110 E. Butler Avenue,
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The Ambler Theatre was opened by its owner Warner Bros. on December 31, 1928, with the movie “Our Dancing Daughters” starring Joan Crawford. The town of Ambler is in Montgomery County, 15 miles northwest of Philadelphia.
An exuberant Spanish Colonial style architecture was employed to create a magical facade with terra cotta, spacious lobbies (entry lobby, main lobby, vestibule lobby, then foyer), an ornate auditorium with 1,228 seats, and a Gottfried pipe organ (which is long gone). The builder, Phillip Harrison, previously built the Seville Theatre (now Bryn Mawr Theatre) and Lansdowne Theatre, which may explain the Spanish Colonial similarities. Prior movies in Ambler had been shown in an opera house, a second story Civil War era theatre.
Due to the competition from TV and the multiplexes, the Ambler Theatre was no longer viable to continue as a for profit theatre with mainstream movies and ceased showing 35mm films about 1969 to 1970. By this time the auditorium’s side walls and the front part of the ceiling was draped over. From the 1970’s until 1997 the Ambler Theatre was operated as a Christian cinema, showing films in 16mm including “The Robe”. The Ambler Theatre closed again, waiting re-use. The Christian group sold the theatre in 2001 to businessmen, who in turn sold the theatre to the nonprofit Ambler Theatre, Inc.
The non-profit organization devoted two million dollars to renovations. Paint colors were chosen to match the original colors. No original carpet was found, so carpet was replicated from photographs with the appropriate colors selected. As the original ticket booth was long gone, a cheap modern ticket booth was removed and replaced with a retro style ticket booth. The ornate new ticket booth took its inspiration from the auditorium’s organ lofts.
Built in the former rear of the orchestra seating area were two ‘black-box’ stadium seated auditoriums, equipped with digital surround sound. Auditorium 2 has 150 seats, a 25ft wide screen and is equipped with 2k digital and 35mm projectors. Auditorium 3 has 110 seats, a 21ft wide screens and 2k digital projection. The Ambler Theatre reopened February 28, 2003, with those two auditoriums showing the movies “Nicholas Nickleby” and “Real Women Have Curves”. Renew Theaters, Inc. led by John Toner, which had a success in revitalizing the County Theatre, Doylestown, PA and continues to have its headquarters in Doylestown, was selected to oversee the renovation and operation of the Ambler Theatre.
As the original 30 foot towering vertical neon sign had been demolished in the late-1960’s, an exact replica was constructed by Bartush Signs and funded in part by a Keystone Grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The neon tower was installed in September, 2005 and officially lit on October 21, 2005. A replica of the historic marquee, was installed in April 2009. The marquee was made a little shorter than the original so it would not be hit by vehicles.
Renovation of the original front section of the auditorium began March, 2007. It reopened October 5, 2007 with the film “Into the Wild”. This auditorium (#1) has 4 k digital projection and 7.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. The original proscenium arch opening hosts the large movie screen (30 feet wide for ‘scope films), ornate decoration on the side walls, organ lofts and stadium seating for 280 people. This auditorium has a ceiling with what looks like wood beams, but in reality they are made of plaster. In October 2009, the non-original concession stand was replaced by a new, ornate stand inspired by the design on the auditorium’s organ lofts. In 2010, replicas of the two original decorative movie poster display cases were installed at the front of the theatre.
The Ambler Theatre reopening received in 2008 a Grand Jury Award from the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Photographs showing historic sites of Ambler line the last portion of the theatre’s lobby but the best way to celebrate the town’s architectural heritage and the town’s recent renaissance is to experience a movie in the revitalized, reopened Ambler Theatre.
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