In the heart of downtown Hamburg lies the borough's only movie theater, The Strand, but unless some major rehabilitative work is completed, the final scene for this relic will be a tear-jerker.While updates are coming along on the building that is more than a century old, the building's owner has been threatened by local government to pour thousands of dollars into keeping up with codes; or close its doors.
In May, Hamburg Zoning Inspector John Leonforte reported to council that there were continuing safety problems at the theater.
He stated that if problems were not rectified, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry would step in to shut down the theater.
Since purchasing the building a year ago, Strand Theatre owner Bill Rhodes has spent more than $75,000 out of his own pocket in repairs.
After Leonforte informed Rhodes of the building's code issues, the owner said he's installed additional fire escape signs, updated the wiring, changed some of the lights, installed a spacious restroom with handicap access, and replaced the furnace in the front of the building.
He has also been asked to spend an additional $8,000 to hire an architect to check up on the improvements. Rhodes, a Steelton native, is employed full-time by a construction company in Washington, D.C. His background in the field has enabled him to do most of the repairs himself.
When approached with the opportunity of purchasing an older movie theater, Rhodes was initially excited about the prospect of getting his hands on an exciting new project. He had previously considered purchasing a second-floor property next door in hopes to expand the business and make it a first-run theater.
As of now, The Strand Theatre is a second-run theatre; has a single screen and plays movies that have already been released nationwide for a minimum of two to four weeks.
Once Rhodes was approached by Leonforte with these issues, Rhodes was forced to pull out of the expansion deal and focus his time and money on updating to codes applied to obtaining a Certificate of Occupancy.
A Certificate of Occupancy is document distributed by local government symbolizing that a building is up to date with safety codes and is suitable for occupancy by the general public.
Rhodes first caught wind of this issue when he was contacted about a complaint that was made by a recent visitor. To make a case, any formal complaint must be in writing. To this day, Rhodes has not seen evidence of this complaint; but has continued to upgrade according to code.
When Rhodes had purchased the building, it was in a sad state of affairs. He was appreciative of what work was done by the former owner. The previous owner purchased new rocker chairs for the theater, installed a new sound system, rebuilt the concession stand, and obtained a new projector.
In the past year Rhodes has spent an additional $20,000 on the adjoining social room (formally owned by Our Town Foundation). It is available to rent for parties and local events. Insulation costs ran another $15,000; and an added $2,000 was spent on connecting the surround sound in the theater itself.
When asked to comment on the Strand, Leonforte stated that both electrical and lighting concerns had been rectified.
"There is a review being done by an architect in order to come into compliance with the code," stated Leonforte. "He is scheduled to get back to me with the review." Rhodes, a self-labeled workaholic, still has hopes to expand the theater and make it a first run, if business improves.
"The people of Hamburg don't support these local businesses," Rhodes explained. "The town doesn't participate enough in itself." Rhodes also stated that by the local people driving a half an hour into Reading to see a movie, they are investing into their local economy and not their own.
There is still hope for this historic landmark. As movie-goers came in this past Friday night, they looked relieved to be out of the heat and inside of one of the most recognizable buildings in town.
Remediation in focus
The owner of The Strand Theatre recently gave The Item a tour of the work completed to meet the codes violations. Hamburg borough officials would like an architect to verify the problems are resolved.