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'New Granada' isn't so new anymore, but plans will help restore luster

Monday, April 12, 1999

By Michael Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Once it was a major Hill District draw for live entertainment, ballroom dancing, movies and community activities. Jazz greats from Ella Fitzgerald to Count Basie to Cab Calloway to Duke Ellington played there.

But today, the New Granada Theatre on Centre Avenue lies dormant, literally a shell of its former self. Two large marquees that once boasted "Air Conditioned for Your Comfort" and "See Pictures on Our Giant Screen" are rusted, their beams exposed, their lights dangling by wires. The building's facade -- once in vibrant hues of red, yellow, blue and green - is faded, chipped and rusting. Likewise, the interior is crumbling.

Where movie posters once were hung, someone has scrawled: "Dope dealers are terrorists spreading genocide."

The New Granada's decay is made all the more striking because the building next door, which houses the Center for Family Excellence and the Hill Community Development Corp., and the one next to that, which houses the Mitz Centre of Attraction Hair Salon and the Hill Federal Credit Union, are refurbished gems.

But those buildings won't be the lone attractions on the block for long. A plan to restore the culturally and historically significant New Granada building will transform the current eyesore to a vibrant neighbor once more.

The Hill CDC, which purchased the 72-year-old building in 1995, is undertaking a "Granada Square" development that will include rehabilitating the New Granada structure into a theater and multi-cultural center. The plan also calls for construction of a new retail/office complex and parking facilities for as many as 200 cars in a vacant lot in the same block.

Under the Hill CDC's plan, the Granada building will undergo extensive interior and exterior restoration. On the first floor, a new auditorium will be built to accommodate 300 to 500 people, with the ability to change seating and stage configurations.

The upper three floors will house a music studio, banquet/meeting rooms, a college urban studies program and a performing arts museum and gallery.

The retail/office complex will be built on an empty lot down the block, next to the salon and credit union building. The lot now holds only mounds of dirt and a pile of metal beams, but a bulldozer doing site preparation recently was evidence that change is coming. Planned for the site is a three-story building with five to six retail shops, a mid- to upscale-restaurant and offices.

Behind that, near Wylie Avenue where a new townhouse development opened in December, parking facilities for 100 to 200 vehicles will be constructed. Valet parking is being considered for theater events.

The New Granada building, originally known as the Pythian Temple, was built as a lodge for a group of black construction workers known as the Knights of the Pythian. In the 1930s, the building was sold to Harry Hendel, who closed the original Granada Theatre on Centre Avenue and moved two blocks to the Pythian structure. Because it was a different location for the Granada, the word "new" was added to its name.

At one time, the New Granada Theatre was one of four movie theaters in the Hill. By 1942, all that remained were the New Granada and the Roosevelt Theater, nearby on Centre where the AUBA Triangle Shops are now situated. The Roosevelt eventually closed, leaving only the New Granada.

The New Granada's theater was built like an indoor amphitheater, with a sloping grade and carpeted center aisle.

On the second floor was the lavish ballroom - first called the Hill City Auditorium and later the Savoy Ballroom - where the jazz greats played. First opened in 1941, the ballroom had indirect lighting, beautiful venetian blinds, colorful drapes, wall murals and a revolving crystal ball.

Throughout the 1950s and '60s, the New Granada steadily lost patronage and was finally closed. The building was still used by social services organizations for office space but eventually fell into debilitating disuse.

That neglect will end when the New Granada becomes new again.

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