DOYLESTOWN >> The landmark County Theater in Doylestown will undergo a facade rehabilitation thanks to a $64,500 grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Standing beneath the theater’s distinctive marquee, the theater’s executive director John Toner along with State Senator Steve Santarsiero and State Rep. Wendy Ullman announced the news at a June 13 press conference.
They were joined at the event by Doylestown Borough Mayor and County Theater board member Ron Strouse, Doylestown Borough Councilwoman Wendy Margolis, a former member of the theater board, and members of the theater's board of directors and officers.
The state funding was awarded through the Keystone Historic Preservation grant program and is administered by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, which is the official history agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
According to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, the County Theater was among the 57 organizations selected from 96 eligible applications. Grants awarded ranged from $5,000 to $25,000 for project grants and $5,000 to $100,000 for construction projects. All grants require a 50 percent cash match and were awarded through a competitive selection process.
The grant, written by the theater’s director of development Jim Sanders, will allow the nonprofit theater to renovate and rehabilitate portions of the building’s facade, including its landmark marquee, its signature neon tower and its enamel tiling.
“We’re not going to change anything,” promised Toner. “It’s all bringing things back historically and as accurately as we can.”
The work will include restoring the ceramic tile work on the facade of the building and returning the marquee back to the original lettering that it had in 1938, the year the County opened on East State Street.
“Today is a special day because this theater is such a jewel for Doylestown and Bucks County,” said Santarsiero. “For us to have had some role in getting this grant is something I’m very pleased with.”
The visit to the County brought back memories for the state lawmaker who reminisced about his high school years when he worked as a doorman at a local theater in northern New Jersey.
“That was back in the day when theaters like this were much more ubiquitous, before the multiplexes took over the landscape. There’s a certain character about this,” he said of the County. “There’s a certain aspect of it that really is important to our communities and really is a place where ... people can come together and see neighbors and friends. It’s part of our culture as well as a great place for entertainment.”
Added Santarsiero, “The fact that this theater is going strong and we are able to help with this grant really means a lot. I’m excited to see the work that is going to be done and for this theater to continue on for many, many years to come.”
Ullman called the grant announcement “a wonderful day for the County and for Doylestown.
“The eight decades-long contribution of the County Theater has made the cultural life of Doylestown an absolutely vital, thriving place to live, work and to play,” she said. “The theater is not just a place to view movies, it is part of the vibrant hub of the community that characterizes Doylestown.
“It is with great pleasure that I join you in celebrating the contribution that the PHMC is awarding ... that will help support the theater’s restoration and refurbishment of the iconic enamel panel facade as well as maintaining its celebrated Art Deco marquee,” said Ullman.
The PHMC Historic Preservation program was created, said Ullman, for properties just like the County Theater and to preserve the qualities that make communities unique and beloved by residents.
“I’m proud I was able to help secure this grant and support the County Theater restoration project,” said Ullman. “It will help secure its place in the cultural life of Doylestown for decades to come.”
Strouse noted that Doylestown has changed dramatically over the years becoming a vibrant cultural hub, in large part due to the success of the County Theater.
“That’s part of the reason we’re here today - to play that forward,” said the mayor. “This is a celebration of a grant, but it’s also a celebration of something larger than that. It’s a celebration that the County Theater is recognized beyond the limits of Doylestown Borough.
“The County Theater is iconic and historic. Besides operating as a catalyst for the vitality of our community, it adds depth and texture to our rich, nationally recognized cultural scene,” Mayor Strouse said. “As the County goes through expansion and renovation, this grant from the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission helps insure the physical integrity of the facade of the building and gives testimony to it's importance beyond Doylestown.”
Margolis thanked the PHMC for recognizing the accomplishments of the County Theater and State Senator Santarsiero and State Rep. Ullman for making sure the theater was able to secure the grant.
“Twenty-five years ago I moved to Doylestown partially because I knew the theater was here. I’ve been involved in the theater ever since. I’m just so thrilled the County is expanding and we got this recognition.”
The facade work is expected to take place sometime next year and will dovetail with the County’s $4.2 million expansion project slated to begin this fall.
The expansion project will extend the theater into a neighboring building - the former Poor Richard's property - and includes the expansion of the theater’s current lobby with an expanded concession stand, a new auditorium and first floor restrooms.
When that work is done, Toner said renovation work will take place inside the historic theater, including the addition of larger, more comfortable seating.
“This whole project is driven by the programming that we do. We felt like with only two screens we weren’t doing as much as we wanted to do,” said Toner. “Having an additional screen will allow us to maintain our financial viability while also expanding local events for the community.”
The County completed the first phase of its capital campaign in January, raising more than $500,000 toward the project. With a matching gift of $250,000 and $1.5 million previously raised, the theater has raised $2.3 million toward the $4.2 million expansion.
Behind the scenes, the County is working on construction documents and finalizing the project design. It has already secured all the permits required by the borough for the project.
With groundbreaking tentatively set for September, the project will take about a year to complete. “Ideally we’ll be open by Thanksgiving 2020 for the Oscar and holiday seasons,” said Chris Collier, the theater’s co-director.
The Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund is supported annually from a portion of the state realty tax revenue.