Bellefonte resident wants Garman Theatre preserved

Richard Knupp has been studying Bellefonte history for more than 20 years.

He has read about seven governors from the town, about the days before the current courthouse and when the prison was in the basement of a downtown building.

And he and members of the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association have made it their mission to preserve local history.

“This town is unbelievable as far as buildings are concerned,” he said.

Knupp — a self-proclaimed “troublemaker” — has now set his sights on the Garman Theatre. The historic building has been closed since fires ripped through it and the Hotel Do De in September 2012. The building has been ruled salvageable, but the Do De must be demolished.

If all goes according to plan, State College developer Ara Kervandjian wants to purchase both buildings, demolishing them and replace them with one building called the Garman House. It would provide work-force housing to the town.

Borough officials such as Manager Ralph Stewart and council President Frank Halderman have spoken out in favor of the plan, saying it would help to revitalize the downtown.

Kervandjian previously said the project would provide needed housing to Bellefonte and help to increase borough vitality.

“Rebuilding those buildings, I think, is the beginning of a process that downtown Bellefonte sorely needs in order to take advantage of some of the opportunities that they have,” he said in February.

He declined specific comment on this report.

But Knupp is not ready to see the building, which hosted musical acts like the historic Mills Brothers, be torn down.

He would like to see it restored to host musical shows and other acts with apartments available in the rooms on the top floor.

The theatre was originally constructed in 1890 and played host to acts such as George Burns and Gracie Allen, Harry Houdini and the Flora Dora Girls.

Knupp said he has been through the building many times and it fits nicely in the town that he calls “one-of-a-kind.”

Though he said a housing development could help the downtown, Bellefonte Mayor Kent Addis said the borough should be looking at all the options — including restoring it as a historic building.

“I think that’s certainly something the borough ought to be looking at,” he said. “If a person has something in mind, we ought to be looking at it.”