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Save the Westmont Theater

The last remaining film / vaudeville theatre in all of Camden County, is the 1927 Westmont Theatre, built and opened by Handle and Rovner, the largest theatrical chain in South Jersey during this “Golden Age” of film and film palaces. When it originally opened, on Labor Day of 1927, it featured a pipe organ to accompany silent film, and an orchestra pit with a full stage, for vaudeville and special events.  The Neighbors Celebrating the Westmont (NCW) is the community-based organization trying to preserve the theatre as a performing arts center for Haddon Township, as well as all of the Delaware Valley.  This most unique structure has provided this community with stage and film entertainment throughout most of its 80 years of existence.

 
 Major movie, legitimate theatre, and television stars have appeared on the stage, and several major films have had premieres and “sneak” previews at the Westmont.  Well known Philadelphia theatrical architects David Supowitz and William H. Lee worked together to redesign the theater for its gala reopening on Thanksgiving Day in 1948, leaving the Westmont as the only remaining example of their work in Camden County!  (The Lee designed Landis Theatre in Vineland is presently being restored, and scheduled to open late fall of 2009.)
 
Our group hopes to be able to restore the Westmont to her former glory, become the “draw” and anchor for expanded commerce on Haddon Avenue, and once again have “The Grand Old Lady”  provide a broad range of performing arts and entertainment for everyone to enjoy!
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19 Responses

  1. What is going on with this? I thought the Commissioners were going to fix the Marquee. Didn’t we spend money on this? They have been saying what a hazard it is but yet nothing has been done.

    Maybe all the plans and discussions are behind closed doors since it certainly isn’t discussed at the meetings.

  2. Spielberg saw his first movie here, they really should have a plague or statue up or something. I mean the greatest director of our time saw his first motion picture in our town. No one even talks about it.

  3. How or where does the NCW expect to fund any repairs to the theatre?

  4. There may be grants available for this type of project but I would think since the Twp leases this property it would fall under Twp finances. I would be interested to see what the difference is to bring back the theater(maybe not full restoration) compared to what the plans are for that area. Unfortunately, since nothing has been done to maintain the property I think full restoration would not be possible.

    Why not include a Community Center within the restoration?

  5. they should knock it down. It’s an eye sore. Make it into a commercial property like across the street. You can’t redo this Theatre and expect to bring in the kind of Revenue needed to turn a profit on it. The only thing busy on Haddon Ave in Westmont is the mini-commercial complex across the street. Let’s take a note from that

  6. It being an eyesore is who’s fault? Yes the powers to be of Haddon Twp (past and present). Why not just remove all history of the town? They have already started with the Fire House (Dougherty being the historic expert) and tree (Fieldstone being an expert arborist).

  7. The Wow video plaza may be busy, but it is really really ugly. I wouldn’t use that as what we want someone to build at the site of the Westmont.

    The commissioners wasted money preparing a plan to take down the marquee with no intent of restoration. This building will require major money for restoration and it would be cheaper to start all over, mostly because the town has done nothing to stabilize the property since it took control. The money was there, but they chose to let it deteriorate. Thus, its demolition will at least partially result from the township’s actions.

    That being said, it is a very expensive building to retrofit but if done properly, it will be a showcase for the town. I would love to see it happen and it will take a number of sources and creative financing plan of funds to make is feasible. Most importantly, we need to have a use that will generate enough revenues and income to make it feasible.

  8. Is there a solid business plan in place for this theater to make money after a restoration? Last I checked movie theaters were not doing well at all…they have slightly rebounded from the current recession but that won’t last forever. Lets be smart about how the township invests the money here.

    Its unfortunate but the the land may be the most profitable item here.

  9. It doesn’t only have to be a “movie” theater. If done correctly it could have all kinds of entertainment. It could be a “one of a kind” place where people would want to come on a regular basis. Dinner theater, Dance Recitals, Movies, Weekend Dances for teens, Socials for Seniors. and list goes on. This could open the town to shopping at night. It could be a benefit to everyone.

  10. yes the WOW video plaza may be ugly but it definitely generates revenue. So it can be built differently. Don’t think Dance Recitals will bring in the revenue it will take to rebuild or restore it.
    And shopping at night?!?!!? I have no objections for the stores that are there no, they are business owners and I want them to survive and make it no matter what they sell or what service they offer…but let’s be realistic, people are not going to shop the town for a brand new hearing aid, someone to take care of their termite problem, decide to buy a new house 8 o’clock at night, take home some party hats, flowers or a nice slab of beef.
    We don’t have the antique shops or the kind of “anchor stores” to bring people in town. The new plaza should have some anchor stores to bring in foot traffic that would help out the current business owners regardless of what they sell or provide.
    I have no problem with those stores there now, but let’s not try and make Westmont into Haddonfield/Collingswood. We do not have the type of stores that they have or # of food establishments they have to bring in the needed foot traffic. If we rebuiled the theatre it will only be a 2 time per week revenue generating, foot traffic type of venue.

  11. Maybe that is something that can be looked into as far as any of the vacant buildings on Haddon Ave. Maybe the now vacant lot next to the Theater.

    Unfortunately, whatever is done I think now we will have a parking issue. Unless, of course, it’s allowed like the Westmont Diner that doesn’t come close to having enough room for customer parking.

    I agree with the above poster that mentioned the history of Haddon Twp. It is slowly being taken away in the name of progress.

  12. In the end, whatever goes there will have to be a destination draw. We offer one thing that neither Haddonfield or Collingswood offers… liquor licenses. If it doesn’t make sense as a theatre, I would hope that maybe we can get a true brew pub to come in with excellent food, who wants the charm of an old building. The one that comes to mind immediately is the Iron Hill brew pub. There are several. Go to the one in Media where they have absolutely NO parking. But they draw the people in an old converted building. That would be the type of use I would encourage if it isn’t a theatre. And yes, it makes a ton of money. And it is a destination. In the end, the old cool building becomes part of the draw. It is no different from the “Inn” or Kitchen 233 which were both total gut rehabs. I really don’t think we need another strip center in our town.

  13. Tom, you can go to PourHouse (formerly Dockhoppers) or Cork and get an abundance of different kinds of Microbrews (even Brewer’s has several microbrews) like the brew pub. Going out of your way to find good beer isn’t what it once was. Good beer is served everywhere now. Giamerello’s even has Stone IPA one of my favs on draft.
    Iron hill isn’t a niche anymore

  14. Do we have a liquor license to sell?

  15. Yes, there are available liquor licenses.

    Relating to Iron Hill, the difference between them and all the places for beer in our town is that Iron Hill brews their own craft beers on the premises with the giant vats, etc. That is the differentiation. The beer is so fresh, it talks back. (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.) I agree, that good beer is widely available. However, I do believe that another destination restaurant and bar, will be the key to anchoring any redevelopment at the theatre site.

  16. you think the boys will let a brewpub open up across street from Cork?

  17. When will Randy Teague Paul Dougherty and John Foley come clean and just explain what they want to do with theater?

  18. Spielberg people? Nothing? He used to live in our town, before he moved to Arizona. We could remake this place just like they remade the Senator in Baltimore! Make it a TLA like atmosphere. Bands, movies, a bar. This place could have it all.

  19. I would love to see the theatre redone…It is beautiful and would add so much to our community….
    Why have we allowed this to just sit ? it is too valuable an asset to let rot as it has.
    Thanks , Jen, for posting about this . I did not realize there is an organization that is working in support of this treasure .

    Please continue to carry the link as I would like to get involved in Support of the theatre…

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