Originally known as the Comerford Theatre, the Carlisle Theatre is a historic, 960-seat, Art Deco cinema house that has been in almost continuous operation for 80 years.
The Carlisle Theatre, originally called the Comerford, opened its doors in May 1939, offering a movie starring Ronald Reagan. When it opened, the Comerford was, by far, the grandest of Carlisle's three movie palaces, which were all located within one block of each other. The Orpheum Theater was located almost directly across the street while The Strand was just around the corner on North Pitt Street.
Touting itself as the first air-conditioned building in town, the Carlisle Theatre was designed in the streamline-modern, Art Deco style, most elements of which are still retained inside the theatre today. While the Orpheum and Strand both suffered fires that eventually led to their demolition, the Carlisle Theatre survived in steady use into the 1980s when a three-screen movie theater opened up in the parking lot of the MJ Mall, which was once located where the Carlisle Commons Shopping Center stands today. With the shift from shopping downtown to shopping in malls peaking in the 1980s, the location of the new multi-plex theater allowed it to take full advantage of the active teen mall culture that existed at the MJ Mall, and the Carlisle Theatre saw its attendance plummet until it closed its doors in 1986.
However, a dedicated group of theatre enthusiasts raised funds and donated hundreds of hours of labor to restoring the Carlisle Theatre to its art deco glory, and it re-opened in 1993 as the non-profit Carlisle Regional Performing Arts Center. The theatre diversified its focus by bringing in live music, local theatre productions, performing arts education, and a variety of independent and foreign films under one roof.
In 2016, the Carlisle Theatre opened up for rentals, providing the community with another option for meetings, private celebrations, and fundraisers. Several well-known local and regional groups, such as Carlisle's West Shore Symphony, Carlisle Town Band, Cantante Carlisle, and the Carlisle Playhouse Performers, use the space for their performances. The theater is also the venue for an annual GLEE competition that draws college a capella groups from all over the region. Dickinson College leases the Cubiculo space above the theatre for student use.
For the theater's 80th anniversary in 2019, the marquee and lobby underwent extensive refurbishment. The Carlisle Theatre's revitalization was one of the first projects after downtown had almost been lost, and it helped jump start a wave of rebirth in the downtown shopping district that continues today. It stands as a beacon to visitors to Carlisle today, and many pause to snap a photo with the flashing marquee.
HOURS Vary according to showtimes. Please see their website or facebook page for the most up-to-date hours. They are operating on an extremely limited basis due to the pandemic.