Oh, the stories these walls would tell if only they could talk.
There is the story about Rick and Ilysa, star-crossed lovers in “Casablanca,” and the one about “Citizen Kane’s” lonely death as his beloved sled, “Rosebud,” burns in the fire of his lifetime’s trash.
Then there is the one about the doomed romance aboard the maiden voyage of the luxury liner named the Titanic and the tell the one about the failing businessman who realizes “It’s a Wonderful Life,” after he gets the opportunity to see what life would be like for others --without him.
These walls could make us laugh with the antics of the Muppets while they were in residence and they could make us cry when Simba lost his father in “The Lion King.”
And these are just a very few of the captivating stories that have played out between the walls of the State Theatre in Boyertown during its 100 years as a movie and entertainment venue.
Limited Edition Print Honors Theatre's Anniversary
Highlighting the historic role of the theatre, Friday, Dec. 7, from 3 – 9:00 PM, it will be one of the featured locations on the Annual Boyertown Holiday Open House Tour. As part of his ongoing fundraising efforts to restore and improve the State, local owner Kevin Rhude will have limited edition prints of the theatre available for purchase. The prints were made from a watercolor of the theatre, painted by Boyertown artist David Larson. The print depicts the theatre on a summer night, and Larson will be on hand to personally sign each print purchased.
In addition to purchasing the print, everyone, whether on the tour or not, is invited to stop by to learn about the theatre’s history and to see Rhude’s restoration and renovation work thus far. Visitors can enjoy fresh popcorn, and those who purchase prints may also wish to take advantage of a special offer from the local framing venue, Garshell Arts – a 20% discount on professional matting and framing of the print.
This holiday open house is just one of many special events the theatre is hosting during this holiday season, and these offerings cap a 100th anniversary celebration that has been marked by special events throughout the fall. Still to come are several live music concerts, a magician, a free community showing of the holiday classic, “Miracle on 34th Street,” and a family themed movie night. These events serve a dual purpose: fundraising for continued work on the theatre and fostering the theatre’s transition from solely a movie house to a vital performing arts venue in the community.
Working in the real estate business and having a fascination with revitalizing old properties, Rhude had always been intrigued by the State and casually mentioned his interest around town. Rhude recalls, “In September 2008, the call came out of nowhere. It was Bob Ritner, the owner. He said, ‘I heard you want to buy my theatre.’ " Smiling, Rhude adds, “He said ‘the building takes care of itself.’"
Funds Needed to Enable Theatre to Thrive, Give Back to Community
Since then, Rhude has learned that there is a great deal more to reviving an antique movie theatre, as he struggles to finance many much needed improvements to the physical environment: one of the major needs is a heating system and air conditioning. In addition to building modifications, needed technology modernization also carries an expensive price tag: digital media has replaced 35mm film, while sound technology has also changed vastly. Further, transforming the theatre into a performing arts venue requires changes like the addition of dressing rooms, a deeper stage, sophisticated stage lighting, etc.
Rhude’s fundraising efforts have been creative and varied. Recently, with the help of local businessman Kevin Zimmers of Zimmers Pets, the State featured a large screen showing of an episode of the TV show “American Pickers.” This particular episode featured Zimmers in a segment filmed when the show’s stars visited him in Boyertown, hoping they could negotiate him into the sale of an early edition comic book. Tickets to the screening sold out and the segment played to a packed house at the State!
When it does not interfere with regular movie showings, Rhude rents the theatre out to varied groups and individuals for business and personal use. School groups sometimes come for Muppet movies. One popular rental client is a local psychic whose events have been well attended. And there is also the romantic tale about the local man who rented the theatre along with a special private showing of the oldie but goodie movie, “Grease.” It seems that he and the woman in his life had seen “Grease” on their first date, years earlier, and he hoped to rekindle the special feelings of that memorable night. Rhude insists on one thing from those wanting to rent the theatre: “They have to take care of it as if it’s theirs,” he explains.
While these special events have helped towards raising the money needed to maintain the theatre and make it viable in the 21st century, movie showings still provide the basic “bread and butter” financing. Paralleling the national scene, movie attendance at the theatre had been down, but Rhude enacted several changes that have markedly increased attendance. One major change is that the theatre has become a “second run” house that brings in hit films very quickly after they finish their first runs in sprawling area multiplexes.
In addition, Rhude took a cue from the past. Meeting with Jack Kline, a member of the family that owned the State from at least 1940–1957, Rhude learned a great deal about how the theatre operated back then, and based on that meeting, he decided to bring back a movie screening schedule similar to that in place in the 50s. Instead of offering only one movie each week, Rhude began running two or three different flicks on an alternating schedule. Patrons have expressed their approval for this new format by coming out for movies more often. Rhude also notes that his food concession prices are more reasonable than those found elsewhere, a plus in this era when a night out is a luxury for many.
Clearly, Kevin Rhude has a vision for Boyertown’s State Theatre. Among other things, he notes that he wants area “kids to have a place to go” that is safe and wholesome. He proudly points out that for some local kids, working at the State is their first job. Most importantly, Rhude sees the theatre as a “way of giving back to the community, a way to leave a legacy.” He believes, “You need to give back in life.” Hopefully, the community will realize the benefits of a thriving theatre in Boyertown, and get behind him in his efforts to realize his goals.
For additional information about the State Theatre, including its history, special events, movie showings, and financial needs, visit the website at: http://statetheatreboyertown.com/hmpg.html