Olivet's dazzling history

Almost a century ago, a construction crew in Pittsburgh's Hill District began their work on the Elmore Theatre. Opened in 1923, the Elmore quickly became a musical and cultural hub in the heart of the Hill District.

In the 30's the Elmore Theatre was renovated and renamed the Savoy Ballroom. Jazz and blues stars played at the Ballroom for another decade. In the 40's, the building began its current life as a hall of worship.

“A place of marvelous beauty, both inside and out” - The Pittsburgh Courier

The Elmore Theatre

The Olivet Church is housed in what used to be the Elmore Theatre, built in 1923, and opened on the eighth of that September. It was the swankiest theater on the Hill, showing first-run movies accompanied by a $10,000 pipe organ. It was host to daring vaudeville acts, bombastic blues, and to jazz singers like Ma Rainey, ‘Jelly-Roll’ Morton, and Bessie Smith. Musicians and performers traveling from New York to Chicago would stop in Pittsburgh, always in the Hill, often at the Elmore.

After a decade of bringing music and cinema to the Hill, the theater’s reputation started to slip. By 1930, Engelberg couldn’t attract enough live performers to the theatre, and it became strictly a movie-theatre again. Engelberg’s reputation slipped too, and by 1933, the swankiest theater in the Hill had run ragged.

That year, a Hill District businessman started eyeing the Elmore, seeing an opportunity in the Elmore building, even in its diminished state and would re-name it Pittsburgh’s “Savoy Ballroom”.

“Exquisite beauty…an enchanting air over the place” - The Pittsburgh Courier

The Original Savoy Ballroom

The newly-christened Savoy opened to rave reviews in the papers—

[Patrons] marveled at the modern crystal ball, with four spotlights, flashing their vari-colored lights on the mirrored surface and producing an effect which made a waltz a “thing of beauty and a Joy forever.” …. It’s a place in a class by itself.

Ella Fitzgerald stopped in at the Pittsburgh Savoy with Chick Webb, together on their way from Chicago to the Savoy nightclub in New York City.

By the 50’s the building's ownership was transferred once again, beginning another chapter in its life.

“Baptist churches are independent.” - Reverend Tyrone Munson

Olivet Baptist Church

Pittsburgh's Savoy eventually moved to a new building. A decade after its opening, and two decades after the original Elmore Theatre, the grand building began a new chapter of its life — as a house of worship.

The Olivet Baptist Church was founded in 1953 by parishioners from the nearby Cavalry Baptist church. For more than six decades, the church has served as a spiritual center, and a meeting place for the neighborhood, continuing its legacy.