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Restored movie house worth the trip

The Clayton Theater at night.
The Clayton Theater at night.
                       Photo: Kelly Russo

The Clayton Theater , a restored Art Deco movie house in Dagsboro, Del. is less than half an hour from the beach and totally worth the trip. Although you might be a little surprised to see the feature is a recent release as opposed to, say, “Rebel Without a Cause” the rest of the experience is precisely what you’d expect from a 60-year-old once screen movie theater.

A single ticket counter displaying the evening’s feature’s rating, which is almost always a family-friendly PG, juts out from the front of the building.

Inside, the lobby isn’t sprawling. There are no huge cardboard cutouts promoting coming attractions, no video games and no row of colorful tubes offering $10 per pound Skittles, though there is an ample-enough concession stand.

While the prices have gone up a bit since the place opened, the snacks aren’t gratuitously priced. This is a family-oriented movie theater operating under the notion families shouldn’t be kept away for fear that purchasing popcorn and a soda will double your ticket price.

Owner Joanne Howe, a Berlin, Md. native, was happy to give a tour of her building. She bought it at the turn of the century and got right to work restoring where she could and upgrading where necessary.

The curtained walls have been re-hung with newer linens that don't belie a time smoking was allowed during the feature. The seats have been replaced both out of necessity − recovering and repairing were price prohibitive − as well as to accommodate our widening culture.

One of the disappointments Howe faced early on was the neon sign had been out of order for decades. As she searched for a specialist to recreate the theater’s look she was eventually referred to the man who originally installed the lights.

“The original owner still lives just up the street and his daughter said he was able to see the sign after the re-lighting,” Howe said. She seemed particularly pleased with the fact.

Although she’s strictly-speaking in the business of running a theater she takes great pride not only in authenticity, but also in her position as de facto preservationist.

When you go − and this is the kind of place you need to visit at least once − pray for long lines. Howe just recently completed renovation of the balcony and said she’ll use it as overflow seating.

In a world that’s pretty much broken up into people who can’t remember the last film they saw from a balcony and people who didn’t know there was such a thing at movie theaters, it’s a really nice perk.

 

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