College (Valley Art) Theatre

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Survey Number: HPS-553
Year Built: 1938
Architectural Style: Panel Brick Commercial

THEME / CONTEXT
The College (Valley Art) Theatre is associated with the context of Community Planning and Development. It falls under the theme of commerce - theatre.

HISTORIC ASSOCIATION
The College (Valley Art) Theatre is significant its association with Dwight "Red" Harkins. The theater is last remaining single-screen motion picture auditorium in the Valley of the Sun. It opened as the College Theater in 1940, named for its close proximity to Arizona State University, then Arizona State Teachers College. The Valley Art was financed and owned by local entertainment entrepreneurs and partners Harry Nace Sr. and Dwight “Red” Harkins of Harkins Amusement Entertainment. This was Harkins' third theater in Tempe. He opened his first theater, the State Theater, in 1933 on Fifth Street. In 1934 Harkins started an outdoor theater in Tempe Beach Park, which operated for one summer only. The College Theater was a successful expansion of Harkins' theater operations in 1938. Later, Harkins and his son, Dan Harkins, expanded their theater operations across the Salt River Valley. The building is importantly associated with Depression-era business in Tempe. Entertainment was one of the few areas that were economically successful during the Depression.

ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION
The College (Valley Art) Theatre is significant as the only Depression-era theaters constructed in Tempe. Virtually intact, it provides a positive contribution to the historic character of the streetscape along Mill Avenue. Character-defining elements include the wood frame movie poster cases and freestanding ticket booth. The designated property includes the center theater portion, and the northern retail portion (historic beauty salon) of the historic 3-bay building. The southern bay (historic ice cream parlor) was demolished circa 1970, where current visual and physical access to Tempe City Hall is maintained through existing plazita.

SUMMARY
The College (Valley Art) Theatre was constructed in 1938 by Dwight "Red" Harkins. This was Harkins' third theater in Tempe. He opened his first theater, the State Theater, in 1933 on Fifth Street. In 1934 Harkins started an outdoor theater in Tempe Beach Park, which operated for one summer only. The College Theater was a successful expansion of Harkins' theater operations in 1938. Later, Harkins and his son, Dan Harkins, expanded their theater operations across the Salt River Valley. The building is importantly associated with Depression-era business in Tempe. Entertainment was one of the few areas that were economically successful during the Depression.

This building is significant as the only Depression-era theater constructed in Tempe. Virtually intact, it provides a positive contribution to the historic character of the streetscape along Mill Avenue. Character-defining elements include the wood frame movie poster cases and freestanding ticket booth. Due to its historic significance and high degree of integrity, it would be considered individually eligible to the National Register.

At the turn of the century Dan Harkins undertook an historically sensitive restoration of the theatre to honor his father’s life work thereby cementing his legacy in time and history. The theatre historically representative of the late depression era remains as “Red’s” living monument. Modifications to the screen size and location were carefully considered so as to maintain the historic accuracy of the auditorium and the period theater-going experience. The restored theater showcases original features including wall sconces and paneling and maintains original circulation and layout configurations. Overall attention to detail and respect for historic integrity created a meaningful restoration of this very significant theatre.

SOURCES

Tempe 1997 Multiple Resource Area Update

Tempe Historic Property Survey HPS-553 College Theater/Valley Art Theater