Fred Lorber brought fresh enthusiasm to the cinema, expanding the seating capacity from 400 to 600 seats, purchasing new projection equipment and remodeling the stage into a cinemascope.
For the residents of Emmaus, the Emmaus Theatre still provides the lower prices of a second run cinema with a homelike atmosphere. Green velvet curtains, wooden shutters framed with red drapery and old-fashioned barrel lights, emanating rays of orange and green to complement the dim yellow incandescense, still evoke images of a palace.
Familiar faces, like that of Eleanor Marks, who has devoted her time to the theatre for over 20 years, remind the community that the theatre is still a family place. Even the jolting sound of trains rumbling by, an inevitable occurrence which Lorber mildly described as "very disturbing to the patrons inside, " is familiar.
In addition to such events as Dish and Glassware Nights, the Emmaus Theatre has been the setting for various and sundry community highlights: In 1949, the theatre was used as a stage for a beauty contest featuring high school girls.
When the Protestant Church (now Faith Presbyterian Church) first established itself in Emmaus, churchgoers used the theatre as a station for Sunday services. The use of a temporary stage extension facilitated the production of a magic show.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, the Emmaus Theatre Society used the building to show selected foreign films. These weekly gatherings continued until 1982, when Fred Lorber sold the Emmaus Theatre to Alan Brown.
Brown had spent the previous seven or eight years operating a similar theatre in New Jersey and felt committed to continuing the tradition of a community family theatre. He "built on what Fred had established, " while initiating progressive changes.
Mondays and Tuesdays became (and still are) Economy Nights. Air conditioning replaced the electric fans. Neville Harson remembers the old projection equipment, which employed a candle for illumination, disappearing in favor of a projector operated by a light bulb.
Brown said the theatre's most essential characteristic is staying close to what people want. "I used to play what I thought was good; now I realize the need to show what the people want."
In the face of competition from the newer multiplex theatres and an age of video coming into its own, the Emmaus Theatre survives and flourishes. "People who like to see movies still go to the theatre, " Brown asserted.
"I think everybody would agree, it's always better at the theatre, bigger than life, more exciting." The single screen, older-style theatre retains its family identity.
"In some ways it hasn't changed at all," Brown emphasized. But perhaps that's okay. "I try to keep the flavor as much as possible--people like to remember things the way they were."