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of Freeland, Pa.
The Strand Theatre
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The information and images in this section come from Ed Merrick’s research, in which he found 26 newspaper articles dated 1930-1936 about the Strand and about boxing in Freeland being moved to the Strand from the Public Park. The photo below shows the building that began as the Timony, later the Strand, and lastly the Rialto. Photo scanned at the Hazleton Historical Society museum, and thanks to them.
In 1929-1930 the former Timony playhouse on South street was taken over by the Refowich brothers, who renovated it and renamed it the Strand Theatre. Clyde D. Klinger, manager of the Refowich, was also hired as manager of the Strand, and the new theatre was to open on February 8, 1930. More than a year later in July 1931 the lease from the Timony Estate was extended “for an additional number of years” and more renovations were done: rewiring the theater for sound, and renovating the stage, the interior (including decoration and painting) and exterior with an eye to reopening on Labor Day. On Christmas Eve in 1931 it was announced that the Strand Theatre “which was recently purchased and remodeled” (it was still under lease) would be opening on Christmas Night with a featured movie.
Upgrading the theater for sound involved installing the wiring and equipment needed for sound pictures – different from silent movies with a piano player on stage or nearby providing live music – and the latest in modern projection equipment. Acoustics in the theater were improved by placing padding on the walls and other means.
However, economic realities of the Depression led to the April 7, 1932 announcement that the Strand was being closed indefinitely “due to the slow conditions on the North Side.”
Some signs of life emerged with showings of special feature films for particular audiences. In February 1933 St. Casimir’s sponsored the showing of “sound pictures in the Polish language” at the Strand for two showings. The title wasn’t given in the article or the ad. In October 1935 “Carpatho-Russia & Galicia moving pictures” were shown at the Strand for two showings.
In September 1933 Mr. Westbrooke announced that more improvements were being made to the Strand: new draperies, new seats “of modernistic style and comfort”, new decorations, and bringing the sound and lighting systems up to date. Also, new seats, new draperies and a new interior paint job were also being added in the Refowich.
Then, just a month and a half later in October 1933, there was this: “Ring In Place For Fight,” with a boxing match to take place in the Strand. In October 1933 Johnny Graycar of Eckley beat Johnny Tillman of Hazleton at the Strand.
Apparently boxing matches took place both at the Strand and the Public Park pavilion off and on in the 1930s. Movies were also being shown at the Strand during this period. In October 1935 the Tigers Athletic Club announced that from then on the amateur boxing matches under the auspices of the Tigers would be held at the Strand, relocating from the pavilion. Yet in May 1936 they sponsored another big match at the Public Park. That may have been because the Strand was about to close and would soon reopen as the new Rialto.
Please also visit the Boxing page for more about the 1930s boxing matches in Freeland.
Finally, in September 1936 it was announced that a new moviehouse, the Rialto -- formerly the Strand -- would be opening under Refowich Theatre Company management, after being renovated and having a new sound system installed. J. N. Browell, manager of the Refowich, would also manage the Rialto. In March 1937 the Rialto announced another reopening after a new mammoth screen and improved sound system were installed. Two years later in September 1938 the reopening of the Rialto was announced, the latest renovations having been completed and the sound system “perfected”. The article noted, “This theatre employs all local people and … will be opened every Friday and Saturday nights.” So apparently there was this repeated cycle of updating the various systems and décor and then reopening again.
Meanwhile there were other occasional uses of the theater space in the 1930s. In October 1936 there was an evening “Monster Democratic Rally” at the Rialto, preceded by a “Monster Street Parade” to begin at the train station. Voters of Freeland, Foster Township, Jeddo and Butler and Hazle Townships were invited to attend.
Please also visit the Theaters in Freeland page for more about all of Freeland's theaters.