Lehigh Valley Cinemas

740 Lehigh Valley Mall,
Whitehall, PA 18052

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The theatre opened in 1976 as a triplex. Robert F. Klaas, a former theatre owner in Maplewood, New Jersey, was hired as its first manager. It was a very high volume unit, that was expanded to five, and then later eight screens in two renovations in the late 1970’s and early 80’s.

Klaas was quite a showman, who was constantly committed to promoting the theatre in the Lehigh Valley. It was most known for its highly successful midnight movie series, but it also excelled at concession, VIP ticket sales, Ladies Day shows, and the rental of individual auditoriums for corporate presentations. All of this was largely based on Klaas' efforts. Over time he earned the distinctions of being awarded the Regional Manager of the year at various times, as well as once the Manager of the Year of the entire circuit. It was General Cinemas busiest theatre in the Philadephia Division, as well as one of the busiest in the entire circuit.

Klaas left the theatre in January of 1986 to become the Division Manager in Cleveland. When General Cinema eliminated the role of the DM, Klaas became an Area Manager, working out of the Brigewater Commons 7, in Bridgewater New Jersey. He retired before General Cinemas bankrupcy.

It was one of the large complexes in the company that began to employ the new leadership model of Managing Director-House Manager-Assistant Manager-Assistant Manager, in 1987 or so. Glenn D. Schattan was the Managing Director, and Mr. Santangelo was the House Manager. Later House Managers were Robert L. Wheatley and John Toner.

It was sold to AMC theatres at the time of the bankrupcy. But, unfortunately, AMC rather quickly closed it, as there was another AMC 14-plex nearby, and felt an 8-plex was becoming obsolete in the new millenium.

It could be used as another business today, or demolished. I haven’t been to the mall for some years.

It was truly an extremely elegant and grand theatre, and it is sad to see that it is no longer open. I’m not sure that 8-plexes are obsolete in this day and age, but that supposes whether or not they can be expanded, and what kind of competition might they currently have.

Contributed by Dan Doherty

Recent comments (view all 11 comments)

RJS
RJS on February 6, 2007 at 3:04 am

John:
This theater was run for most of its life by General Cinema. When General Cinema was purchased, it was run by AMC for perhaps 2 years.

Across the street is the Whitehall Mall and the former Plaza Twin. From the history I know, the Plaza was run by Budco then AMC. After AMC’s lease expired, Wolfe leased and operated the Plaza twin for several years.

I believe the Plaza Twin is now a Gold’s Gym, while the Lehigh Valley 8 is now retail.

JohnMessick
JohnMessick on February 6, 2007 at 3:16 am

Thanks Bobs for setting me straight. I knew he ran another theater other than the Roxy in Northampton.

randytheicon
randytheicon on May 1, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Lehigh Valley GCC was the location of one of the longest-ever runs of “Rocky Horror”: from the late 1970s to the theatre’s closing in 2002.

littlelj
littlelj on May 13, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Whatever happened to Bob Klaas? His son worked for me @ Rutgers Plaza.

TenPoundHammer
TenPoundHammer on May 13, 2011 at 5:18 pm

The Lehigh Valley cinema is now an HH Gregg store.

John Fink
John Fink on May 14, 2011 at 3:29 am

I’m not sure what the AMC 14-plex above references but Carmike had at that time just opened a 16-screen theater by the Airport. AMC of coarse really did nothing when they took over the theatre and last I had gone their, the summer during AMC’s take over, the place was not nearly as busy as it was a few summers earlier. Two things I remember: there was what might have been an old lobby with a concession stand and the far left of the complex (a marquee above it directed patrons to the entrance with box office to the left). On that side of the complex they had (not sure if this was an expansion or not) up about five stairs two smaller(?) theaters and restrooms. Not sure these were ADA compliant. The remaining 6 were at ground level. The main restrooms I recall were upstairs (not uncommon in GCC sites – Buffalo where I presently live is like a GCC museum with the multi-era Thruway Plaza, the 80’s era McKinley Mall, and the 70’s era Eastern Hills Mall – which has the aforementioned restrooms on the second floor along with the former Ocean County Mall). This one did have a handicap restroom by the concession stand. Can anyone shed any light on the expansion and/or division it took to get to 8 theaters?

