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Historical Significance

Gowanda Hollywood Theater Marks 95 Years

Photo by Anthony Dolce

GOWANDA — A very special 95th birthday was celebrated and recognized in downtown this week. But rather than for a person, the birthday instead served as a time to recognize the cultural and historical significance of the Gowanda Hollywood Theater.

The Gowanda Hollywood Theater originally opened its doors on April 19, 1926, and now, 95 years later, the Hollywood Theater has been restored to look as close as it can to how it did in 1926.

“They have been restored to their original form like they did in 1926,” said Gowanda Mayor David Smith. “This was damaged extremely badly over the years, and it wasn’t until the late 90s that a group bought it and restored it, and here we are 23 years later.”

The Hollywood Theater originally replaced the Gowanda Opera House, which burned down in 1924. The Hollywood Theater then had its doors open until 1992, changing ownership a handful of times along the way. Eventually, years of neglect led to the roof and interior developing severe leaks and water damage, which began to take its toll on the building. But in 1999, local business man Dan Gernatt, Jr. purchased the Hollywood Theater building, then donated it to the Gowanda Area Redevelopment Group, which was then passed onto the “Friends of the Hollywood.” The “Friends of the Hollywood” became a 501c3 not-for-profit organization called “Gowanda’s Historic Hollywood Theater,” and led by Board President Mark Burr, who has been with the project since it began, they have worked non stop to restore the Gowanda Hollywood Theater.

“It’s a lot of hard work, it’s perseverance,” Burr said. “I believe that getting this theater finished and re-opened will give us the spur to re-do our downtown. We’re no different than any other small community, and the Village has made significant investments all over, and we want to make Gowanda a destination.”

Mark Burr

The restoration has been going on steadily since 1999, and more than $4.5 million have been raised to restore the Hollywood Theater. The restoration has gone in several phases, and has included everything from replacing the roof, renovating the bathrooms, installing HVAC ductwork with new air conditioning rooftop units, all while repairing and restoring all of the original fixtures and decor possible, including the murals on each wall, and the fixed seating, which uses the original aisle standards.

And as the final steps of the restoration are still being worked out, the goal to maintain the same feel and appearance as the Gowanda Hollywood Theater had in 1926 has seemingly been accomplished, while also adding all of the latest technology needed to turn the Theater into the multi-use facility it is planned to be.

“You name it,” Burr said.

“It’s a multi-use facility. You can show cinema, hold a play, hold a musical, or a dance troupe. We’ve had a number of rock and roll concerts. We’ve had Village Board meetings and hearings here.”

The Gowanda Hollywood Theater opened its doors a few times in recent years, with one of the more recent ones being a band performance in February 2020 before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The show featured packed seating all the way throughout, showing how hungry the Gowanda community is for live performances to return to the village.

“We’ve heard a lot from the community,” Burr said. “The phone has been ringing off the wall.”

Though the project has not yet been completed, the Gowanda’s Historic Hollywood Theater Board is excited to be nearing the end of the renovation, and look forward to potentially opening in at least some capacity sometime later this year.

“We will be reopening the doors in all of their glory,” Smith said. “She’ll flex her muscles and show her beauty, as she struts in front of her community and other communities for years to come and becomes a cog in the economic revitalization of the Gowanda Community.”

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