The Wilderness Years
I stayed home working on the farm every day. My brother Joe would call me almost every day, “You better get yourself into that office and go to those shows or you’re not going to have a business left,” he scolded me. I knew he was right and that he was just thinking of my best interests, but I just couldn’t get myself to do that. I felt more comfortable on a tractor or working with the animals. I still hated the business and all the people associated with it. Rich was a good thing for me. I made the right decision.
I had things set up. Tim taught me early on in the business that you had to control the real estate. The artists were no longer loyal to any one promoter. He called all the acts "whores”. "They are not loyal anymore, not like in the old days when we did them a favor getting their record played or getting them a play date and they remember you for the rest of their lives." Now it is like the old cliche don't tell me what you did for me yesterday, tell me what you did for me five minutes ago."
At the time, I had a good working relationship with the Syria Mosque, the arena and the stadium. They still respected me. I was having a problem with Danny Kreskey coming into town trying to carve a piece out for himself. That bothered me and I wanted to do something about that. I tried to cover certain things for Rich. I thought if I could solve the real estate problems by having sole access to the theatre and if I could also improve the cash flow. That would leave Rich free to think only about the booking. Booking becomes a lot easier when you don't have to worry about those two gorillas. Rich understood what the audience liked to see - especially the younger audiences. I knew the older audience. Between the two of us we had everything covered. In addition, Rich loved this business more than anything and he was not burnt out like myself. He was glad to do anything he had to. We were a good team.
In the early DiCesare-Engler days of the mid 70s, Rich and I rarely met face to face. I stayed on my farm and we talked on the phone each day. Rich would run over the deal he was contemplating. It was sort of like, "I have a chance to get Blue Oyster Cult, what do you think?" We would go back and forth like that. I had a lot of faith in his judgement and I trusted him. I felt there was no need for me to drive into the office each day for that. Since I wasn't coming in that much, Rich asked if he could move the office location from Monroeville to the North Hills which made a lot of sense. It was close to where he lived.
Open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday Only
One day I had to go to Pittsburgh. It was probably the first time I was there for a non-business activity since I was a kid. Back then I wasn’t getting off of the farm too often, but it felt good to be there. That day I happened to drive past the Stanley Theatre. As i drove past I saw on the marquee, “Open Fri, Sat, Sun only”. That stuck in my mind. I wondered why they were only opened on the weekends. The Stanley was a big theatre. It took up most of the land between Liberty and Penn Avenues on Seventh. I had played concerts there before. It originally had a capacity of 4,000 seats and was in competition with the Loew's Penn theatre which was only a block away on Penn at Sixth Street, which had a similar capacity. They were the two premier movie theatres in Pittsburgh. I had played a few shows at the Lowe's Penn when it was managed by Lenny Litman. Lenny turned it from a movie theatre to a concert venue. It was in a deplorable condition. I remember meeting him to book Smokey Robinson and The Miracles for two days. He said to me,"I hope you know what you are doing, I never heard of him. The rent is $3,500 a night and since I never heard of this act, I am sure you are going to lose so give me all the money right now. I wouldn't do the act if I were you, but if you want to blow your brains out go ahead. But before you do, give me $7,000." I sold out the two dates and made a killing.
Becoming Top Dog in the Concert Business
I realized a couple of important lessons doing these dates. Here was the major concert promoter Lenny Litman who also had the top night club with The Copa who failed to keep on top of the new up and coming acts. I was able to get an act from him that he should have known about. Secondly, an old movie house could be a concert hall. I was never going to be able to own the Syria Mosque, which is the only concert theatre in town. But now, what about movie houses? I thought, if I could own the Stanley I could control the concert business.
The reason for this was simple. Every agent needs their new upcoming act to tour. Especially when a new album is being released and they are promoting it. The way to build an artist is to work the act with a new album release to playing a club or a small theatre. After another album release hopefully they are an arena act or ultimately they build themselves into a stadium act. Very few acts get to the stadium level, but they all start out at the theatre level. If I could offer the acts the Stanley, it would solidify our company and make us stand out from any outside competition.
Excuse me. How much is your Theatre?
Just because it was only in operation four days a week didn't mean it was for sale. If it was for sale, how much would it be worth? I drove back to Pittsburgh and looked at it. It was huge. I walked around the entire building and looked at the top of it from across the street. It was even larger than I could ever have imagined. I thought to myself. I could never own this. This is going to cost millions of dollars. Where am I going to get all that money?
