A new and improved County Theater moved one step closer to reality Monday night.
With a unanimous vote, Doylestown Borough Council at its Jan. 28 meeting took the Historic and Architectural Review Board’s (HARB) recommendation, which was to approve the plans as submitted to demolish the Poor Richards building next door.
However, in the process of demolition, if any valuable, historic elements are unearthed, those must be preserved, or every effort must be taken to preserve those elements.
The nonprofit County Theater in downtown Doylestown purchased the neighboring Poor Richards property in 2016 for $1 million and the historic theater will soon be expanding with a new addition.
On Monday night, a packed house of Bucks County residents raised questions, comments, and concerns to council members at borough hall.
Those opposing the expansion felt that the building is historically significant and that the project as proposed will essentially destroy the building, taking a historic building from a historic district. The majority of attendees came to support the project citing that the County board went to great lengths to try to preserve what they could of a structure with compromised front and back walls.
And looking to the future, the addition, as proposed should enhance the current County, whose art deco façade is historic in its own right.
“Historic preservation was something that was always on our minds as we went into this project,” Executive Director John Toner told a packed room Monday night. Some in the crowd said they never knew the Poor Richards was historic as it has been covered with additions to the front.
Councilperson Don Berk, commented after the vote that, “The buildings across State Street and to the right of the County are historic and enhance the area, while the Poor Richards building, as is, detracts from the area. More people will be aware of the history with a plaque in the addition than ever were before.”
The new space will include a new auditorium, a new lobby with an expanded concession stand, and a complete set of first-floor bathrooms. The existing historic theater will stay the same but will receive new seats and other upgrades.
For more than two years, the County Theater’s board and staff have planned the theater’s expansion. They held public meetings with members and friends. They talked to borough staff and neighbors and received over 900 responses to a public survey. The board listened to the public’s input and suggestions.
The County Theater board then hired the architectural firm Voith and Mactavish ofPhiladelphia, which has prepared plans and cost estimates.
The proposed expansion will enhance disabled access and restroom facilities and provide other improvements. It will also allow better crowd flow. Work on the new screen and other additions will likely begin it is hoped near the second half of 2019.
“We may have disagreements about whether this building is historic or not, but we can’t have any disagreement about the opportunity for our residents to weigh in a very conscious way as to whether this building is preserved and can be preserved or not,” said Mayor Ron Strouse. “At the end of the day, I think we have to give credit to the County Theater for the process and for the result.”
The County Theater opened in 1938 and then re-opened as a nonprofit in 1993.