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HersheyArchives@30-16 Building a year round destination for entertainment: Hershey Theatre

Hershey Theatre, opening weekend program, September 1-4, 1933

Hershey Theatre, opening weekend program, September 1-4, 1933

 

In 1915, Hershey had his architect, C. Emlen Urban, draw up plans for a new community building.

 

Architect's drawing, Hershey Community Building. 1915

Architect’s drawing, Hershey Community Building. 1915

 

The building was to include a dining room, cafeteria, gymnasium, swimming pool, assembly rooms, a dormitory, a hospital, and two theaters: a small theater for local productions and a large, 2000 seat professional theater.  Groundbreaking was scheduled for early 1916 but the arrival of World War I delayed the start of the project.  The architect’s plans were put away and virtually forgotten.

 

Community Building and Theatre construction crew, 5/6/1932

Community Building and Theatre construction crew, 5/6/1932

 

As the 1930s Great Depression overwhelmed the country’s economy, Milton Hershey responded to the economic crisis by initiating a local building program, better known as the Great Building Campaign.  Hershey’s building boom provided employment for over 600 workers who otherwise would have been unemployed and built many of this community’s most impressive structures.

 

Hershey Theatre, Auditorium outer wall elevation. 12/30/1931. Origianl drawing by architect C. Emlen Urban

Hershey Theatre, Auditorium outer wall elevation. 12/30/1931. Origianl drawing by architect C. Emlen Urban

 

The original 1915 plans for the Community Building and Theatre were dusted off and workers broke ground in 1928.  Work was completed in 1933. Hershey dedicated its new Community Center and Theatre, during the town’s thirtieth anniversary celebration held September 1-4, 1933.

 

Hershey Theatre stage, with fire curtain visible. 1934

Hershey Theatre stage, with fire curtain visible. 1934

 

Hershey Theatre was built just about the time that New York City’s Radio City Music Hall was constructed.  That performance hall’s stark art deco’s design stands in sharp contrast with Hershey Theatre’s interior.  Since the Theatre was built from plans developed 18 years earlier, its design more closely resembles the opulence of early twentieth century theaters.

 

Hershey Theatre Grand Lobby, ca1935

Hershey Theatre Grand Lobby, ca1935

 

The grand lobby is a lavish entrance to a romantic, European space. The lobby floors are laid with polished Italian lava rock.  Four different types of marble shape the walls and arches.   Solid brass doors open to the inner foyer, with its intricate blue and gold mosaic ceiling, patterned after St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, Italy.

 

In the orchestra, or main level of the auditorium, the theatre’s design theme is fully revealed as the grand style of Venice, Italy. The six-ton fire curtain features a painting of the city of Venice, with its Grand Canal slowly flowing past Doge’s Palace.  The Theatre’s ceiling was specially constructed to create the illusion of being in an outside space.

The Theatre features a four-manual 78 rank Aeolian-Skinner concert organ.  The organ’s more than 4,715 pipes and 25 bells are concealed behind the French doors of the front balconies facing either side of the stage.

 

Hershey Theatre, opening weekend program, September 1-4, 1933

Hershey Theatre, opening weekend program, September 1-4, 1933

 

To showcase the new Theatre, a series of concerts, lectures and performances were scheduled throughout the weekend. The celebration began with a grand organ dedication and recital on Friday, September 1.

 

Hershey Theatre, opening weekend program, inside pages. September 1-4, 1933

Hershey Theatre, opening weekend program, inside pages. September 1-4, 1933

 

The next day, Saturday, was the Community Theatre’s official opening day.  The program, a popular movie with a vaudeville revue was offered three times during the day.  The first movie shown at the theatre was “Pilgrimage” with Henriette Crosman, Norman Foster, and Marion Nixon.

 

The vaudeville show featured nationally popular singers, comediennes, dancers and acrobatics.  The show also featured “The Hersheyettes,” promoted as “a line of Beautiful Girls:” sixteen dancing girls performing precision routines.

 

Sunday, September 3, 1933, the celebration was a bit more serious with then Secretary of Agriculture (later Vice-President of the United States) Henry A. Wallace offering remarks at the official dedication ceremony. The theatre was overflowing, necessitating loudspeakers to carry the message to the crowd outside.  The gala weekend festivities concluded on Labor Day with three more movie/vaudeville performances.

 

To learn more about the history of the Hershey Theatre, visit the Archives website.

 

HersheyArchives@30

 

 

 

HersheyArchives@30-13 “Hire the Forty Men”

Over thirty men carry a single wooden support structure during the construction of the Arena. 1936

Over thirty men carry a single wooden support structure during the construction of the Arena. 1936

 

Milton Hershey launched  his “Great Building Campaign” to bolster the local economy during the Great Depression. Townspeople found work building the structures that would eventually become some of the major tourist attractions in town, (Hershey Community Building and Hershey Theatre, The Hotel Hershey, Hersheypark Arena and Stadium) and the result was a town that offered facilities and features unheard of for a community of its size.

