A Building With a Rich History

cropped-centre-theater-plans1.jpgThe Centre Theater at 208 DeKalb St. Norristown, is occupying a structure steeped in Montgomery County history. The original building opened in 1851 as the Odd Fellows lodge hall and public auditorium. From 1851 to 1873, the Odd Fellows auditorium provided the primary site for entertaining people who traveled from many corners of the region. Vaudeville acts performed in the early days.

On June 10, 1867, General George Meade, the hero of the battle of Gettysburg, made a personal appearance speaking on behalf of raising funds for a monument honoring Civil War veterans. He was joined by local heroes, General Winfield Scott Hancock and General John F. Hartranft. Political history was headquartered in Odd Fellows Hall when, during the Presidential election of 1880, native son, General Hancock, accepted the nomination of the National Democratic Party to run for the office of President of the United States. He ran his campaign from the Lodge.

In 1871 Samuel Clemens was paid $150 to come to the Odd Fellows hall to give local residents and visitors a chance to hear Mark Twain speak. Clemens changed his normal routine and apparently ‘bombed’ when speaking about Artemus Ward, another popular humorist of the time.

In 1877, the Odd Fellows sold the building and made plans to erect new facilities on West Main Street.

The DeKalb Street building would continue to be open to the public but the entertainment and lectures would be less dramatic and politics would turn from the national arena to the day-to-day operations of the town. Phillip Quillman purchased the building and eliminated the auditorium. However, it continued to be a meeting place available to the public. Until 1880, the building housed town council meetings and the Odd Fellows Lodge continued to meet until 1904 when their new lodge was dedicated.

In 1910, this historic building passed in to ownership of the Gas Company of Montgomery County, then the Philadelphia Electric Company and through the years evolved as office space.

In 1992, the Greater Norristown Corporation, in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce, formed the Greater Norristown Society for the Arts as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In 1994, the building was acquired and renovated for a professional theater and educational programs. Renamed the Montgomery County Cultural Center, the building officially opened in 1996 with a seventy-five seat professional theater, The Centre Theater, on the 4th floor. A multipurpose room and classrooms are on the third floor. The second floor is used for offices. The first floor was used as a retail shop but is now additional performance and meeting space.

The Odd Fellows Lodge whose members brought culture, community and communication to the region in 1851 has again opened the doors and allowed the Arts to thrive. Today, this exciting landmark is the place to go for plays and musical theater, workshops, music lessons. art shows, concerts, comedy and more. A continuing story now awaits you through the programs at the Centre Theater.