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 on 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 the showing of “Weekend in Havana” starring John Payne and Carmen Miranda. Due to Mr. Lush's dislike of popcorn, the movie house staple was not served at the Penn until 1950 after Mr. Lush moved to California and the theatre was being managed by Margaret Wilson, who 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 and DVD format. 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 of 2005, the 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 has had 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 of 2005, when it looked like all hope was lost, a group of local businessmen formed Penn Theatre Realty, LLC and purchased the building from its current owners. This wonderful group of “angels” unselfishly decided to lease the building to Friends of the Penn for $1/year. Since reopening in September 2006, the Friends of the Penn volunteers have logged over 29,000 hours and welcomed in excess of 630,000 patrons (as of April, 2019). [Penn Website]