When the Regal Barn Cinema closes its doors for the last time on Feb. 9, it will take with it a slice of Doylestown history and countless memories.
From its opening in 1967 until today, the theater has been a haven for moviegoers, although it has been through many changes over the decades.
Claude “Buddy” Schlanger, founder of Budco Theaters, built the Doylestown Township theater, adding it to his chain of area movie houses, that included the Strand Theater on East State Street in Doylestown Borough, County Theater, the Bucks County Drive-In in Warrington, and the 309 Drive-In in Montgomery Township.
Believing that shopping centers were the wave of the future, Schlanger told The Daily Intelligencer in 1967, “Actually, it was the shopping center trend — the advent of an automotive-conscious public spending money in one central locale” that inspired him to build what was first, the Doylestown Barn Theater along Route 611.
“I’ll admit that it looks sort of barren down that way now,” he said. “Who knows? I may be two, three, maybe even five years ahead of the times with my ideas for the cinema. I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see.”
Fifty-six years later, it is plain to see that Schlanger’s vision transformed the once “barren” site into the Barn Cinema that became an institution of sorts for generations of families, teenagers, and adults. Growing from a single screen theater that featured a “Hollywood-style” premier of Dr. Zhivago on its opening night, to the 1999 opening of Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace, that had teens camping out overnight to get tickets.
A year after its opening, Schlanger was looking for permission to expand, adding a 400-seat theater. In 1968 it became the area’s first “twinned” movie theater. Then, in 1975, a third screen was added and the name was changed to Budco Barn 3 Theaters. Still growing, a fourth theater joined the complex in 1976 and in 1978, a fifth screen created the Barn 5 on the 8.2-acre property. Seating capacity grew to 2,196 seats, according to Doylestown Historical Society records.
For nearly 20 years, the theater flourished, sometimes providing space to community organizations. Records show the theater served as an event space for some 700 Girl Scouts and a place for the River of Life Church congregation to meet when its church was under construction.
In 1997, AMC Theaters bought the Barn 5 and tore the building down. Regal Cinemas then purchased the property and built the Barn Plaza 14, adding two, large stucco silos, to remember The Barn’s earlier life.
Regal was purchased just before the pandemic by Cineworld for $3.6 billion, according to several news outlets. It’s unclear what will be next for the property.