The Historic County Theater opened in 1938.Looking back movies have been in Doylestown a long time. It all began in 1907 when Hellyer's Movie House opened on South Main Street in the back of what is now County Linen. In 1909 Hellyer's moved across the street to Lenape Hall where it operated until 1925 when the Strand Theatre, Doylestown's first "real" movie theater, was built. Then in 1938 the Strand was replaced by the "state-of-the-art" County Theater, which rose up in its place. The County was a fine product of late art-deco style and, more importantly, it was air-conditioned.
The 40s, 50s, and 60s were golden years for the County Theater. As an important town center and gathering place, it worked its Hollywood magic. But by the 70s, the usual suspects (TV, shopping centers, and multiplexes) were beginning to take their toll and the theater was in a slow downward spiral. In the early 80s, the theater even lost its air-conditioning! The neon letters on the marquee tower went dim one by one. Then in 1990 the theater closed for six months. After reopening, it closed again in 1992, this time for nine months.
The Theater is Saved
In late 1992, the County Theater was leased by Closely Watched Films, a local film society that had been showing art films in Doylestown since 1982. The theater reopened on February 5, 1993 as a non-profit community-based project with the screening of Enchanted April. Success was immediate and overwhelming. The community responded financially and with volunteer work sessions. The building was cleaned, painted, and pampered by its new family of supporters.
In June 1996 we launched a capital campaign to raise the money to purchase and further renovate the County Theater. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our Board of Directors, community volunteers and staff, we were able to meet and exceed our initial goals. On April 1, 1997, the nonprofit County Theater, Inc. purchased the building and (our non-profit 501 (c) 3 corporation) became the official owner of the County Theater.
Major Renovations - 1997
On Sept. 8, 1997 the County Theater was closed to make the major renovations promised by our capital campaign. New seats and screens were installed in the auditoriums. A new concession stand was constructed for the inner lobby. The upstairs rest rooms were renovated. New HVAC was added for the auditoriums and projection booth. We completely rewired the entire building. The renovated projection booth included some new projection booth equipment. New auditorium doors were installed. New emergency exit ramps in each auditorium and a new emergency system were installed. The outer lobby received a new floor cover, the administrative office and the theater ticketing systems were upgraded. The exterior saw a new sidewalk and a new roof for the marquee.
The theater re-opened after nine weeks of work the theater held a Grand Re-Opening. The building and its major systems were now in good shape.
Restoration of the Exterior - 1998
In 1998 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania awarded us a Keystone Grant that has allowed us to continue with much needed restoration to the exterior of this historically significant building (together with support from The Grundy Foundation and individuals). The Neon Tower was removed from its perch above East State Street in May of 1998 and returned in September of 1998 completely restored. The Marquee was removed October of 1999 and was completed and re-installed in May of 2000. Both should now be good for another 60 years.
Interior Renovations - 2009
Renovations to the lobby were completed in June 2009. The lobby change was cosmetic and long overdue. In keeping with the art deco origins of the theater, new carpets were installed and fresh paint was added. In addition, new entrances to the two auditoriums were made by creating double door vestibules. An additional improvement included an upgraded video projection system to accommodate the latest in digital media and high quality projection.
Membership dollars are crucial to our ongoing projects, which include upgrading to digital sound (which was completed June, 2000), and expansion of our programming and our community outreach efforts. If you are not already a member of the County Theater, please consider joining us. For information, call Jim Sanders, Director of Development in our Administrative office at 215-348-1878 x 117.
We are a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt non-profit organization. Being non-profit allows us to accept charitable contributions to keep the theater running and to make needed renovations. Our non-profit status also allows us to do special programming and educational outreach. Our mission is to show great films, serve the community, and maintain our historic movie theater.