 

The October 1929 stock market crash launched a long economic decline that grew into the worldwide Depression of the 1930s. But the town of Hershey stood in sharp contrast to much of the United States during these years. While most industries struggled to keep from shutting down, throughout the Depression Mr. Hershey’s affordable chocolate products enabled his company to enjoy sustainable sales and profits.

 

There were good business reasons for Mr. Hershey to pursue a construction campaign when he did. Prices for building supplies were at an all-time low, and the labor force was certainly available. It seemed an ideal time to revisit building projects he had delayed for years. The Hershey Community Building was originally conceived in 1915, for example, and putting a hotel up on Pat’s Hill had been planned as early as 1909.

 

Detail view of the Hotel Hershey first floor plan. Note the support column placed in the center of the circular dining room. As the plan indicates, Mr. Hershey ordered its removal. 1932

Detail view of the Hotel Hershey first floor plan. Note the support column placed in the center of the circular dining room. As the plan indicates, Mr. Hershey ordered its removal. 1932

 

But there was another driving force behind the campaign – a more altruistic one. Throughout his life, the community Mr. Hershey built around his factory remained an enduring passion. He cared deeply for “his” town and the people who lived and worked there. When the Depression threatened to bring economic disaster right to his doorstep, Milton Hershey met the challenge with his unique brand of benevolent paternalism.

 

“We have about 600 construction workers in this town,” Mr. Hershey is reported to have said. “If I don’t provide work for them, I’ll have to feed them. And since building materials are now at their lowest cost levels, I’m going to build and give them jobs.”

 

Mr. Hershey kept close tabs on these construction projects. It’s said that when the excavation began atop Pat’s Hill as the first step for building the Hotel, Mr. Hershey watched intently as two huge steam shovels tore apart the earth. His foreman told him, “These machines do the work of 40 men.” And Mr. Hershey simply replied, “Take them off. Hire 40 men.”

 

Group portrait, Hershey Community Buildilng construction crew. 1932

Group portrait, Hershey Community Buildilng construction crew. 1932

 

In addition to the major buildings, Mr. Hershey also initiated smaller projects to provide employment while developing the community, including Hershey Gardens, new rides and attractions for Hersheypark and new facilities for the Zoo were also completed during these years.

 

Mr. Hershey also used the Great Building Campaign as a time to further promote the sports of golf and hockey in town. In 1930, he started the Hershey Country Club and retained golf architect Maurice McCarthy to design what is now known as the West Course. He also opened Parkview Golf Course for the public and a nine-hole course at the Hotel. And he introduced the first golf course in the nation dedicated to junior golfers, now called Spring Creek Golf Course. The Hershey Ice Palace began hosting hockey games in 1931, and in 1936 the Arena opened. It was the first home to the Hershey Bears, now the oldest club in American Hockey League history.

 

The addition of these attractions built on the community’s image as a center for entertainment and relaxation. By the end of the decade, the town of Hershey had emerged as a nationally known tourist destination and was called “Pennsylvania’s Summer Playground.” Today the majority of the projects that began as part of the Great Building Campaign continue to exist and stand as memorials to Mr. Hershey’s vision, generosity and dedication to his town and its residents.

 

Brochure marketing Hershey as "Pennsylvania's Summer Playground." ca1940

Brochure marketing Hershey as “Pennsylvania’s Summer Playground.” ca1940

 

“As far as I know, no man was dropped by reason of the Depression,” Mr. Hershey is reported to have said. “And no salaries were cut.”

 

#HersheyArchives@30

Making a difference: Hershey Optimist Club

Hershey is fortunate to have several service organizations. While clubs have come and gone, they all exist to provide opportunities for individuals to make a difference in their community.

 

Hershey YMCA and the Busy Men's Doggy Bow-Wow at a dinner held at the Hershey Cafe. 3/1913

Hershey YMCA and the Busy Men’s Doggy Bow-Wow at a dinner held at the Hershey Cafe. 3/1913

 

The Archives is fortunate to have the records of a number of different service organizations that have operated in Hershey. Some are still going strong, while others have passed away.  To learn more about the community collections held by the Archives, follow this link.

 

Hershey Optimist Club members practice for an upcoming event at the Little Theater in the Community Building. ca1962-1963

Hershey Optimist Club members practice for an upcoming event at the Little Theater in the Community Building. ca1962-1963

 

The Hershey Optimist Club was founded in 1954, when it was sponsored by the Lebanon Optimist Club. An initial organizational dinner was held on May 5, 1954 with 13 prospective members in attendance. On May 19, 16 charter members attended the organizational meeting and elected officers.  By the time the charter closed on June 2, Hershey Optimist Club had 40 members. The Club held its Charter Party on September 25, 1954 at the Hershey Park Golf Club.  Regular meetings thereafter were held in the Community Building dining room.

