Nurture the unifying spirit of film through support of community theaters

The Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg will be celebrating its centennial in 2017.
The Rowland Theatre in Philipsburg will be celebrating its centennial in 2017. Centre Daily Times, file

“Film is one of three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music,” Frank Capra, film director.

In our own backyard — or in our case, Front Street and College Avenue — two nonprofit community-owned theaters offer the universal language of film and music to people from all backgrounds, socioeconomic classes and nationalities.

On Front Street in Philipsburg, the 1,000-seat Rowland Theatre will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2017. As America struggled through two World Wars, a Great Depression and beyond, residents were able to leave their fears at the ticket window for a few hours at a time as they sat in the balcony or the great auditorium below and watched silent films turn into talkies.

The State Theatre in State College has also offered the universal language to residents throughout much of the 20th century, beginning in 1938 as a test market for Warner Brothers.

The Rowland and the State theaters share a common screenplay. Both theaters fell into disrepair after decades of use, facing permanent closure, and both were saved by individuals who joined together to save an important piece of their community’s past.

Today, the Rowland Theatre continues to offer movies every night along with special shows, and The State Theatre has reinvented itself as a preeminent regional performance venue. The State Theatre is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Saturday as a community-operated theater.

As these two theaters celebrate these milestones, the support of the community is vital to keep the screenplay going.

Stepping through the doors into the lobby of the Rowland Theatre is like stepping back in time. The outside of the theater, however, displays a shell of the original glass and copper marquee, an uninviting look to a theater that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Rowland board of directors is undertaking a major project to restore the marquee to its original 1917 structure and size. Along with the marquee, a Centennial Plaza will be placed underneath the canopy and in front of the building, made of engraved bricks. Movies will be advertised on a standing digital sign on the plaza.

To help fund this project, the board is selling engraved bricks for $100 each. When completed, the theater will be a showcase of the business district on Front Street. Just as the community joined hands to save the theater at the end of the 20th century, the board hopes residents and supporters of the theater across the country will help restore the marquee and launch the theater into its second century.

The board wants to have the restoration complete by the actual opening date of the theater: June 4. A yearlong celebration is being planned with special shows to be announced. The board hopes the public continues its support by attending these shows so that more can be offered in the future.

Funds raised for The State Theatre this year have offset the costs of stage and concessions renovations, which were completed earlier this fall. Additionally, generous donations and memberships from friends of The State Theatre have offset the costs of bringing in local and national performers to the area, exposing central Pennsylvania to a wide variety of cultural experiences.

The entertainment venue is now looking to finish replacing the HVAC systems and to mend its rooftop. The Paver Fundraiser is still underway, and the first set of stone bricks have been freshly installed on College Avenue. The 10th Anniversary Celebration of The State Theatre on Saturday will be followed by Gimme Shelter: the sixth annual Strawberry Fields Benefit Concert, on Jan. 28, at which an all-star cast of local talent will pay tribute to rock legends The Rolling Stones, all to benefit both nonprofit organizations.

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How to help

To help keep the unifying spirit of film and music alive in our communities:

Buy a brick to support the Rowland Theatre at www.rowlandtheatre.com, or by calling 342-0477.

Support The State Theatre by donating to specific funds or purchasing a theater membership. Visit thestatetheatre.org for more information.