Market Street in downtown Lewisburg is home to a combination of modern retailers and restaurants alongside traditional institutions, which are of historical significance to the borough. One of these treasured monuments is the Campus Theater. The Theater, built in 1941, is one of the few single-screen Art Deco cinemas dedicated to the promotion of cinema and historical preservation. “There is no other place like this,” according to the Campus Theater website.
Professor of Cinema and Media Studies Eric Faden describes the history of the construction of the Theater. According to Faden, the Steifel brothers ran a film empire spanning New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. They would become responsible for the creation of 11 Pennsylvanian theaters. The brothers initially operated a much smaller theater where Cole’s Hardware is now located. They saw Lewisburg’s promise as a cultural center in the greater Susquehanna Valley and seized the opportunity to build a larger theater in the hopes of filling 25 percent of the community. David Supowitz, the architect behind the Campus Theater, designed the new Market Street Theater, the Philadelphia Film Center, the Roxy Theater in Northampton, Pennsylvania, and the Harbor Square Theater in Stone Harbor, NJ. The brothers took a leap of faith by building an urban theater in a suburb of rural America.
January 17, 1941 marked the opening night of the Campus Theater presenting the 1940 Jack Benny and Fred Allen musical, “Love Thy Neighbor”. The theater attracted large numbers of spectators, being the only air-conditioned theater in central Pennsylvania. A longtime Lewisburg resident, Carol Brann spent most of her childhood in the theater, with her mother a cashier and her projectionist father working for the theater for 80 years. She will eventually start working there at the age of 14. The theater was indeed a place for everyone. Every Saturday the Steifels offered free movies for the local kids and even showed double movies if they were lucky.
The Theater has always been a deeply unifying pillar of the community. Former Lewisburg Mayor Judy Wagner reminds us: “No one could walk around the city center without seeing Harold [Steifel] resting on top of a yard, greeting everyone, talking to everyone. In addition, Harold Steifel and his wife, Jacquie, have worked closely with the community to initiate many awareness programs through the theater. Bringing a big city entertainment venue to the small town of Lewisburg was a financial risk, but it certainly helped having a university around the corner.
Faden bought the theater in 2001 from the Steifel family to start The Campus Theater Ltd. as a non-profit organization. The university finally took official ownership of the theater building in 2006 and leased it to the organization for just $ 1 per year.
Under Bucknell’s ownership, the theater underwent a six-month, $ 2.5 million renovation in 2011. To preserve the theater’s historic heritage and maintain its place in the community, Bucknell University undertook a major renovation. . Bucknell’s alumnus John Hartmann ’79 applied his BA in Art and Chemistry to the forefront of the project near and dear to his heart. Hartmann and his theater team, along with the university’s engineering and design department, repaired lost architecture, upgraded its systems and infrastructure, and installed state-of-the-art cinema and theater sound systems. technology. Hartmann said: “I’m proud of the work we’ve done here and also, as a Bucknell student, I’m fortunate to come back here and work on something like this. It will be wonderful for the future of this city and the University. And I have been looking forward to coming back here for years.
Even though the Campus Theater is an independent, not-for-profit entity, the University provides financial support to keep it relevant in a new world of streaming services. Additionally, the Film and Media Studies Department has established an excellent partnership with the theater through the management and preservation of the architectural wonder that this theater is in the 21st century. According to its website, “The Campus Theater is committed to presenting a diverse film programming with a healthy balance of popular, art and independent films that are culturally relevant and bring understanding to contemporary concerns.”
The orange and blue checkered exterior and the bison emblem in the front and center clearly represent the connection between the University and the Theater. The neon letters of the vintage brand appear on the street and can be spotted from the bottom of the road. The impeccable interior design of the lobby and auditorium has retained much of the original Art-Deco elements. The influence of the university extends even inside the building if you look closely. He maintains a more subdued orange and blue color theme in his murals. The auditorium itself houses two massive wall frescoes of Greek-type sculptures, with a man and a woman facing each other. Before the lights go out, chandeliers illuminate details from floor to ceiling. Then, as the red velvet curtain emerges revealing the screen, the Theater transports you to another place at another time.
The enhanced visual experience offered by the theater is unlike anything in today’s modern world. So instead of choosing to watch the latest movie on Netflix, head to the movies for an immersive viewing experience. Take an hour to escape the occasional monotony of campus life and travel to another world that theater has to offer.
Visit the Campus Theater website https://www.campustheatre.org/find-us for more information and schedules or drop by for a visit. It’s only a five minute walk to campus! They put on a show every evening and screenings are free for the public on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, thanks to the Cinema / Media Studies service.
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