A Monthly Column on Historic Structures of New York's Southern Tier
A Time to Remember
A Story of Preservation and Perseverance

Saturday afternoon at the movies… there was nothing like it - watching "Turner Classics" on the big screen, long before they were either Turner's or Classics, and the sci-fi and monster movies of the 1950's, memories of 3-D glasses, and jumbo buckets of popcorn drenched in some mysterious yellow chemical that tasted even better than butter! It just didn't get any better than this... for sure, those were times to remember.

It was a cold snowy night in Deposit, February 1, 1985. "Remo Williams" was playing at the State Theater, when half-way through the movie a rumbling sound was heard in the attic. "They stopped the movie" recalls Sally Moore, "and everyone went outside while they checked the attic." Moore went on to say that no problem was found so everyone was allowed back in. "They watched the rest of the movie" she said, "and two hours after the theater closed, the roof collapsed." This was definitely a time to remember.

Deposit's State Theater originally opened in 1937 with a showing of "When's your Birthday", starring Joe E. Brown. The theater was built by the Kallet-Comerford theater chain which operated several theaters throughout upstate New York. The unique agate blue, Chinese-red, and black Carrara Glass panels that covered the front of the building (also known as "Vitrolite"), were installed by the Syracuse Glass Company. With its twenty-foot wide, seven-foot tall marquee covered with blue and ruby-red neon lights and nearly one hundred flashing incandescent bulbs, there was never a question what was showing at the State Theater. To top off the experience, the 600-seat theater featured two Super Simplex projectors and Western Electric "Mirrorphonic Sound."

But with the collapse it was all over, or so it would seem. A year and a half after the disaster the theater was still in ruins. Moore, Carolyn DeNys, her husband Sonny and a few others were talking about the theater. As Carolyn remembers, "we met on the street and said something should be done about it." They agreed to hold a meeting on restoring the theater, which resulted in the formation of an ad hoc "Raise the Roof" committee. They planned fund raising events, the community came together, "they had faith in us" remembers DeNys. The property would ultimately be auctioned at Broome County Courthouse and when the day arrived, the newly formed Deposit Community Theater and Performing Arts Center was ready and waiting on the courthouse steps. Bidding just over the minimum, the group returned to Deposit proud owners of a demolished landmark and a dream. Little did any of them know what they were in for! As it turns out, there would be a few other "times to remember" in store for them.

In February, 1988, the rebuilt State Theater was ready to open. In the meantime, Hollywood had come to town. Deposit was selected to be the typical small American town in a new movie, "A Time to Remember", staring Donald O'Connor. A heartwarming Christmas story, the movie was completed in 1987 and was fittingly shown at the grand re-opening of the State Theater, November 26 of the following year.

Six years later would bring another setback. Late September 1994 while Black Beauty was showing, "two kids next door set fire to a couch" remembers Moore. "By the time the fire trucks arrived, the whole theater was in flames", she said, then continued, "we stood across the street and cried." With this disaster, everything was lost except the marquee and façade of the building, and that brought another loss, no longer would the theater qualify for the National Register of historic places. Moore now smiles when she recalls the story of "hot money". "The safe was kept upstairs and after the fire it was found in the rubble. We opened it, the money survived but it was still warm!" Again, the community rose to the occasion, grant money was obtained to rebuild the foundation, the marquee was rebuilt, a new projector was purchased, theater lights and a vintage popcorn machine were acquired from another upstate theater, and in less than one year the State Theater was again open for business.

Then, in June 2006 the local newspaper showed a raft floating down Front Street directly in front of the State Theater. Flood waters from the nearby Delaware River filled the theater, covering the stage and every row of seats. Once again a volunteer effort was launched, the stage was rebuilt, walls were replaced, new seats were acquired from Binghamton's Robinson Street Cameo Theater, and amazingly, the theater reopened in September, just three months after the flood.

Today, after three devastating catastrophes, thousands of volunteer hours, and the tireless efforts of a small group of citizens, Deposit's State Theater stands out as a glimmering gem on the main street of this small town. Above the ticket booth a beautifully restored marquee extends over the sidewalk. Large oak doors line either side of the booth, and images of flashing marquee lights and brilliant fall colors reflect in the magnificent blue glass panels covering the front of the building. Inside, Sonny DeNys runs the movie projector, live performances are held by the Community Theater, and each New Year's Eve you can catch a special showing of "A Time to Remember."

But Carolyn DeNys says there's still work to be done. "Some flood damage still needs repair, we need to work on the stage curtain, the marquee needs some work," she said, and then she added the clincher… "and our vintage 1937 popcorn machine broke down!" Now that's serious!

Old movie theaters invariably stir fond memories. Deposit's State Theater provides much more to the community than nostalgia… it stands as a symbol of the unwavering perseverance and intense dedication of a community to preserve one of its treasured landmarks.

To contact the theater about upcoming events, or to get involved as a volunteer, call 607-467-2727.