20 E. State Street,
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Doylestown is 40 miles north of Philadelphia’s City Hall and is the county seat of Bucks County. The County Theater opened September 3, 1938 with the movie “Little Miss Broadway” starring Shirley Temple. The original seating capacity was for 700 and the theater was equipped with air conditioning. Architects Edward Silverman and Abraham Levy designed the theater. The County Theater replaced a prior theater, the Strand Theater, which was built in 1925, but suffered a fire. Sunday movies began on November 17, 1940, ending a ban on Sunday movies in Doylestown.
In the mid-1950’s, yellow ceramic tiles and upper blue tiles were added to the facade, which with the original lower blue tiles, gave it the distinctive look. Eventually, the theatre fell on hard times. In the early-1980’s the auditorium was divided into two auditoriums and those auditoriums were shortened, so apartments could be built in the part of the original auditorium that included the stage. In the 1980’s, the neon letters on the vertical tower went dim. In the early-1990’s, different theatre operators tried, but the theatre was closed for months at a time. Because of TV & multiplexes, the County Theater was no longer viable for daily mainstream blockbuster movies.
The County Theater was reopened for arthouse films on February 5, 1993, by a nonprofit organization, Closely Watched Films Inc., a local film society that had been showing art films in Doylestown since 1982. “Enchanted April” was the film which reopened the theater that day, and ever since, the County Theater has enchanted film fans with arthouse films, classics, and special presentations. The nonprofit organization became the owner of the theater on April 1, 1997.
The exterior of the County Theater is depicted in the book “Popcorn Palaces: The Art Deco Movie Theatre Paintings of Davis Cone” (2001) which describes the County’s exterior ‘an outstanding Art Moderne design’ The Art Moderne exterior has been restored. In May 1998, the towering 18 foot neon vertical was removed, and restored, reinstalled in September 1998. The marquee was removed October, 1999, and restored, reinstalled May 2000. In January 2016, the County Theater purchased the adjacent Poor Richards building. The plan is to replace the existing building with an expansion opening in 2019 that would have an expanded lobby, a community meeting place, and two new auditoriums. One of those auditoriums would have a partial stage.
The reopened and revitalized County Theatre has been so successful that its parent non-profit corporation, Renew Theaters, Inc., led by John Toner, was asked to oversee the renovation and operation of the Ambler Theatre, the operation of the already refurbished Hiway Theatre in Jenkintown and the refurbishment and operation of the Princeton Garden Theatre in Princeton, NJ.
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