Mills + Schnoering Architects

Mills + Schnoering Architects

Princeton, NJ


Civic Theatre of Allentown Debuts Renovated Facilities Designed by Mills + Schnoering Architects

By meredithb
Mar 26, '19 7:59 AM EST
Civic Theatre of Allentown (image © Aislinn Weidele courtesy of Mills + Schnoering Architects)
Civic Theatre of Allentown (image © Aislinn Weidele courtesy of Mills + Schnoering Architects)

[Allentown, Pa.]  Civic Theatre of Allentown recently debuted its revitalized Nineteenth Street Theatre building, which underwent a comprehensive renovation to increase production capacity, enhance programming, provide greater patron access, and expand educational opportunities in a manner that reflects the values of a rapidly changing urban community.

The historic Civic Theatre building was constructed in 1928 as a 1,000-seat movie house. Now a 484-seat venue and centerpiece of Allentown’s West End Theatre District, it screens first-run films, hosts live theatrical productions, and runs a robust education program. Much of the original Art Deco detailing remained intact and was conserved during the project – including restoration of a dramatic back-wall mural that had been hidden for decades.

“Civic Theatre is a flagship arts organization in the Lehigh Valley and its home, the Nineteenth Street Theatre, is a landmark performing arts facility,” said Civic Theatre Board President Maria DeFebo-Edwards. “Current box office projections anticipate more than 45,000 tickets will be sold in the coming year and our newly renovated facility has much to do with increased attendance and patron excitement.”

Mills + Schnoering Architects (M+Sa) of Princeton, N.J., a national expert in theatre renovation and design, prepared a master plan for the full renovation, restoration, and expansion of the Civic Theatre complex and then designed the architectural renovations. Previously, the firm renovated the cinema for Civic’s nearby Theatre514.

“One of only two historic theatres operating in Allentown, Civic Theatre is a neighborhood landmark and an important cultural and educational facility,” explained M+Sa Principal Michael R. Schnoering, FAIA. “We are confident the renovated facility will serve the community for many years to come.”

Last updated in the early 1990s, Civic Theatre required code-mandated improvements and overall renovation to ensure it continues to accommodate a growing patron base and an educational program that serves hundreds of children each year.

The scope of architectural work included design for total building systems upgrades; box office, lobby, and auditorium renovations; new auditorium seating; restoration of historic finishes; new and upgraded theatrical sound and lighting systems; accessibility and code improvements; a new concession area and patron lounge; MEP systems replacements and a fully automatic fire suppression system; and selective exterior brick and façade repairs.

Significant historic preservation work included cleaning, repair, and restoration of the ornate ceiling and side wall decorative plaster, replication of missing lattice plaster, and refurbishment of original wall sconces. EverGreene Architectural Arts performed extensive restoration of the back-wall mural, following removal of exposed mechanical system ducts that had obscured most of the artwork.

Careful study during the planning phase enabled the M+Sa team to find ways to capture and repurpose existing space to accommodate Civic Theatre’s evolving needs. For example, an underutilized office area adjacent to the lobby became a new box office and patron lounge. Original organ lofts were transformed into new dressing rooms and technical space. An auditorium control booth was repurposed for concessions.

The renovations were on full display for the start of the 2018-2019 theatre season, beginning with the production of Billy Elliot the Musical in October.

Fundraising is presently ongoing for future improvements to the exterior and second-floor Civic Theatre School classrooms, rehearsal spaces, and costume shop.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded Civic Theatre a Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant to match $2 million of the $5.5 million in capital costs. The grant program funds regional economic, cultural, civic, recreational, and historic improvement projects.

Project Team

Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC | Architecture

Alvin H. Butz, Inc. | Construction Management

C&B Consulting Engineers, LLC | MEP/FP Engineering

Harrison-Hamnett, PC | Structural Engineering

Stages Consultants | Theater, AV, Acoustics Consulting

The Lighting Practice | Lighting Design

Keystone Preservation Group | Materials Conservation

Becker & Frondorf | Cost Estimating

EverGreene Architectural Arts | Decorative Paint/Plaster and Mural Conservation

About Civic Theatre

Civic Theatre of Allentown is a professionally staffed, year-round, nonprofit theater with roots in the community and excellence as its primary objective. Civic has proudly served the Allentown area for over 90 years, presenting locally produced first class theater, showing the finest independent films, and bringing the best performing arts instruction to the young people of the Lehigh Valley. For more information visit

About Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC

Mills + Schnoering Architects, LLC (M+Sa) is a full-service architectural firm with work focused on cultural and public buildings, campus planning and design, and the preservation and rehabilitation of historic structures. Theatre design, rehabilitation, and preservation is a core practice area. National theatre expertise includes project planning, budgeting and fundraising support, and program development. The Civic Theatre architectural team was led by Principal Michael R. Schnoering, FAIA, who serves on the boards of the League of Historic American Theatres, the NJ Theatre Alliance, and the Cultural Access Network of NJ. For more information, visit

# # #