Old Negatives, Friends, and Memories

The entire building is masonry, except the front wall. Sitting behind the lath and plaster, some possibly for over 100 years - curled and blackened by the 1969 fire, were a handful of old negatives.

We picked them out of the crumbling debris and pondered what might have been on them, and how the heck they wound up behind the wall. I called photographer and friend Stephen Harris. He came down to the Strand to check out the loot. He ordered a special cleanser and waited weeks for it arrive. Stephen worked to remove the soot that blackened the film over 50 years ago and became giddy when an image began to reveal itself. He laid them on the light box and remnants of old movies came into view. A ghosted image of Charlie Chaplin from “Shoulder Arms” from 1918!!! WOW. Another is a clip from the Pennsylvania Censorship Board stamping its approval on “Oh, What a Knight”. The censorship board operated from 1914 until 1956 when it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.  “Oh, What a Knight” was an animated short film directed by Walk Disney and Ub Iwerks, and released in 1928 by Universal Pictures.  Another clip seems to be the title card for the coming weeks previews. I’m sure you will see this one again when we begin to promote upcoming shows. Even the negatives that are unreadable have interesting shapes of light and dark that can be re-created into abstracted works of art. I’ll play around with them and see what comes up! We will use these images, along with those from the colorful masonry walls in the design of the new space.  We’re excited to incorporate these pieces of the past into the re-birth of what will surely be a beautiful future. You can see Stephens flicker page with more of these images by clicking here. We’ve found a more negatives since then and Stephen will be cleaning them up and adding to this page soon too.

I know that this building holds a special place for many people. Our memories mold us into the people we are today, and they matter.  I know it’s an honor to have this old theatre under my direction, and I cherish the opportunity.  Thank you to the many friends and neighbors who continue to help make it all happen.  At times the underbelly of such a project can be overwhelming, and knowing that the support of this beautiful village is behind us helps to sooth the edges.  With lots of gratitude and excitement for all that will come. Kelly

5 Responses

  1. This is exciting, Kelly. Will your new/old theater be showing movies, or will it be become something else. If movies, check out Kino Lorber for a great collection of classic films, including my brother’s film made in Algeria during the last year of the Algerian war for independence from France..”The Olive Trees of Justice”.
    Anyway, good luck with this wonderful project.

  2. WoW! That is so cool! And wonderful that you went to the extra effort to make them “viewable” again.
    Can’t wait to visit!

  3. Thank you for all the effort and time you are devoting to the rehabilitation of this historic site. If you do plan on showing films at the theater in the future (which I’m wishfully allowing myself to believe that you are), I think it would be amazing if there were silent film showings. It would be especially fun to see works from the specific years of the opening of the theater (1915-onward). Unfortunately, such films as “Hearts Delight” starring Mary Pickford, the first screening at the theater, and “Princess Romanoff” starring Nance O’Neil, a film once shown at the theater, are considered lost. Despite the fact that many silent pictures from those years are now obsolete, there are, obviously, many more relevant films to choose from. Additionally, I have been dreaming of a sort of 1920s prohibition-era gathering or art deco themed celebration (like a teeny tiny version of the NYC Jazz Age Lawn Party and The Avalon Ball) and the significant history of Lambertville would make for the perfect location.

    Perhaps some kind of historic exhibition showcasing Lambertville during those early theater years could be interesting? I suppose photographs, artifacts, and other ephemera could be contributed by the community. I am not sure if any of these ideas flow with the plans you have for the space, but I am looking forward to seeing the finished theater regardless.

    1. Hi Jordan, I love this idea. We are planning on doing more live performance than films, but considering the history of the theatre and Lambertville, I bet we can do a bit of both! I love the idea.

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