The Space

By J. Cooper Robb
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 7, 2005

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Eric Silverman
Occupation: General manager of the Newtown Theatre.
Neighborhood: Newtown, Bucks County.
Style: 19th-century single-screen 374-seat movie house.

 

I took in the new Harry Potter film the other day. The movie was okay, but the movie house was incredibly charming. Dating back to 1831, the Newtown is the nation's oldest movie theater. It began showing films in 1906, when it screened a Thomas Edison movie about the San Francisco earthquake. Recently, on the verge of its 100th anniversary as a movie house, we dropped by to tour the historic theater with general manager Eric Silverman.


How long have you been with the theater?
"I've been here 25 years."

What's the building's history?
"It was originally a town meeting hall where a traveling minister would come by once a week to do a sermon. Then they had what were called magic lantern shows and vaudeville acts."

How has the theater changed since those early days?
"We've made upgrades with digital and optical sound, and we now have a xenon lamp system as well. We're slowly trying to drag the theater into the 21st century. It was only three years ago that we put in air conditioning, and the theater still has all the piping for the original gas lighting. We don't have stadium seating, but you can sit in the front row of the balcony, and to me that's better."

The lights on the walls going down the side aisles are a marvelous example of art deco design.
"The theater was redone in 1936 during the art deco period, so that's why you see that. That's also when the new wiring, current lighting and seats were put in."

What are some of the upkeep challenges?
"Most old buildings have a musty smell, so we put in ultraviolet lighting to sterilize the air. This year we're getting insulation in the attic, which we've never had. We keep the building up as best we can. The community welfare council, which owns the building, is really trying to keep it from deteriorating."

The building's facade is gorgeous.
"I don't know the exact style, but it's extremely rare because of the thinness of the mortar between the brick. We actually just got a grant from the county to restore the pointing on the bricks on the front of the building."

I see you're putting up your Christmas decorations.
"We go all out with that. Other theaters may decorate the lobby, but we do the entire theater, including a little Christmas village on the apron of the stage."

Do people usually come for the film or the theater?
"The theater itself is its best asset. It's a single screen. It has a balcony that holds 100 people. You can see we have old movie posters all over our tiny lobby. It's just a unique movie experience. I think of it as a beautiful moment in history frozen in time."

What's your favorite thing about the theater?
"The popcorn. It's the only movie popcorn I've ever had that's so good you don't have to smother it in butter."

 

Got a great space? Email J. Cooper Robb (jrobb@philadelphiaweekly.com) with your name, neighborhood and contact info.

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