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Penn Theatre/Friends of the Penn

Penn Theatre/Friends of the Penn


Entertainment Movie Theaters Non-profit Organizations


The Woodward Theatre Company purchased a parcel of land in downtown Plymouth in 1926 from George H. Wilcox with the intention of building a first-class movie palace. It would be thirteen years before Harry Lush, employee at the Penniman & Allen Theatre, would purchase the property from the Woodward Theatre Company and begin plans for a theatre of his own. The name of the theatre, which was situated across from Kellogg Park, was changed twice before the building was complete and finally crowned in green neon with the name “PENN”.

The Penn Theatre officially opened on December 4, 1941 with a showing of “Weekend in Havana” starring John Payne and Carmen Miranda. Margaret Wilson became the Penn's second owner in 1964. In late 1966, plans were drawn to “modernize” the entrance (as it appears today) as well as create a proper concession area in the main lobby. The Penn has stood the test of time, surviving the advent of “a television in every living room” and the appearance of movies in VHS, DVD, and now streaming formats. Over the next 58 years the theatre changed ownership several times but dedicated projectionist, Lloyd Oliver, “the voice of the Penn”, remained a constant at 760 Penniman Avenue until it closed its doors in late 2003 for “remodeling”. The Penn remained closed through 2004 with its fate uncertain.

In February 2005, Friends of the Penn was organized by a group of local residents who were concerned about the future of the historic Penn Theatre and the impact its closing was having on the community. Through a survey conducted in April 2005, the group received an overwhelming response from the community in support of re-opening the Penn. The issue of procuring $1.2 M to purchase the building remained a stumbling block, however.

In December 2005, when it looked like all hope was lost, a group of 10 local businessmen formed Penn Theatre Realty, LLC and purchased the building. In 2012 Friends of the Penn acquired one share of the LLC (25% donated by Ray and Deb Maloni and 75% purchased by Friends of the Penn). In 2021 two members of the LLC, Patrick Olson and Mike Ferrantino, each donated an LLC share and Friends of the Penn bought out the remaining investors. To fund the purchase, Friends of the Penn liquidated their capital improvement fund and took out a mortgage to complete the transaction. In 2022, The Wilcox Foundation presented Friends of the Penn with a substantial grant to help alleviate 3/4 of the mortgage debt. Fundraising is on-going with plans to retire the remaining debt, rebuild the capital improvement fund, and provide resources to support free educational field trips and community events.

Since reopening in September 2006, Friends of the Penn has welcomed in excess of 720,000 patrons (as of July 2022) and invested close to $1M of its donated funds to renovate and preserve this downtown Plymouth gem.


Ellen Elliott

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