Update: Benedum Center Marquee, Greer Cabaret Are Closing In on Openings


It won’t be long before one of the busiest corners of the Pittsburgh Cultural District is fully illuminated again, with present technology lighting the way to the past.

Planned to be ready for the next Broadway in Pittsburgh season in September, the scaffolding and banners will come down and the new Benedum Center for the Performing Arts marquees will once more light the way on Seventh Street and Penn Avenue.

Above: With the Benedum Center marquee being replaced, a banner heralded
Pittsburgh CLO’s 2023 production of The Sound of Music. (Sharon Eberson)
Below: Now and then: Stanley Theater historic images and First Night in the Cultural District, courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

While it was clear an update to the deteriorating marquees and poster cases was necessary, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust also had to maintain their original look, per the Benedum’s place on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Stanley Photoplays sign on Penn and the three-sided marquee on Seventh will incorporate 21st-century, energy-efficient technology, yet remain much as they were when the venue opened as the Stanley Theater in 1928, right down to the font of the letters. When the Stanley was renamed and renovated as the Benedum Center, opening on September 25,1987, the marquee remained essentially the same, including the “ST” in the gold-framed oval at its center.

With the new Penn Avenue signs installed, some tree-trimming around the Benedum Center might be in order. (Images: Sharon Eberson)

In all this time, the marquee letters were changed manually, as Broadway tours, national and international artists and local companies tag-teamed in and out of Downtown Pittsburgh’s largest performing arts venue. Mitsubishi, which created the Theater Square LED billboard, has been charged with re-creating the Benedum marquee, with marching orders that meet the demands of the City of Pittsburgh Planning Commission and Historic Review Board.

The eminent Pittsburgh lighting designer Andrew Ostrowski was hired by the Trust as Theatrical Renovation Project Manager, overseeing the renovations.He explained, “From a physical viewpoint, you really won’t notice anything different, because it is back to what it was. It’s just better than what it was.”

To that end, members of the Trust’s marketing department traced every letter and punctuation mark that were previously in use, to create the font that will now be generated electronically on the new marquee.

Corner of Seventh Street and Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh Cultural District, Downtown. (Historic image courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Present: Sharon Eberson)

The background will be the same blue as the original sign, the color echoed in the backdrop of the illuminated griffins above the marquee.It is estimated that more than 4,500 new LED lights will be used in the restoration, necessitating other changes.

Ostrowski explained that the previous marquee was made from sheet metal “the thickness of three pieces of paper.” It will be replaced by quarter-inch thick aluminum that is not just more durable, but necessary. Aluminum can withstand the heat generated from LED lights, which is more intense while being more energy efficient than the previous lighting.Judging from the completed Penn Avenue panels, Ostrowski said the restoration is looking “fantastic.”

“I don’t know if you’ve gotten to see the Stanley Photoplay on the side that we just reinstalled. The craftsmanship on that is gorgeous,” he raved.

Nick Gigante, the Trust’s Senior Vice President of Development and Real Estate, said the City of Pittsburgh played a big role in the upgrades by putting the Cultural Trust “through our paces” in earning permits and approvals. The City Planning Commission has documented the process online, in the modestly titled but illuminating “Benedum Center Exterior Repairs,” available here.

“What we wanted to do because of the historic, iconic status of the Benedum was for the marquee to look in essence exactly the same, but doing that in a responsible way where we could address where it had really fallen into disrepair with rusting out and the manual lettering becoming obsolete,” Gigante said. “And as we went down this path, we talked to the Historic Review Commission and other folks with the city and other preservationists to say, ‘Look, we want to do this the right way, with an eye towards the future.”

Among the commitments is that the marquee will continue to have “fixed” lettering. “It says, ‘PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh Presents Hamilton,’ that’s how it’ll appear. It’s not going to be changing or flashing” during the duration of the show, Gigante said.

(Courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust)

As the previous marquee was taken down, carved messages such as “I Luv the Performing Arts” were found carved into previously hidden places. Gigante said a message also was found from the time the Rockettes and their Santa Claus were atop the marquee in 2009, promoting their Christmas Spectacular at the Benedum.

From the time the building opened as the Stanley to now, Gigante said, “There’s been such great energy around that building and, and I think the success of the Benedum now is that it’s one of the most highly utilized venues in the country, for the Trust and for our many different partners. So it’s an important asset for the Cultural District, but really for the region.”

Gigante added that the Trust is still in the process of raising funds for the project, which is currently being funded by a $1 million pledge from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

The Greer Cabaret entrance at Theater Square on Penn Avenue, Downtown. Renovations include an additional entrance from the garage, right. (Sharon Eberson)


Just after Ostrowski and Gigante spoke about the marquees, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust released a photo of the ongoing renovations at another of its venues, the Greer Cabaret, across the street from the Benedum in Theater Square. 

The image showed an extensive remodeling of the lobby, and there’s much more going on inside. There will be fewer seats, at around 200, “and it will be more like a jazz club venue, no so much a black box, but more fixed seating and banquette seating,” Gigante said, while comparing the look to Joe’s Pub in New York City.

Where once tables on the floor were for four only, tables may now include parties of two, four and six. The spacing, Gigante said, will be more conducive to table service. Culinaire, the Trust’s catering partner, will be running the renovated Greer Kitchen for preshow, during-the-show and late-night dining options.

“I know they really want to hit a home run with that, so we’re going to be working on the hours of the facility, and how late it will stay open,” Gigante said.

He added that patrons of Trust venues “are coming back at a pretty strong rate. We’re up over 80% compared to prepandemic, of people coming back for shows, and they’re looking for things to do. So we’re hoping these are going to be a few more options for them to consider.”

One of the things he hopes is that the Greer Cabaret entrance, along with the adjacent restaurant, Meat & Potatoes, will be more visible and accessible to the public. 

“The main reason for doing the Greer renovation was to drive more traffic into the space,” Gigante said. “Previously it was a little disguised. If you’re walking down Penn Avenue, you wouldn’t necessarily have known there was a theater back there.”

To that end, there will be an entry directly into the Greer Lounge (formally Backstage) and Cabaret Theater from the Trust garage lobby on Penn Avenue. 

No specific date has been set for the reopening of the Greer Cabaret or official unveiling of the marquees at the Benedum Center. However, it is likely the new marquee will alight with Moulin Rouge! when the tour opens the 2023-24 PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh season opens on September 27.

As for the opening of the Greer, Gigante said it is possible it will be ready for a CLO Cabaret show in mid-September, while the Facebook post said “late next month.” Among the new permanent features of the space is a video screen that CLO shows such as the interactive The Twenty-Sided Tavern can put to good use.

For now, the message on exactly when doors will open and marquee lights will shine once more is, we’re getting close, so stay tuned.

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