies there until 1954. 

Advertisement reprinted in "Cornerstone Clues" November 2012.

Today, Charlie Silveus is considered a pioneer of cinema history. Unusual for his time, he was both theatre operator and filmmaker. With a hand-cranked, 35-mm camera, he captured both important events and every-day life in Waynesburg from 1914 until 1929, showing his films alongside commercial releases at The Eclipse. Miraculously, about an hour and a half of his footage survives, now owned by the Waynesburg Fire Department. With new technology, it’s hoped they can be enhanced and enjoyed by the community.

The R. H. Goldberg Building next door was constructed in 1925.

Returning to the photos, they tell a story far older than the theatre. The building behind the 1929 addition dates to before 1808 when a house on the lot was described in a deed. Its colonial style and gable roof are consistent with the date, as are the handmade bricks. The Jennings brothers were early owners until 1834. One of them, Benjamin, was a carpenter credited with building many of the first houses in Waynesburg. 

Behind the 1929 facade is a remnant of the early 19th century.

Today, you can still see a section of the historic house along Fruit Alley. Like many buildings in Waynesburg, the old Eclipse is full of surprises and tells multiple stories.