Created By: Ithaca Heritage
In the mid-1910s, Ithaca could well have been called the Biggest Little Movie City. The Wharton, Inc. Studios cranked out silent serial moving pictures at Renwick Park (now Stewart Park). An avid movie-going public made weekly visits to The Star, Lyceum, and other “movie palaces” to follow the serial exploits of their marquee idols.
In these early decades of film, moviegoing was a special event. “Atmospheric theatres” of the 1920s like Ithaca’s State Theatre used design details to enhance the experience. The aesthetic of the movie palaces especially attracted women, who made up the majority of moviegoers by 1920.
College students from Cornell University and the Ithaca Conservatory of Music (now Ithaca College) were movie-mad as well. By the 1940s and 1950s, Cornell students whimsically renamed some of Ithaca’s movie theaters based on their proximity to campus; the Strand was the “Near-Near” or “Near,” the State was the “Near Far,” the Temple was the “Far Near,” and the Ithaca was the “Far Far.”
Near the end of the movie palace era, by 1940 Ithaca had seven movie theaters with a combined total of about 6,000 seats for a population of less than 20,000.
Although several of Ithaca’s original movie theaters no longer stand, this tour explores this fascinating building type in our city. It also highlights the vitality of several existing theaters where we hope to see you at the movies!
This tour accompanies and was adapted from "Biggest Little Movie City: Ithaca's Theaters Then and Now," a multimedia exhibit in the Atrium at the Tompkins Center for History and Culture, curated by the Wharton Studio Museum and Historic Ithaca. The exhibit runs through May 7, 2022.
The exhibit's Presenting Sponsor is the Canopy by Hilton Ithaca Downtown. Co-sponsors are The Strand Cafe, The State Theatre of Ithaca, Cornell Cinema, and the Finger Lakes Film Trail. The exhibit's Media Sponsor is Cinemapolis.