The Westmont Theatre was built in 1927 by Morris Handel and A.J. Rovner
On September 5, 1927, the theatre opened with Lon Chaney’s The Unknown, where an estimated group of over 5,000 were waiting in line for tickets
In April 1928, Charlie Chaplin’s last silent film, The Circus, came to the Westmont for a two day only screening. It was during this time that the picture the Westmont is most know for was taken – picture with the Charlie Chaplin truck parked out underneath the marquee.
In the 1930/40s, the Westmont saw success and failure but due to theatre competition and WWII, the Westmont closed her doors and Morris/Rovner sold the theatre to another company.
After undergoing a design change by renowned Philadelphia-based architect David Supowitz, The Westmont re-opened her doors on Thanksgiving morning 1949 and once again beame the prominent theatre on Haddon Ave
In the early 1950s, Steven Spielberg’s family lived in Haddon Township. And according sources, Steven and his father went to the Westmont Theatre to see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, which is a film said to be a big reason why Steven became a filmmaker.
In the 1960s,Eugene Horowitz, also known as Michael Landon, worked as an usher at the Westmont Theatre. His family was from Collingswood and his father was a regional theatre manager for the chain that owned the Westmont Theatre.
In 1973, The Exorcistpremiered at the Westmont- it was the only theatre screening that film in South Jersey.The films controversy and the overwhelming demand to see it caused countless lines down Haddon Ave., as well as police and ambulance support to break up fights due to sold out screenings and when theatre patrons would pass out from the film’s content.
In 1978, Actor Dustin Hoffman and director Robert Benton came to the Westmont to test screen Kramer vs. Kramer. The audience didn’t like the ending of the film and has a result from that screening, the ending was recut and the film went on to win several academy awards later that year, including Best Picture.
In 1979/1980, the Westmont underwent a another transformation and became a “twin theatre” to compete with the multiplex theatres in the area. It tried some 3D revival and “art house” selections to keep it popular but couldn’t complete with the multiplex chains in nearby towns and closed as a movie house altogether in 1987.
In 1990, the Living Arts Repertory Theatre Group (L’ART) took over the theatre and began producing live shows again with a cabaret and main stage venue setup. In 1999, the township purchased the theatre from the Camden County Improvement Authority for $280.000. And one year later the Westmont Theatre Company moved out and the theatre closed once again.
In 2004, a Phildelphia based developer was awarded the contract to re-develop the theatre. Their hope is to revitalize the theatre into a new performance hall with built-in restaurant.
In May 2007, “The Grand Old Lady“, a documentary film about the 80-year history of the Westmont Theatre, premiere’s at the Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township. It’s success generates positive buzz to “save the theatre” through the community.
September 5, 2007: The Westmont Theatre turns 80-years old
November 2007: A Structural Report is complete. The study shows the building to be in “fair” condition. However, the marquee is in poor shape and a safety concern. Two options are suggested from report: Take the marquee down, rebuild and re-install it, or just remove it altogether.
December 2007/Jaunary 2008: Contract Re-developer and Township begin litigtaion against one another for various we can’t publish.
February 2008: Request for Marquee demolition bids go out to area demolition companies.
March 2008: RFPs (Request for proposals) for theatre redevelopment go out to area developers
April 2008: Three Proposals were received. Each proposal package outlined a different use for the theatre, expcept for one.
May 2008: The Township announces it will hold public meetings to discuss the proposal options.
June 2008: Town commission holds a public meeting so all three developers can present their proposal to the community.
July 2008: Town commission recommends the Westmont Theatre a redevelopment zone
September 5, 2008: Westmont Theatre turns 81-years old
January 2009: No further information on the redevelopment of the theatre is available. It just sits, wasting away.
February 2009: NCW submits an historic registry application for the theatre to the state of NJ. The meeting on this application is set for June 2009.
April 2009: The NCW attends the 40th anniversary event at Camden County College to promote the preservation and restoration of the Westmont Theatre.
June 2009: Federal district court in Camden dismissed complaints levied by the Westmont Development Group (WDG). The decision upheld the township’s termination of WDG as the designated redeveloper for the theatre
June 23, 2009: The NJHPO (New Jersey Historic Preservation Office) approves the Westmont Theatre for state historic registry.
October 2009: Damaged sections of the marquee are removed and broken sidewalks are replaced with new concrete.
December 2009: The NCW presented a business/strategic development plan to Haddon Township for restoring the Westmont as a film and performing arts venue.
February 2010: Haddon Township removes the fence that’s surrounded the theatre since spring ’07
July 2010: The Westmont Theatre is added to the New Jersey State Historic Registry listings
April 2011: The Westmont Theatre receives $50,000 historic preservation grant by the New Jersey Historic Trust
September 2011: The Friends of the Westmont Theatre non-profit group officially forms