August 29, 2011

The Campus Theatre

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By Julia Ferrante

LEWISBURG, Pa. — Just like it was 1941, moviegoers lined up outside the Campus Theatre Friday night, adults paying 25 cents and children paying a dime to see the night's feature film.

More than 400 people, some arriving 45 minutes before the doors opened, filled the World War II-era cinema, which underwent a six-month renovation that included restoration of original art deco-style murals, an improved projection and sound system, a new air-conditioning and heating and refurbished seating. || Related links: Film Journal feature; News story on mural restoration.

"I'm over the moon, quite frankly," said Linda Sterling, executive director of the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership, as community members and dignitaries filed through the front doors to collect their free popcorn and soda then search out a coveted couch or prime seat. "When the partnership started 11 years ago, one of the frets was that we would lose the Campus Theatre. This is a historic building with a lot of meaning, and to see it renovated, it took me five times before I could walk in without tearing up. It is now a modern watching experience in an authentic art house."

The $2.5 million renovation project was funded by a Commonwealth grant and funding from Bucknell University. The University owns the building, but a nonprofit group continues to set programming and run day-to-day operations. The Campus Theatre is one of a handful of art deco theaters built in the early 1940s that remains in operation.

With three pairs of giant scissors, University and community leaders cut a film reel, and Campus Theatre Executive Director Ellen Flacker-Darer declared the theatre once again open for business. The grand opening, along with an evening street fair on South Fourth Street, kicked off the inaugural Arts. Everywhere. Festival hosted by Bucknell University and the Lewisburg Downtown Partnership. A screening of the 1962 film Music Man followed the film-cutting.

Uncovering history
Bucknell President John Bravman called the theatre a "treasure" that signifies "one of the best town-and-gown relationships in the nation." The movie house will be a draw not only for Lewisburg residents and the Bucknell community but for people throughout the region interested in classic movies as well as first-run films.

Bravman commended the work of John Hartmann, Class of '79, who returned to Lewisburg to painstakingly conserve the long-obscured murals and art deco fixtures, uncovering layer upon layer of oil and tobacco residue to reveal their vibrant images.

"A few months ago, I was crawling around on a scaffold, watching our alumnus John Hartmann cleaning the ceiling with Q-tips and cotton balls," Bravman said. "Much of what you see is not new paint. It was covered with decades of grime and soot."

Linking town and gown
Lewisburg Mayor Judy Wagner, whose father helped paint the original murals, recalled going to the theatre as a child. Wagner, who received her master's in education and counseling from Bucknell, said the theatre continues to serve as a connection between the town and the University. She read a proclamation commending the preservation of "our jewel on Market Street" and declared Friday Campus Theatre Day in the borough.

"Look at us tonight in this amazing theatre," she said. "It was here that we sat with our family and friends and Bucknell students. Now, 70 years later, we continue to sit with Bucknell students and to be entertained because of this theatre."

Union County Commissioner and Bucknell alumnus and Trustee John Mathias said the theatre was "an integral part of my youth" that continues to make the county "special and unique." He called the theatre restoration, along with the Barnes & Noble at Bucknell University bookstore and other historic buildings recently purchased by Bucknell and undergoing renovations part of the University's commitment to Lewisburg.

"A vibrant university needs an equally vibrant town to thrive," Mathias said.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, the parent of a first-year student at Bucknell, said he frequented the theatre as a teen-ager. Yaw commended the restoration, noting that such projects often reveal unanticipated challenges.

"When you go to renovate an old building or facility, it's like opening a surprise box," he said. "There is no question this will be known as the place for events in this town. You've done something very few theaters like this have been able to accomplish."

Student draw
Bucknell Student Government President Philip Kim said the Campus Theatre is part of the University's draw.

"Students come to Bucknell not only for the superb education but the small-town feel, and the Campus Theatre epitomizes that experience," Kim said.

The remarks were followed by the premiere of a seven-minute film celebrating the theatre and its restoration.

Contact: Division of Communications