RichardCWolfe
RichardCWolfe on May 24, 2011 at 12:38 pm

The General Cinema Lehigh Valley Mall theatres were built in a strip center to the east of the indoor Mall outside of the ring road that surrounded the mall. It originally had, going from left to right, an Acme market, several small shops, the theatre, and an Oriental restaurant.
The theatre opened as a tri-plex. The entrance lobby was at the extreme left side of the theatre property. The entrance doors were flush with the building line. You then entered a shallow vestibule and went through a 2nd set of doors into the main lobby. Just inside the doors was a large island type open counter box office. The lobby was L shaped and went off to the right behind the oriental restaurant. The original refreshment stand was around the corner to your right as you made the turn into the L. The 3 auditoriums were then to your left. If you continued on to the right beyond the concession stand there were stairs that took you up to the rest rooms. The largest auditorium was straight ahead behind the box office area and sat over 500 people. The other two that were to the right probably sat between 250 and 350 people, but that is just a guess on my part. In the far left corner of the lobby was a door to a 2nd private staircase to the 2nd floor which gave access to both the office and the projection booth. This is the way I was sent whenever I stopped by to see Mr. Klaas, the managing director. There was also an entrance to that area from the public hallway that led to the rest rooms as well.
In the late 70s the store to the left of the theatre came available and was converted into 2 more screens in a back to back arrangement. The one screen was against the front wall with the exit doors coming out onto the sidewalk just to the left of the theatre entrance, while the other screen was at the back of the building with its exits going out the rear. Rather than dig out a deep pit to create the slope of the auditoriums the rear of each auditorium and the hallway that separated them were raised about 5 feet. In order to get to this hallway a section on the far left side of the original 500 seat auditorium had to be eliminated so a hallway could be built from the main lobby to the cross hall separating the two new auditoriums. After going down the hallway from the lobby you made a left turn and then went up a set of stairs to get to the new hallway between those auditoriums. As mentioned above they were not ADA accessible. They were built before the ADA existed. The refreshment stand was moved to be directly in front of the large auditorium directly behind the box office which put it in a more centralized location to service patrons going to any of the now 5 screens. The original location was somewhat hidden and out of site when people entered the complex. I’m not exactly sure about this, but I seem to recall that they actually moved the refreshment stand to that new location even before they added the 2 new screens.
Sometime in the early to mid 80s the theatre expanded again, adding 3 more screens, making it an 8 plex. This time an addition was added to the strip center to the right of the oriental restaurant creating an entirely new entrance and lobby. The entrance was on the corner with a conventional box office with a window to the outside, and entrance doors on either side. Inside was a large island type refreshment stand in the center of the lobby. Behind the lobby the 3 new auditoriums were laid out with two going off to the right, one behind the other, and one to the left of the others going straight back parallel to the original ones. The original auditorium #3 was shortened to allow the lobby to connect with the original theatres lobby. The concession stand in the original lobby was used as a 2nd stand when business warranted. The original entrance to the theatre was now used strictly as an exit to keep most of the exiting traffic out of the new lobby. They added a first floor handicap rest room at this time as well.
A few years later, for a reason that I never quite understood, they removed the island refreshment stand and built a new straight counter one in front of the left wall of the new lobby. At the same time they enclosed in glass the sidewalk going around the corner where the box office was located, which then put the box office window inside an enclosed vestibule.
The last few years that the theatre operated, I seldom went there. I don’t know if it happened while GCC still operated it or if it was after AMC took over, but the lobby was re-carpeted with a dark blue carpet and the ceiling tiles were also painted a dark blue and the lobby was literally filled with video games giving it the feel more of an arcade than a theatre lobby. One Saturday night shortly before they closed some of my staff convinced me to go along with them to a midnight movie after we closed our theatre. It was a sad sight to see. A theatre that was for many years the area’s finest multi-plex and busiest venue was now overrun by rowdy teens, was dirty… a complete mess. I felt completely out of place. I had to be the oldest person there. Maybe it was just because it was a midnight show, but regardless, even if it had been clean and without the rowdies, it didn’t have the class that it had previously. I knew the end had to be near.
And to confirm what someone posted above. I never operated the Lehigh Valley Cinemas, but did operate the Plaza Twin across the street inside the Whitehall Mall. I had to vacate that theatre when they decided to tear down most of that mall to redesign it as a strip shopping center. Although the theatre wasn’t torn down, it wasn’t in the malls plans to keep a theatre there and it was converted into a gym. The Lehigh Valley Cinemas were indeed torn down and replaced with a new retail building.
For many years Whitehall was the movie center of the Lehigh Valley. Now there are no theatres in Whitehall at all even though it still is the retail center of the valley. The closest theatre to Whitehall is my Roxy Theatre in Northampton which is about three blocks beyond the Whitehall Township line in the Borough of Northampton.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 25, 2011 at 8:01 am

The GCC i worked at was built before handicap laws; we had to open a back exit door to wheel them in,sure it felt degrading at times.

robertklaas
robertklaas on September 2, 2011 at 10:33 am

Robert Klaas here…just found this site and joined. Was manager here for first 8 yrs…77 to 85. Construction comments by Richard Wolfe are mostly accurate. Operations comments by Dan Doherty at the top are appreciated. If anyone has any questions about this complex, I’ll be glad to answer.

Matthew_Folger
Matthew_Folger on December 3, 2013 at 5:19 pm

This was THE theater in the Lehigh Valley for the longest time. Mr. Wolfe is correct, it did look more like an arcade than a movie house, but at the time I loved it. Just a kid easily impressed by neon, I suppose. Of course I look back on the theater now with rose-tinted glasses, much like most things I stare at through my life’s rear-view mirror, but there came a time when I hated this theater. The cushioning on the seats had long since been matted down by years of ever fattening people (myself included). The people who went were often loud and annoying, and worst of all some of the theaters were the longest, narrowest things ever created. I once had to move closer to the front just to be able to hear it. It was a dive most certainly, but it’s a dive I grew up with, so I can never really fault something that gave me great memories.

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