Picture House emerges from tough Covid-19 year to celebrate its 100th birthday

The Picture House kicked off its centennial year March 20 with the Marquee Night fundraising event. A year ago, that same event came at a critical time. No one probably knew, but a long closure of the theater due to the Covid-19 epidemic was to follow.

Marquee Night in 2020 raised enough funds to get by for a couple of months while the staff figured out how to operate, said President and Executive Director Laura deBuys.

Virtual film and education offerings were created and were offered to the public throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

Now perhaps past the most difficult times in its history since it was threatened with demolition, the Picture House and Pelham can look forward to a year of events celebrating its 100-year history.

The Picture House is one of the oldest operating movie theaters in Westchester. The cinema first opened on Sept. 10, 1921, and the first movie shown was “Passing Through,” a comedy-drama by Agnes Christine Johnston. In 2001, the Picture House was set for demolition, but a group of local people decided to establish a nonprofit organization to purchase and preserve it. In 2011, it was renovated. 

Before it was renovated, there were all of these velvet curtains that had been up there forever, and we pulled them down and found those exposed brick walls” inside the theater, said deBuys. “There was this rickety old stage that they tore down, and they found the pit where the organ used to be back when the Picture House was built. There were silent movies, and an organist was playing along with them. So we built the current stage over that, but it is a really cool building.” 

This year’s Marquee Night was planned to bring in the funds the Picture House will need if an event like the pandemic happens again.  

During this centennial year, some of the other events will include:

  • The annual Picnic in the Park fundraiser in September.
  • Possibly an in-person fundraiser event called Centennial Celebration in September or October. 
  • Marquee Night 2022 to end the centennial cycle.

I just fell in love with its mission,” said deBuys. “There is something wonderful about how the community comes together and how we reach out across Westchester doing education programs and working with other community groups. It really feels important. Arts are an important part of our lives even when we are struggling just to survive. We must have art and ideas to come together and share.