The State has gone by several names and uses throughout its long history. And what such turnover illustrates is how a location can evolve to have a life all its own, and even reflect the continual re-birth of its surrounding community. Below is as accurate an account as could be surmised from what records remain of the historic site that’s taking the town of Havre de Grace by storm yet again.
The EARLY 1920s
HISTORY OF The STATE THEATER
The medium of moving pictures had only just been invented, but was already capturing the imaginations of audiences around the world. Entrepreneur J. W. Bauer opened the New Willou Theater on St. John’s Street in 1908 with the intention of competing with the highly popular City Opera House on Union Ave., which at the time also exhibited moving pictures (first occasionally, then full-time by 1917).
In 1910, a man named Marshall E. Lindsay opened the Bijou Dream Motion Picture Parlor right next door to the Willou, only to sell it to Mr. Bauer in 1915. Even while under the same ownership, however, the two theaters continued to coexist rather than combine. Nevertheless, they effectively functioned as one of the first multi-screen theaters in the country. Mr. Bauer even had a custom passageway built between them so that film prints could be exchanged between showtimes.
Tragically, the Willou Theater succumbed to fire in 1925, forcing both businesses to close. According to Robert K. Headley’s book “Maryland’s Motion Picture Theaters” the Bijou was then bought for cheap by the Baltimore-based exhibitor Frank Durkee. And in September of 1927, after an extensive re-build, it re-opened as The State.
CINEMA & ENTERTAINMENT
The State would go on to showcase some of the most iconic movies the world has ever seen, including the first theatrical runs of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) and the original “Ocean’s Eleven” (1960)!
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century the theater was a prominent feature of Havre de Grace’s entertainment scene. The fact that the city – then referred to as “The Graw” – was known as a prosperous stop for travelers no doubt helped the venue serve as a cultural fulcrum. No matter which direction you were heading, the draw of the theater brought everyone together.
Regrettably, however, The State was also a product of its time regarding racial segregation. Before and during the Civil Rights Movement first floor seating was still reserved for whites, while the balcony was reserved for blacks. The related cultural turmoil of the 1960’s and tandem geographic changes of the area caused The State to slowly falter. Shopping mall theaters were alleged to have stolen business during the emergence of nearby suburbia, and in 1973 the building closed its doors again.
KEEPING THE FAITH
In 1982, after additional renovations, the HDG Development Corp. re-opened the theater again as the Lafayette. Unfortunately, business faltered again by the early ’90s, and the building was re-purposed as the Evangelistic Church of Deliverance. Worship continued until the church relocated sometime in the early ’00s.
The years started accumulating as 325 St. John’s waited patiently for its next owner. What was once a polestar of the community was left abandoned, but not forgotten.
And here we are now! After 2 years of renovations and refurbishing, and an immeasurable sum of elbow grease, The State is back and better than ever!
2020 to Present
a new day...
None of it would have been possible without the labor of love by those involved, not the least of whom includes new owner and Maryland native Jared Noe. Guided and propelled by his bottom-up sense of entrepreneurship The State breathes new life once again – and so shall all those who visit it!