George Lazzo inspects a 35 mm movie projector donated to the Mars Historical Society. The group plans to start showing classic movies this summer in the society's workshop building behind the train station at Irvine Street and Brickyard Road.
MARS — The Mars Historical Society hopes two new projects will entertain families while educating them about the community's past. Society member Bill Swaney said the group will begin showing classic movies this summer in the society's workshop building behind the train station at Irvine Street and Brickyard Road. And the society is rehabilitating a miniature train to shuttle children and their parents around the society's property. The movies will be part of a display that serves as a tribute to the Mars Movie Theater, which operated on Pittsburgh Street in the structure that is now Mars Professional Building. The 500-seat theater operated from 1950 until 1960, when parking issues and the proliferation of drive-in theaters caused it to close. Historical society members have installed a large screen on the east wall of the workshop building, and a new member whose hobby is the collection of old movie projectors has provided a 1941 machine that is more than six feet tall. Swaney said the society plans to seat about 50 people at monthly showings of classic movies. He hopes to begin the venture in July or August. Those who attend a movie at the workshop also will be treated to a unique historical display that offers a look at an authentic movie ticket booth from the 1950s. Swaney said that a decade ago the society was offered a small building on property off Dobson Road in Adams Township that was said to be the ticket building for a dance hall that operated there after the turn of the 20th Century. He said the building was in a state of decay when retrieved, but society members fixed it up and expertly installed many of the technologies from the original Mars Movie Theater. Swaney explained that he knew the man who remodeled the Mars Movie Theater into an office building, and was able to get many of the theater's workings from him. Swaney also was a friend of the theater's projectionist, and acquired other items from that individual. The result is a 10-by-10-foot history lesson. The Mars Movie Theater's original ticket counter with sliding wooden window, ticket dispenser, change-making machine, houselights dimmer, marquee-lighting mechanism, and other mid-century technologies, all in working order, are available for view inside the booth. The four wooden theater seats, Swaney said, are 1920s-era and include a fedora holder beneath each seat. Photographs of the Mars Movie Theater's interior and exterior hang on the cream colored walls, as does an original weekly flyer mailed to Mars residents notifying them of the movie line-up and whether each flick cost 30 or 60 cents. The lights in the booth's interior, which are connected to the original dimmer for Mars Movie Theater's house lights, came from the former Oak Leaf Motel on Route 19 in Cranberry Township. The motel was razed to make way for Oak Tree Place. Swaney said historical society members meet at the workshop for several hours each Friday to work on projects, and the more enthusiastic can be seen there most days of the week. He said members worked on the ticket booth for three years, painting, installing and wiring, to bring it to its current condition. “It's a nostalgia thing,” he said. The group also is working on a miniature train that will ferry children and their parents around 700 feet of 7.5-inch wide track, on the society's property. Swaney said the gasoline-powered engineer car will pull the open air passenger cars, on which riders will straddle a plank seat. He said the cars are being shipped to the historical society in the next few weeks, and will likely need to be painted. The tiny track also will be built this spring, and Swaney hopes to see delighted riders traversing the property this summer. “We did it for a human interest project,” Swaney said, “and for many members, it's a hobby.” John Watson, president of the Mars Historical Society, said his group's mission is to preserve the history of the small town. Watson said neither project was meant to generate revenue, although donations will be accepted for movies or train rides. “They are just to entertain children and adults alike.” Watson and Swaney ask that anyone who has information on the former dance hall off Dobson Road, where the ticket booth was, to contact Swaney at 724-272-7286.