The Ritz Company Playhouse

Hawley, Pennsylvania | C.1935

Photo Credit: Elissa Anderson

The history of the Ritz Theater is marked by twin fires – with neither of them occurring at the theater itself. In February 1935, the longstanding Dreamland Theater in Hawley, Pennsylvania caught on fire, consuming a barbershop, market, and apartment where a family of four narrowly escaped. The theater had been operated by the Comerford family – early cinema magnates – and plans were almost immediately initiated to rebuild, but this time with a new name. On Christmas Day that same year, the Ritz Theater welcomed guests to the glitz & glamour of its inaugural showing.

At the time, the Comerford Amusement Company managed nearly 80 movie theaters throughout Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. And as their newest gem, the Ritz movie house fit in perfectly showing two pictures a week, until tragedy struck again when fire consumed another of the Comerford’s theaters.

In nearby Honesdale, the Lyric Theater tragically went up in flames – thankfully no one was hurt, but while while plans to rebuild were set in motion, the Ritz was charged with picking up the slack. The Ritz’s twice-per-week regular schedule was more than tripled as the theater was opened seven days a week to accommodate the overflow of Honesdale moviegoers. Eventually a new theater was built and the Ritz resumed their old schedule. The theater would show new movies for another ten years before closing.

Fortunately, the closure was short lived. Just a few years later in 1973, the newly formed Ritz Company Playhouse came to fruition. For nearly 50 seasons since, locals of all stripes have performed plays and musicals for what they have come to call their “extended family” – the audience. Thus continuing in the theater’s namesake tradition of “putting on the Ritz”.

Written By: Chris Gilson

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