I kept thinking about how much they would want for the building. Then I thoguht, "Hey, this place isn't even for sale. I just assumed it might be available because the sign said it is just open on weekends." But then I thought, “What does it hurt to ask the owners? How do I reach the owners to talk to them?"
I went to the box office to buy a ticket to go inside and at least look at the theatre that I wanted to buy. I thought I would ask to speak to the manager and ask who the owners were and how I could reach them. But, as I walked up to the box office, I realized that it was a week day and the theatre was closed. I did the next best thing. I walked up to the doors to see if they were unlocked. But, they weren't. As I got close to the windows of the doors I could see inside and I saw a black woman in a uniform holding a spray bottle and towel. "She must be the cleaning lady," I thought. I began to knock on the door window. I attracted her attention and she came up to the door and talked through the glass, "We are closed. Come back on Friday," she said. She started to walk away.
I knocked on the door and yelled, "Wait a minute. Don't go away. Come back."
She come back again and I said, "Let me in I just want to see the theatre. I will only be a minute. Please?" I begged.
She opened the door and said, "You know I shouldn't do this. I'll probably get fired if Mr. Gordon hears about this." I walked in. I had been in the theatre but not for awhile. It was beautiful with all of its marble and the chandaliers imported from Italy. I walked into the main auditorium. Just then I could see another person. A black man walking towards me saying, "Who are you what are you doing here?" I could tell by the way he was dressed that he had to be a cleaning person also.
I introduced myself to the both of them - "Hi my name is Pat DiCesare. I am interested in buying this theatre and opening it as it used to run. If I do, I want you to work for me - that is if you will. I can't understand a building as beautiful as this not being open every day and night. It's just not right," I said.
"Mr. Pat, you are right. I'm Ollie and this is my wife Willie. We've been cleaning this theatre for years. When this theatre first opened in the late twenties, every big singer would perform on that stage before the movie. Sometimes there was bingo before the movie started. It is a shame how things changed. Now it is only opened on the weekends. It's disgraceful," he said.
I looked around and they were only too anxious to show me around. Then I said, "Why, I think there is no reason why this theatre could not become the jewel of the city again. Well, if I wanted to buy this theatre, who do you think I could talk to?" "Who owns the theatre?" They were only too helpful to give me all the information that I needed. "Don't forget us when you buy this place. Come back any time you would like to see it," they said.
I found out from Ollie and Willie that the Stanley theatre was owned by John Harper and Tom Reich. John Harper and Tom Reich owned a chain of theatres called Cinemette. John Harper’s father was the President and CEO of Alcoa, and of course their headquarters were in Pittsburgh. Tom was an attorney whose interests were in negotiating contracts. He represented athletes to major league owners.
I called the number that I had obtained from Willie and Ollie. "Cinemette Theatres, how can I help you?" The operator whined.
"Hi, this is Pat DiCesare for John Haprer." I said full of confidence as if he were expecting my call.
"Is he expecting your call?" She asked.
"No, but I think he will want to talk to me. Could you put me through? I would appreciate it." I asked.
"Hold on." She said. A moment later she came back on and asked, "What is the nature of the call?"
"Look could you just ask him to get on the phone. I think he will be interested in what I have to say," I pleaded.
"Hold on," she said. A little later she said. "Mr Harper is on another call. Leave me your name and number and the reason for your call and he will return your call as soon as he can."
I gave her the info and hung up. He didn't call me back that day.
The next day I called again and got the same messages from his secretary. I was reluctant to give her the reason for my call because the building wasn't for sale and I didn't want to cause the owner any embarrassment explaining that I wanted to buy the Stanley.
Having not being able to contact John Harper by phone, I took the bull by the horns and drove into Pittsburgh to his office without an appointment. I never do that. I always make an appointment. But, I was a little irritated that he wouldn't take my call and since he was only in Pittsburgh and not New York. I was going to his office and would be willing to wait until he sees me. I walked into his suite of offices. I was impressed. It must have been copied from LA or New York. It was big time show biz. Much more of an attraction than any of my offices had been. There were a lot of people buzzing around. I went up to the receptionist and said, "Hi I'm Pat DiCesare here to see Mr. Harper."
"Do you have an appointment to see him?" she asked.
"No. Please let him know that I am here. I think he will want to see me," I said with confidence.
She buzzed his secretary and they sort of whispered something. She turned towards me and said. "Mr. Harper's secretary will be out to see you."
This very attractive young lady came to the reception area and spoke with the receptionist who nodded towards me. The good looking one came over to me and said, "Mr. DiCesare?"
"Yes," I said as I stood up.
