During Hollywood’s “Golden Age,” the motion picture industry was dominated by the five major studios: Warner Brothers, Loew’s/MGM, Paramount, RKO, and Twentieth Century Fox. In addition to production and distribution, these vertically integrated studios exhibited its films by building palatial single-screen auditoriums with plush décor and featuring the newest movie technology.
West Chester was selected by Warner Bros. as the location for its opulent 1,650-seat Warner Theater. The Art Deco theater was built at the southwest corner of High and Chestnut Streets, replacing a horse stable and corral that previously occupied the space. The theater was designed by the architect firm Rapp & Rapp of Chicago, known as one of the leading designers of early 20th century movie palaces. They designed over 400 theaters, including the Majestic Theater in Dubuque, Iowa (1910), the Chicago Theater (1921), Bismarck Hotel and Theater (1926), Oriental Theater in Chicago (1926), and the Paramount Theaters in New York (1926) and Aurora (1931).
The Warner Theater, also known as the High Street Theater or the "showplace of Chester County," included the theater, restaurant, and a series of seven small stores. The theater had a two-story foyer and a three-story tower that supported the marquee. The auditorium housed 1,650 seats; 1,300 on the floor and 350 in the balcony. It opened on November 14, 1930, with The Life of the Party, an all-talking Technicolor comedy starring Winnie Lightner. Warner Bros. child star Davey Lee made a personal appearance on opening night, with singing and dancing on stage. In 1979, the Warner Theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After its movie days ended in the 1970s, the Warner Theater was renovated for live entertainment. The theater eventually closed in May 1984, with Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose as its last showing. Efforts to preserve the building were insufficient, and demolition of the auditorium took place in 1986, leaving only the façade and lobby areas. The remaining portion of the building became the local offices of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
After construction and renovation, Hotel Warner officially opened on August 17, 2012. Developed by The McFadden Group, the hotel is an adapted re-use of the historic 1930’s Warner Theater. The original theater lobby and its ornate period staircase now serves as the hotel lobby and public space, with a new tower behind the theater to house the guestrooms. Local developer and owner, Brian McFadden, worked with Bernardon Haber Holloway Architects of Kennett Square to ensure the architecture of the new tower complemented the historic design.
“We kept whatever historic beauty we could. The façade repeats the style of original fret work, and we repeated its architectural medallions on bump outs. Inside, the actual 1930s staircase is still here, and we styled stamped bronze ceilings and chandelier pendants after the era,” said Ellen McFadden of The McFadden Group.
Centrally located to countless restaurants, sidewalk cafes, brew pubs, and eclectic shops, Hotel Warner is the only hotel in West Chester’s historic downtown. Enjoy a stroll through the historic streets and discover the rich architecture and vibrant past of this nationally acclaimed neighborhood.