310-12 E. State Street,
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The Strand Theater opened on 23 April 1917 as a modern space for live performances, designed to replace the venerable Lyceum Theater. The latter, built in 1893 on the site of the current City Hall at East Greene and South Cayuga Streets, had served as Ithaca’s main auditorium for leading travelling companies, but with the advent of electricity it had become quickly outmoded. The Strand, designed by Edgar Townsley and built by the Driscoll Brothers Co., offered the most modern facilities for stage and screen use in Central New York. Its orchestra sat 1,050 and its balcony sat 600.
The Stand Theater’s facade was distinctively designed in the Tudor Revival style, with Gothic arches and window casements, stone heads representing Comedy and Tragedy, and an evocative whiff of London’s theatrical Strand area. Its 60' long x 26' wide lobby boasted a terrazzo floor and marble stairs with brass railings leading to the balcony. The interior was designed in the Adamesque style, with pleasing symmetries, gilt bas reliefs on ivory plaster walls, and rose draperies in the parallel box seats and stage area. The rectangular proscenium measured 37' wide and 24' high, with a stage depth of 34' feet, and an orchestra pit of 30' x 8'. Fly space climbed 55' high.
The Strand Theater vied with the Lyceum Theater as host to distinguished touring companies, and it became the prime venue for such companies when the Lyceum Theater closed in 1927. Memorable productions include Eugene O'Neill’s “Strange Interlude” with sets by Jo Mielziner in April 1931; Katherine Hepburn, Van Heflin, and Joseph Cotton in “Philadelphia Story” in October 1940; Erich von Stroheim in “Arsenic and Old Lace” in September 1941; and the National Touring Company of “Oklahoma” in April 1949. From the beginning, the Strand had showed movies between live bookings, but from 1950 to 1976 it presented only films. Memorable features in the early 1970s include “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”, “A New Leaf”, “Cabaret”, and “Frenzy”.
When the Strand Theater closed in 1976 because of a leaking roof and deteriorated heating plant, community groups mounted an impressive effort to “Save the Strand”. Upon raising several hundred thousand dollars for repairs and renovations, the Ithaca Association reopened the theater in 1979 for live performances by the Ithaca Ballet, the Ithaca Opera, and local theater groups. By 1982, however, debts and further maintenance problems had mounted, and the theater closed permanently.
The building was razed in the late-1980’s, and the site now is given to an open parking lot.
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