The Westmont Theater- aka ‘The Grand Old Lady’

Westmont Theater 1928. Courtesy of Haddon Township Historical Society.

So here it is the official inaugural post! I’m so excited but still getting used to wordpress so bear with me.  I’m a perfectionist and can’t seem to do everything I’d like so if anyone has any tips, I’m listening, just shoot an email. And of course I’d love any feedback, anytime about information I may leave out or anything else you think would help improve this undertaking.  Thanks!
And we’re off….

For this post it seemed like a good idea to talk about this amazing theater in the next town over from where I live.  I get really emotional when I see a building like this.  I fall in love with it thinking about what it looked like, all the fabulous movies that played there and all the families dressed for a night out. Who were those people, what were the movies, and what did the interior look like?   But this moment is bittersweet.  After the intrigue is the uncertainty.  Are we doing a disservice to our past by abandoning this piece of history? What is the future of this building?  Never fear…. so far this one has a pretty good story.

Some History:

  • The theater was built in 1927 by Morris Handel and A.J. Rovner
  • Opening in 1927- the theater showed silent pictures, opening with and was home to a 120 piece orchestra every Sunday.  Later movies include Charlie Chaplin’s film The Circus Al Jolsen’s Jazz Singer
  • The theater closed during World War II, but reopened in 1949 when it was renovated into a 1,200-seat first-run movie house.
  • Director Steven Spielberg has ties to the theater.  A resident of a nearby town, it is rumored that Spielberg  was inspired to become a director after seeing the Cecil B. DeMille film, The Greatest Show on Earth, at the Westmont in 1952.
  • Actor Michael Landon lived in a neighboring town and once served as a doorman for the theater in the 1960’s.
  • On December 26, 1973, The Westmont was one of only 30 theaters in the U.S. and the only theater in New Jersey to participate in the ‘world premiere’ ofThe Exorcist.
  • In 1986, the theater as a movie house closed but remained a viable building serving as home to repertory groups until 2000.

What’s happening now?
In 2007, local resident and filmmaker, Brent J. Donaway premiered his short documentary about the Westmont.  It’s entitled The Grand Old Lady.


Neighbors Celebrating the Westmont is a local advocacy group for the preservation and restoration of the Westmont Theatre.  They are advocates who provide support and non-financial assistance for the restoration of the Westmont Theatre and its use as a venue for the performing and film arts.

What’s that?  You say you want to help?
If you’re interested in joining the NCW, want more information on the theatre, please use the contact form here.  The group is currently in the process of becoming a non-profit, so donations will soon be accepted (never fear I’ll keep you posted).  Additionally, if you have any questions I may be able to answer feel free to leave a comment or send an e-mail. This is a group I recently became involved in and am really excited about.

Westmont Theater

Westmont Marquee 10.2010 ©Sbethy

 

Marquee

Westmont Marquee 10.2010 ©Sbethy

 

Information gathered from:
Cinema Treasures
Haddon Township Historical Society
Neighbors Celebrating the Westmont

 


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About sbethy

I have three college degrees including a Masters in Historic Preservation. Since many people aren't hiring preservationists right now I thought this would be a great outlet to document and hopefully publicize amazing buildings that I believe need attention. Originally from NY and currently living in NJ just over the bridge(s) from Philadlephia most of the places I'll feature will be in these areas. If anyone reading this has any buildings they are curious about or love and want to share, let me know and I'll do a little research, take some photos and you'll see the building highlighted. You'll see that I don't tend to focus on pretty buildings that have been perfectly restored. I tend to be drawn to ones that are more in a state of disrepair or are clearly underutilized. There is something about that aesthetic that I am drawn to and makes me wonder about its history- what was it's function, who worked/lived there, who built it, what happened to it, can it be saved? Also, whenever possible I am going to use all my own photography since I love taking photos as well.
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6 Responses to The Westmont Theater- aka ‘The Grand Old Lady’

  1. louis says:

    love!
    keep doin what you are doin!!

  2. Patricia Casperson says:

    Hi friend, what a great idea and what an interesting story. I enjoyed reading it. Can’t wait for more.

  3. Joanne says:

    Awesome article, Sara! I also find myself looking at old run down buildings and I wonder the same things as you.. who worked/lived here? what was its function? what did it look like in its prime? I love what you’re doing… this is perfect for you! And I will be thoroughly enjoying reading your blogs!!

  4. elyse says:

    Love reading this new blog…..keep it up!!!

  5. Come to Troy NY and see the old Proctor’s theatre…i think it’s slated to be torn down, but there is an effort underway to help save it. (proctor’s in schenectady is doing fine.)

  6. Nadia says:

    Have you taken a look at the RITZ theater which is in the same area? It is still functioning but needs a lot of TLC.

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