by Natalie Hope McDonald
After three years of total renovation,
the Allen Theatre opened its doors in Annville on September
Located in the heart of the downtown at 36 E. Main Street
in Annville, PA 17003, about three and a half miles west
of Lebanon and six miles east of Hershey, the Allen Theatre
is one of the few single screen movie theatres in Central
Pennsylvania specializing in first-run main line as well
as art, and foreign films. And while this 322 seat theatre
dates back to the early part of the century, little is
actually known about the history of the theatre.
A Rich and Varied History
In the early 1900s, local deeds suggest that the theatre
had been called the "Hippodrome" and later
the "Astor," which carried on well into more
recent decades. It was while the theatre was named the
Astor in the 1930s that the space was expanded to constitute
what is now the present auditorium, with its expanded
stage and seating area.
While the Astor had shown popular feature films of the
period, establishing itself as a second-run movie house,
the theatre later exchanged hands and resorted to reeling
X-rated films by the 1970s. Eventually, the Astor closed
in the mid 1980s after poor maintenance and a brief stint
with religious productions under the guise of the "Trinity."
From second-runs, to adult films, to religious entertainment,
the theatre had garnered a diverse reputation which the
present owner of the Allen Theatre had set out to combat.
The first aspect targeted with change was the name of
the theatre which had been jaded by illicit films and
the installation of a club where live bands and audiences
demolished the decor of the Astor.
And what may have seemed like an unreasonable extent
of renovation and contrary to the advice not to embrace
the effort, the theatre has since become a neon emblem
of the community.
The theatre audio is Dolby Digital EX and has been
installed by Clair Brothers Audio Systems, Inc. of Lititz,
PA and RMS Service and Electronics Inc. of New York City
--t wo of the most reputable leaders in the world of sound
-- ensuring an outstanding sound performance for all Allen
Theatre screenings. Further, RMS in New York City also
provided the theatrical sound technicians for director
George Lucas's New York City premier presentation of Star
Wars: The Phantom Menace.
Crystal Clear Projection
The Allen Theatre
more recently installed a new projection
system, including state of the art lenses for your viewing
pleasure, with installation by Cardinal Sound and Motion
Picture Systems of Beltsville Maryland, providing a
bright sharp image for all Allen Theatre features.
The Art Deco style suggests that the
theatre has had a renaissance of taste popularized in
the 1920's and 1930's. With total renovation complete,
the Allen is essentially a new theatre on the site of
an old one.
A Community Institution
With a staff of about twenty employees and a full-time
projectionist, this family-operated establishment has
drawn crowds from outlying regions of the community,
including a four-county area. The intimate environment
is a particularly important feature of the Allen Theatre,
breaking away from contemporary trends toward major cineplexes
that have sprung up alongside malls in the outskirts
of suburbia. The Allen Theatre is instead a return to
Not only does the Allen Theatre share its locale with
small town eateries, but Annville is home to Lebanon
Valley College, a liberal arts school with an enrollment
of over 1,000. The theatre, as a result of its proximity
to campus, has virtually become an off-shoot of campus
life, mingling students with community patrons. The Allen
has been host to the college's Sundays at the Allen film series,
as well as numerous other college-sponsored events.
Since its debut and formal dedication by Hollywood director
Randal Kleiser (with credits including Grease and It's
My Party), the theatre and coffeehouse have become a
premier venue for film and live entertainment.
This Lebanon County landmark, central to entertainment
in the region, suggests that rather than tearing down
the facade of years passed, character can be preserved
and restored - flourishing with a new generation of patrons
along the way.
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