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Why Saving Historic Buildings is Key to Maintaining Culture and Community


Strand Theater in 1974, showing the western/comedy film "Blazing Saddles"

Whether we know it or not, a rich sense of place and history lives in the clothes we wear, the food we make, the movies we watch, and the other leisurely activities we do to pass our time. It’s quite interesting to think that most aspects of our culture are heavily influenced by ever-changing beliefs and ideals shaped by current events and news.

What is even more interesting are the architectural relics that do stand the test of time. The buildings around us like city halls, banks, libraries, and courthouses are supported by the same four walls that kept them standing when our mothers and fathers, grandparents, and even great-grandparents once walked through their doors.

Maintaining generations-old town buildings and keeping them functional is a unique and impactful means of preserving the rich culture of our town’s permanent history. Ultimately, keeping this history around assists us in forming a stronger sense of place and framing our consciousness in a way that beckons life experiences of years past.

Kutztown Nation Bank, 211 West Main Street, 1906-1911. This structure was built in the same decade as the theater.

Here in Kutztown, PA, our community has the privilege of being home to the Strand Theatre, which opened originally in 1912 as Herman’s Playhouse before taking on its current name and operation in 1927. The Strand has been in continuous operation for over 110 years with only 3 owners: Paul Herman (1908-1946), Lawrence W. Fenstermacher (1946-1969), and Paul J. Angstadt (1969-2022).

So many dedicated years of operation allow the Strand Theatre to be the location where many generations saw their first movie, had their first date, laughed, cried, or screamed while watching the year’s biggest blockbuster film. One can only imagine the nostalgic satisfaction that comes when decades later, Kutztown parents can take their own children back to the theater to relive such formative memories. The preservation of our historical buildings is not only a means of continuing fond memories but is also a practice of sustainability and resistance to suburban sprawl and planned obsolescence.

The economic benefit of historic preservation is evident in the quality of materials such as rare hardwoods and solid foundations used in the construction of buildings built prior to WWII like the Strand Theatre.

The Strand Theater (interior) 2022. This is the first of two screening rooms inside the Theater

Since it was built to last, mere rehabilitation can give life to this building that retains history and spirit while also keeping it in compliance with modern codes and requirements. Additionally, the aesthetic importance of theater attracts tourists and encourages locals to feel proud of the place they live in and more inclined to spend time in and around it. New materials don’t need to be created, nor do older demolished materials need to be thrown away. In conserving energy and preserving the theater’s spirit and memories, our town becomes richer.

Although we can never be immune to the changing times, we as a community partnership can’t wait to breathe old life back into the Strand Theatre in the early beginnings of its second century in the spotlight. When we take the time to consider Kutztown’s history through the longstanding buildings in town, we realize our culture surrounds us only if we let it. With preservation, intention, and thoughtful ownership, we as a community plan to continue the long legacy of the Strand Theater for many more generations to come.

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