"You don't have an appointment to see Mr. Harper and he just doesn't see anyone without an appointment. You need to make an appointment to see him," she said in an irritating, impatient voice.
"Yes. I understand that, but I have been calling and he doesn’t return my calls. What do I have to do to get through to him?" I demanded.
"You must get through to me first. What do you want to talk about?" she asked.
I thought I wasn't getting anywhere and that perhaps I should tell her. After all, he was probably confiding all of his thoughts with her anyway. "I want to buy the Stanley Theatre," I said in a low tone so that no one else but her could hear me.
She said, "You want to do what? The Stanley Theatre isn't for sale. Where did you get that idea?"
"I know that it is," I bluffed.
"Can you wait here? I will be right back." She said.
She came out to the reception area and said, "Please follow me. Mr. Harper will see you now." She looked very annoyed. I could tell she didn't approve of me barging in like this. I followed her into a luxurious office. It was like something out of Hollywood. She led me into the huge office and towards the large desk and pointed towards one of two chairs that were positioned in front of the oversized desk. John was on the phone. I got the feeling as she walked behind the desk and got pretty close to where he was sitting in the chair that these two were in item. I could see the pictures of what appeared to be John and his wife and kids were placed on the credenza behind his chair. He got off the phone. His secretary looked at him and asked, "Do you need me for anything else?"
"No," he said. As she walked away, his eyes focused on mine and without thinking I raised my eyebrows in a manner which sent the message, “I think I know what is going on with you two and she's more than just your secretary. But, that is not why I'm here.”
John looked at me and said, "Pat DiCesare. Are you the guy that does all the concerts in town?" I had been getting that question for most of my adult life. Yet it seemed funny hearing it from him now.
"Yes. I am he," I replied.
"What makes you think you can come barging in here without an appointment wanting to buy one of my theatres?" he asked. I looked on the walls and there were all these great pictures of theatres and movie houses in various states. It was a little intimidating.
"John. I saw the marquee. You are only open on weekends. I see the suburbs starting to build more quads. Downtown is losing movies houses. The ten percent amusement tax and the parking fees are driving the business to the suburbs. It's only a matter of time."
He didn't like what I said, I could tell, but I thought I had to say those words. "Well, you can be sure of one thing. The Stanley is not for sale, not now or any time. There will always be a theatre in town. It will be the Stanley. Good day sir."
He stood up and extended his hand. I knew that move. If you want to get someone out of your office stand up. The other person will feel he has to stand up then walk them to the door and they will follow you. I stood up and didn't move and said. "But, you don't understand John. I want to buy the Stanley Theatre."
"You don't seem to understand that I said it is not for sale. Not now or ever," he repeated.
"John, here's my card. I will keep in touch with you. If ever you decide to sell, this is where I can be reached," I said and left.
Mid January on was a dead period in the business. Usually the film companies came out with great releases for the Christmas season. People would go to the movies to see the new Christmas releases which came out right before Christmas. But after a few weeks even big grossing films attendance would decline after a few weeks from the release. Pooner told me that it cost about $600 a day to heat or air condition the Stanley. It was a big building. Many times it was cheaper to keep the facility "dark" and not turn the heat on, than to open it to a few hundred people. I took that in consideration and decided to call John Harper again.
I acted like I never saw him before and called. This time I got through right away. "John, I want to buy the Stanley Theatre. How much are you asking?" I said asking as if I knew he wanted to sell.
His answer surprised me and I wasn't prepared for it, "How much are you offering?"
I was stunned. I had to think quickly. I never thought I would get through to him and I never thought about what it was worth. More importantly, I didn't know where I would get the money. I did have the “the money will show when I need it” theory. "Let's talk about it. When can I come in to meet you?" Another part of my negotiation tactics was “he who mentions price first loses”. There is something to that. The person who comes up with the price first usually gets the wrong end of the deal.
Now I had to think of the price that I could pay. Or better yet, would this place even work as a concert hall? Even though I played a concert there, I wasn't totally familiar with the building. I remember the building manager Mike Cardone was a tough person to deal with. It wasn't like I didn't like him, but he was like the other building managers who didn't like rock and roll shows coming into their building. That's why I wanted to buy a theatre. Although buying a piece of downtown commercial real estate was out of my league at that time and I should have gone for professional help, I didn't. I thought I would do my own negotiation. Besides, I didn't know who I could go to for advice. And as far as what to do with the building once I owned it – as veteran rock concert promoter myself, there were not many people to turn to for advice.
