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I love old theaters.  I guess that is a fairly established fact here at the Jungle Gym.

There is something about the majesty and glamor of the old movie houses and theaters that leaves me in awe.  These buildings were designed and built with a love of the intersection of form and function that seems lost in today’s world.  Newer cinemas are large boxes subdivided into smaller darkened rooms, the decor and layout almost feel like an afterthought meant to simply disguise cider blocks and steel beams.

It is also a well-established fact that my wife and I are quite willing to travel what most would consider unreasonable distances for an experience that is of a different quality and flavor than anything local.

Such was the case last Thursday.

Lewisburg can hardly be considered a nearby town to Hershey where we reside.  The trek up the Susquehanna river can take as long as two hours if traffic becomes a problem.  But we had reasons to make the trip.  The first was the simple fact that the theater, which was our destination, was showing “Jaws” on the big screen.  A rare treat.  The second was the theater itself, the Campus Theater.

Built in 1941, the Campus beckoned me from its website with promises of a breathtaking step back into the past of the true movie palaces.  I had run across it months ago, but this was our first opportunity to actually experience the place.  We learned very quickly that the images on a computer screen completely fail to do the place justice.

From the neon marquee to the stainless steel and glass entranceway to the spectacular theater itself, painted with a breathtaking care, the campus is a true work of art.  And the staff loves to gush about it.  The theater, we learned is run as a non-profit and they have been working to renovate and restore the building.  Everyone we talked to was eager to share everything they could, right down to the projectionist giving us a tour of the projection room.

As I sat on a couch perched on a platform near the rear of the theater and watched the iconic opening sequence of “Jaws,” I wondered why we had lost the majesty of these places.  Granted the expense of building such a place could be prohibitive, but the magic just seems to have been lost in today’s modern cinemas.  Where we were once beckoned in by glowing neon and painted grandeur we now walk through bland lobbies to sit in cramped aisles with sticky floors.

We have traded the elegance of the movie-going experience for the technological panaceas of technology.  We scream for digital projection, THX sound, and 3D presentation.  I know I’m a geek, and I love technology, but somehow we have lost the magic of “Casablanca” and “The Wizard of Oz” and replaced them with flash rather than substance.

For that reason alone, I urge any true fan of the cinema to check out places like the Campus Theater or the Allen Theater.  It doesn’t matter whether you opt to see a new release or a classic, just take an evening to relive the wonder and elegance of a bygone era.

It truly is a beautiful experience.

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