Long Live the Levoy

“It’s not good because it’s old, it’s old because it’s good.” ~ Anonymous

Levoy Theater 1914

The LevoyWhen Thomas and I moved here and began venturing out into the world surrounding the Fairfield House, I quickly noticed the towns appeared to be frozen in time. Each boasts the quintessential main street lined with old brick architectural gems housing shops, restaurants, banks, and churches. One that immediately caught my attention was the Levoy Theatre, a magnificent building which was undergoing renovations. Two years ago, I drove by and was so shocked I had to pull over. During construction, two walls collapsed leaving a pile of rubble; however the building’s story didn’t end there. But let’s start at the beginning.

Millville

The Levoy Theatre was originally built in 1908 by the inventor of the “Roundabout”, today better known as the Ferris Wheel. William Sommers’ design and patent preceded Ferris’ by two years, but was made of wood, where Ferris’ design used steel.

In 1908, the Levoy was a small building that offered shows on the first floor and dancing on the second at the price of a mere nickel. A piano player and vocalist provided the score for each silent film. In 1912, the Levoy expanded to twice it’s original size followed by a second renovation in in 1927, resulting in one of the largest theaters in the east and featuring 11,000 lower level seats, 300 balcony seats, orchestra pit, $30,000 pipe organ, chandeliers and a lobby and mezzanine outfitted in marble. To describe it as grand, would be an understatement. Although silent films were still shown, the main attraction of this era was Vaudeville acts.

Poster

By 1930 ‘talkies’ had succeeded in killing Vaudeville. Warner Brothers assumed control of the Levoy and renovated it to function as a movie theater. The 1940s were the golden age for the Levoy. People went to the movies a few times a week and historic accounts tell of lines wrapping around the block. Besides radio and baseball, this was entertainment. It was not until the 1950s when each home had a TV in it’s living room that the slow, steady decline of the Levoy began. In 1970s additional competition arrived when the local mall was built in a neighboring town featuring a new multiplex cinema.

Chandelier

Old Millville 1

Old Millville 2

Old Millville 3

Old Millville 4

Lack of business meant lack of funds for the much needed upkeep of the now deteriorating building. In 1974, City Hall closed the Levoy down due to lack of substantial improvements and it remained vacant and in limbo for almost four decades until Joey Pierce Jr. made saving the Levoy his goal in life. He formed the Levoy Theater Preservation Society and the Levoy was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Sadly Joe died before seeing his dream realized, but the torch was passed to the community.

Joey PIerce Jr.

Due to the amount of structural decline and the wall collapse, it was decided a renovation, not restoration would be completed. Fifteen months after the Levoy’s fall, it was reincarnated to its earlier life of the 1920s. The Levoy Theatre now operates as a performing arts center. Thomas and I recently saw the Marshall Tucker Band there and have tickets for the Gin Blossoms!

Additional images of the Levoy Theater including the interior and renovation process can be seen here.

——–

Now for the giveaway, the winner, picked by Random Generator is:

Sherry (sherry-blessingsfromournest.blogspot): Submitted on 2013/01/07 at 2:28 pm: “Some great additions to your Christmas decorations. I should have taken a few pictures of the new ornaments and decorations we aquired this year. Especially the #1 grandma cupcake ornament from our grandson. I always enjoy my visits here.”

Please email me your address so I can send your 2013 Heart of the Home Calendar to you.

 

Subscribe

Subscribe to our e-mail newsletter to receive updates.

12 Responses to Long Live the Levoy

  1. Linderhof January 15, 2013 at 6:17 am #

    We have an old theatre here, too, that’s been rehabbed. It’s an event place as well and it is so good that this memory of a small town still lives on. Enjoy your Levoy! It’s stunning!

  2. kathleen January 15, 2013 at 7:14 am #

    Deborah: Thank you for sharing such an interesting story about your town. The addition of photos made me feel as if I was walking on Main Street. I am so glad the Levoy Theater is continuing to entertain people through the arts. I smile when I think of the Marshall Tucker Band and the Gin Blossoms – such great clapping and stomping music. : )

    Congratulations Sherry! I am sure you will enjoy the Susan Branch calendar for 2013. Her artistry is delightful.

  3. Parsley January 15, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    What a fun, historical place! There are so many interesting places to go even in my little town but you can rarely find a historian to explain the sites.

  4. Adrian January 15, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Thank you Deborah for the history on The Levoy Theater. It is truly gorgeous. Working the concession stand at our local movie house was my first job and my older brother managed it for many years. It wasn’t until we both moved on to our careers that I realized how much money it actually cost to see a movie. The United Artist Theater is now a Best Buy I am afraid to say.I have such fond memories of those days. Congrats on your win Sherry!!

  5. Laura Ingalls Gunn January 15, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    Here’s to all the Joey Pierce Jr’s of the word. May they never stop seeing the beauty of old treasures!

  6. Cass at That Old House January 15, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    I agree with Laura, above — hooray for the Joey Pierce Jr.s of the world. How sad that he died young, but how wonderful that he lived and made a lasting difference in his world.

    I love your vignettes of local life. We are lucky to live in further-away places in New Jersey, places that were not the first NYC or Philly commuter towns, that didn’t succumb to those initial waves of tear-down and build. Sometimes being the less prosperous areas pay off in the end — the older structures are kept and eventually renovated, as no one could afford to replace them in the 50s and 60s.

    Is there anything better than an old Main Street? I really should take and post pictures of our fire department building — it’s amazing.

    Come to think of it, I LIVE on our old Main Street!

    Keep the wonderful stories coming, Deborah!
    Love, Cass

  7. Sue in Atlanta January 16, 2013 at 1:00 am #

    we too have an old theatre in out town….it was closed for many years…..was a church for awhile and now is back opened for live performances…they have the best musicals there…I always get front row seats and I take my old next door neighbor as a little treat….it’s become a tradition since we moved away from each other….Next up is Ragtime in the spring…the performers are better then some shows I have seen on Broadway…It’s such fun….

  8. lisa moran/Bilancia Designs January 16, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    Same here…our theater is over 100 years old and still has amazing charm. It’s wonderful to see how people still care enough about these old gems to keep them alive.
    Thanks for sharing this beauty, Deborah!
    xo

  9. Jennifer January 16, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    SO gorgeous!! We have a little theater downtown too; not nearly as glamorous! But I love the history. So glad when people lovingly try to bring these places back; that’s what our town is working on now. Thanks for the “tour!”

  10. Lisa Palmese January 16, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Thank You this was so enjoyable !! Many times people pass by buildings or homes and say I would love to know the history. Here in Savannah it is dripping with history almost stuck in time but I think that was one of the things that attracted me to here. I just loved it and the pictures where fantastic…..

  11. Zuzu January 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Good to know it will live on! LOVE reading about it’s history as well as seeing it through your lens, Deborah!
    Hugs,
    Zuzu

  12. Sherry January 17, 2013 at 10:08 pm #

    I enjoyed reading about the Levoy theatre. Our town was a cabin at the lake kind of town and does not have many historic buildings. We do have a town nearby that is full of historic buildings and we love to shop and take the historic home tours and garden tours. I see that I won your giveaway and will email you right away.

Leave a Reply