After about a week or so in the middle of a brutally cold winter, I received a call from John Harper to come to his office to talk. This time, he was a lot more personal. It was more of a freindly chat. We talked about a lot of subjects.
"Well, what is your price you are offering?" he asked.
I still didn't know. I didn't have any idea of how many shows I could do there a year. What would the expenses be to operate the building? How much would the taxes and the insurance be? Could I get a mortgage? If I could how many years and what would be the interest rate?
What he said next shocked me. He said, "I've done a little investigating on you. I know you live on a farm in Harrison City and that you are mining coal (true) and making a fortune (not true)."
I thought to myself, “It's amazing. It reminded me of the time my song "I'm Spinning" was released by the Del Vikings and played on the radio and my name was announced. Everyone thought that I was in the big bucks.”
Now it is happening again. The sad part of it was that I didn't make a cent on I'm Spinning and the coal royalties were very low. But, I wasn't going to mention that except to say something like, "Yes, there are coal royalties." But John thought I built my house on top of a pile of money. I threw the question right back at him, "What do you have to get for the theatre?"
He said, "two and a half million dollars."
I thought to myself, 'what am I doing here talking about two and a half million dollars? I don't have two and a half million dollars. Even if I did get the money I’m not sure that the numbers work." I repeated, "Two and a half million dollars."
He repeated and sort of half laughed and half smiled, "two and a half million dollars. Can you do that?"
"I don't know john, that is a lot of money. I'll tell you what, let me play with the numbers and get back to you."
"OK, you do that." he said.
I was impressed with John. I believe he is a Wharton School of Business graduate. He was articulate, well dressed and a gentleman. I liked him, but I knew right there that htere was no way I could buy that theatre for two and a half million dollars. But, I was determined to buy the theatre more than ever.
I started to do a lot of "what if's". I didn't know how many shows we could get to play there. There was already a building where anyone could play concerts that was the Syria Mosque. Pittsburgh really didn;t need another concert theatre. What if I got the Stanley and a competitior took over the Mosque. I could be in real trouble
I thought what if I could only get one show a month? I kept thinking about the $600 a day for heat or air conditioning. I knew that I couldn't do it in movies. If I did one show a month and charged $3,500 rent and made money on the concessions and the sale of T shirts. How much could that be. There was no liquor license and no concert theatre had a license except Sen John Heinz was successful in getting Heinz Hall a limited liquor license.. I couldn't depend on the show profit. That belonged to DiCesare Engler and I wanted to keep DiCesare Engler separate from the Stanley. I started to figure out my bare minimum expense and I thought if I could have a gross monthly income of at least ten thousand dollars a month that perhaps I could scrape by on that. It meant that I had to do at least two concerts a month and sell out. I would have DiCesare Engler pay 10 % of the gross if I had to. The deal to DiCesare Engler would be $3,500 or ten percent whichever is greater. I would need to get a liquor license and hope to make the real money there.
I had made friends with Bill of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board when I had my night club Pat DiCesare's Mansard House. I called him and told him what I had in mind and asked if he thought I could get a license. He told me, "do not call an attorney. They will charge you fifty thousand dollars to get you a license. I think i know how you can do this on your own." Sen John Heinz paved the way when he got Heinz Hall a license and Bill told me what I needed to know I felt confident I could get a license on my own.
I felt confident that owning the Stanley could work for the right price. I called for another meeting at John's office. I felt uneasy going into his office. I knew that when you are doing the negotiating, it is best to do it on your own turf. This time when I went into John's office, his partner who was an attorney Tom Reich was with him. It was a Wharton Business School graduate and attorney who dealt in negotiations on their turf against me. Did I feel outclassed.
After all the greetings they asked if I was ready to go through with the deal and who should write up the sales agreement? I surprised myself, I suddenly stood up and slammed my fist on John's desk. It made a loud thunderous noise and I said something like, "What the hell do you guys takd me for a fool. this property isn't worth 2 and a half million, it's not worth even half that?" I was surprised at myself. They looked at me an where stunned they were non plused. They just stood there with their mouths open wondering who this mad man was that they were dealing with.
John Harper looked at me and said, "Calm down now, that figure is not cast in stone. What are you saying, you will pay how much?"
"I don't know." I said as I still couldn't believe that outburst I just performed.
"Ok, we will discuss what the best possible deal we could make." he said.
These negotiations went on and off like this for about the next six months. Several times the negotiatios came to a halt and they said the deal is off.
That week, I packed up the family and headed for New Jersey. But right before I left, I got a phone call from Tom Reich who said, "what do you say we have a meeting tomorrow to try to wrap up a deal."
