The Campus Theatre, located in Lewisburg, PA, is nestled in the picturesque Susquehanna River Valley and opened its doors on January 17, 1941 just 11 months shy of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Designed by architect David Supowitz, and built by the Stiefel Brothers, the Campus Theatre is one of the last of dwindling number of single screen art deco movie palaces in the country.
Supowitz was renowned for his Revival Art Deco architecture, and his characteristic style graced 24 movie theatres in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other locations. Of the 24, less than five remain open today and of those, the Campus Theatre is the crown jewel and has enjoyed a wonderful rebirth.
Over the years, The Campus Theatre has survived with astonishingly few changes. The majority of the theatre’s original 1941 architecture, murals and decor remain intact today. Upon opening, the theatre boasted of its completely fireproof structure, state of the art (in 1941) air conditioning and heating systems, chrome turnstile for "ticketless" ease of entry, and seats containing springs that automatically rose when not occupied. The building's finely appointed interior, from its mirrored lobby and lounge furnishings to the wall and ceiling murals and light fixtures, was marked by luxurious Art Deco quality incorporating rich materials including bronze leafing and novel decorative motifs.
The theatre builders, the Stiefel Brothers, contributed significantly to American Theatre history in general, but most importantly, shaped the destiny of The Campus Theatre in particular.
Oscar, Harold, Barney, and Morris Stiefel emigrated from Russia to the United States in the 1920’s. Oscar began operation of one movie theatre in Philadelphia and from there the business grew. In time his three brothers and several nephews joined him in building a small showmen's empire. The Stiefel’s eventually ran 11 theatres throughout Pennsylvania.
In 1953, Morris’s son, Harold Stiefel, took over management of The Campus Theatre when his Uncle Barney retired. Harold, and his wife Jacquie managed the theatre until Harold's death in 1988 and became iconic with their dedication to the community. Under their management, The Campus Theatre became much more than just a movie palace, it became a place where memories were made; where tears were shed and where laughter roared.
Harold and Jacquie Stiefel started and maintained many of the community outreach programs which continue to this day. After Harold's death, Jacquie Stiefel devoted her time and energy not only to continuing a family legacy, but also to keeping a piece of bygone Lewisburg alive.
The Campus Theatre indeed fulfilled, and continues to realize, the mature role of a community centerpiece.
During World War II, The Campus Theatre's second-floor office space served as a USO canteen, and beginning in the 1940s, The Campus Theatre began to offer free movie matinees to children during the holiday season as well as canned food collection in exchange for movie admission, which was then donated to the local food bank. That tradition has continued unbroken for more than 70 years.
More recently, the theatre now makes both the screen and marquee available at reduced rates to local not-for-profit and community groups in support of their activities and fundraising efforts.
In the summer of 2001, Jacquie Stiefel sold The Campus to a Bucknell University film professor who in turn, started a non-profit organization - The Campus Theatre, Ltd. The Campus Theatre, Ltd. was eventually able to purchase the building, with assistance from Bucknell University, in 2006.
In January, 2011, Bucknell University and the Campus Theatre, Ltd. expanded their partnership to secure the future of the historic landmark on Lewisburg's Market Street. The goal of this partnership - to ensure the continued vitality of this rare community asset for generations to come.
In this new arrangement, Bucknell University took formal ownership of the theatre building, and leases the building back to the not-for-profit organization, The Campus Theatre, Ltd., for $1 a year. Today, the Campus Theatre, Ltd. maintains authority and responsibility over all theatre programming, staffing and day-to-day operations.
Having survived economic recession, competition from cable television, videos, mall-based multiplexes, real estate development, and above all, age, The Campus Theatre continues to be valued and supported by the Lewisburg community for its importance in their social, architectural, cultural and local family history while striving to maintain its position as an economic anchor for Lewisburg’s downtown Market Street.
The Campus Theatre, Ltd. is committed to offering diverse film programming with a healthy balance of popular, fine art and independent films and entertainment that are culturally relevant and bring understanding to contemporary concerns.
Single screen, art deco theatres like the Campus Theatre are disappearing at an alarming rate. Once gone, they traditionally are gone for good. Come and experience the magic and uniqueness of the Campus Theatre – there’s no other place like it and it’s waiting for you in downtown Lewisburg.
Click HERE to see a 360 tour of the Campus Theatre!
-The Campus Theatre is a 501c3 non-profit historic movie theatre located in Lewisburg, PA. Built in 1941, and one of the few remaining single screen art deco movie houses in the country, the Campus Theatre remains dedicated to the promotion of the art of cinema and historic preservation of this architectural treasure.