I said, "I can't Tom, I'm taking my family to the beach."
"YOu can't do that, we're inthe middle of a deal." Tom said.
"You guys aren't dealing tom. You don't want to dop a deal." I said.
"What do you mean, what have we been talking about for so long?" he asked.
"Tom, we are too far apartr on price." I said.
Tom said, "What price do you want?"
"You are asking two and a half million. I am willing to pay nine hundred thousand." I said. Again, i have no idea what led me to say that. I didn't even realize I was saying that until I heard him say.
"Are you crazy? You are craxy. do you know that you are crazy, nine humdred thousand>"
"Tom I am leaving for my vacation tomorrow let's talk about it when I get back." i said.
"No, we are going to talk about it now. You are willing to pay nine hundred thousand is that right?" He said.
"Yes, that's right." I repeated.
"Do you have the money?" He asked?
"No." I replied.
"Where are you getting the moeny?" he asked.
"I want you to finance it for no money down." I said calmly. This just came to me to say these words.
"You are crazy. You want to steal the building and you want us to finance it? Is that what you are saying?" He yelled.
"I do need you to finance it." I said rather calmly.
He said, "Go to the shore and let's talk about it during the week."
"Ok, I'll give you a call." I said. All during the long ride to the shore and while we were there I thought about the deal. It was hard for me to stay focused on the vacation. i din't tell Kathy or the kids who were too young what was on my mind. It was the days before anyone had cell phones that you could carry with you. I would go to the corner pay phone while they were in the resataurant eating and call Tom. It was now Friday afternoon and we still didn't have a deal. I called Tom as he had asked me to do.
When I got Tom on the phone, he said, "I'll tell you what, give me one million three hundred fifty thousand dollars and the place is yours." He said.
That felt good to hear those last few words, "and the place is yours."
I said, " that's too much. Let's make it One million one Hundred Thousand and you provide the financing."
He said, " How about One million One humdred Thousand and a note for Two hundred and fifty thousand funny money?"
I said, "What is $250,000 funny money?"
"That means if you sell the building for more that One million One Hundred Thousand, that you will pay us an additional $250,000 for anything up to One Million Three Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars."
I said, "OK you have a deal."
he said, "Good you come into my office Monday morning with a certified check for $50,000 and we will sign the deal.
I said, " Tom I can't. I told you I am with my family at the shore."
"Oh yes you did say that. OK. When are you are coming home?"
"I will see you this week. Can you deliver the financing?" I asked.
"Come in with the fifty thousand and we will talk?" He said.
I couldn't believe it. I was going to buy the Stanley for One million One Hundred Thousand.
We got home the next day on Saturday afternoon and being home, it dawned on me that my life was going to change. I had to give up the life of a farmer and would have to go in each day to make my brainchild of an idea, the Stanley theatre work. I had some money saved. Kathy knew about it but it was money that I made in the business that we had in a savings account. We didn't need it to live on and we didn't depend on it. I went to the bank and got the certified check and put it inside my suit jacket pocket and kept there as I went in to see Tom and John. Tom had the sales agreement prepared. He put it in front of me and without any other attorney advising me, I read it signed it and handed over my fifty thousand dollar check. I know that was a foolish thing to do and that I should of had an attorney review it first, but I thought I was getting such a steal I just wanted to get it signed.
John said to me, "I know you said we can't close on the building for another twelve months, but I don't think we have to wait that long. How would you like to take over the theatre now? Don't pay me anything. Just pay the taxes, insurance and the maintenance and upkeep and the theatre if yours."
"When?" I said.
"Now. Do you want the keys?" He said.
"Yes." I said.
He drafted a quick paper and I signed it and walked out with the keys. I walked to the Stanley and opened the doors and went in. I couldn't believe it. I did it.
I claimed an office that was at the mezzanine which was the ad guys office. The first person I hired was a recommendation from my sister Bernie's sorority sister Lynn Cherney the girl was Jonie Gosney form the McKeesport area. She proved to be a great assistant. After a few years she went to different major agencies in Nashville and made a big name for herself representing some great country acts.
Rich and Ed were in the North Hills office. They didn't want to drive into town until they saw all the action and knew that is where the belong. I hired Gene Ciavarra who worked the summers for me at my farms in Harrison City and in Indiana County. Dick Roberts graduated from Duquesne in advertising and he became head of tht department. My wife Kathy set up the box office for advance ticket sales and night of the show. Things were humming immediately. We were a success.