 

Junior hockey team sponsored by the Hershey Optimist Club.  Coach Arnie Kullman is pictured on right. ca1960-1970

Junior hockey team sponsored by the Hershey Optimist Club. Coach Arnie Kullman is pictured on right. ca1960-1970

 

The Club has always focused its efforts towards helping and supporting the youth of the community. During its long years of operation, the Hershey Optimist Club sponsored youth athletic teams and programs promoting safety, education, respect for the law, and civic duty in Hershey’s youth. Over the years, Hershey Optimists sponsored a variety of programs including Bike Safety Week, the Oratorical Contest, the Respect for Law program, Boys Work projects, and Youth Appreciation Week.

 

In recent years the Hershey Optimist Club struggled to attract new members. In 2007 the club’s charter was revoked and the chapter was officially closed.

 

One last gift. . .

 In 1944 Milton Hershey signed a new will and testament to replace the one he had created in 1909, before he had transferred his fortune to the Milton Hershey School trust fund.  The new will and testament was a brief, two page document.  It provided that most of  his “estate, real, personal and mixed,” should be put into a new trust fund. 

At the time of his death his estate consisted of the wealth that he had accumulated since his endowment of  the Milton Hershey School trust fund in 1918.  The beneficiary of this new trust fund would be the Derry Township School District.  Milton Hershey had been very supportive of the community’s public schools during his lifetime and he wanted to provide an enduring legacy for them.  The purpose of the new trust fund would be for “assisting the Township to relieve tax burden for the upkeep and maintenance of the Township’s public schools.”  In making these plans, Milton Hershey was particularly unsentimental.  His will directed that his personal belongings should be auctioned and the proceeds added to the new trust fund.

 

 

 

A mourner pays his respects at Milton Hershey's gravesite, October 16, 1945

A mourner pays his respects at Milton Hershey's gravesite, October 16, 1945

 

 

 

Following his death on October 13, 1945, his executor, the Hershey Trust Company, made plans for a public auction of his estate. 

 

 

 

 

Poster advertising the Milton S. Hershey Estate Auction, December 17-18. 1945

Poster advertising the Milton S. Hershey Estate Auction, December 17-18. 1945

 

 

 

 

 Complying with Milton Hershey’s wishes, the auction was held at the Community Building on Monday and Tuesday, December 17-18, 1945.  Several Hershey executives protested the sale, wanting to keep his collection intact.  They argued that his personal belongings, which included furniture, rugs, linens, draperies, framed photographs, books, paintings, multiple sets of flatware and dinnerware and his personal jewelry, belonged in the Hershey Museum.  Apparently his executors, William F.R. Murrie, Ezra Hershey and William H. Earnest, agreed.  While the bulk of his personal belongings were sold at Auction, the furniture that had filled Milton Hershey’s apartment at the Hershey Country Club (High Point) was removed from the sale and Hershey Estates purchased these items.  For many years the furniture was exhibited at the Hershey Museum as a memorial to Milton Hershey.  Today while much of the furniture is in museum storage, a few pieces are on exhibit in The Hershey Story and at Milton Hershey School’s Founders Hall.

 

The Auction was held in the Community Building Social Room. There were afternoon and evening sessions with a large attendance. It appears that there was something for everyone. The Auction flyer highlighted large collections of Cauldron, Coalport and Dresden china, rare ivory pieces, cut glass, bronze statuary, silverware, oil paintings, linens and fine furniture. The Auction was handled by L.J. Gilbert and Son, Lebanon, PA auctioneers. The sale raised just over $17,000 and when added to Milton Hershey’s financial holdings the sale proceeds helped to create a trust fund endowment valued in 1945 at about $900,000.

 

Since its creation the Milton S. Hershey Testamentary Trust fund has made semi-annual payments to the School District with the goal of helping to underwrite the expense of Hershey’s public education program.  Today the Milton S. Hershey Testamentary Trust Fund is valued at about $23.9 million and Derry Township School District receives about $1.8 million a year to support its budget.

 

Hershey Community Archives is a rich resource with many resources that document Milton Hershey’s life.  The Paul Wallace collection includes a variety of archival material that documents Mr. Hershey’s life.  Click this link to view the finding aid for this collection.

Heart of the Community: Hershey’s Community Building

  

 

Hershey Community Building, 1933
Hershey Community Building, 1933

 

Originally planned for 1916 and finally constructed during Hershey’s Great Building Campaign of the 1930s, the goal of the building was to provide entertainment and recreation, as well as to fulfill educational and civic functions for the entire town. World War I and subsequent financial challenges for Hershey Chocolate Company delayed its construction.  Finally in November 1928 ground was broken.  The building was completed in September 1932 and officially dedicated in September 1933 as part of the Town’s 30th anniversary celebration.
 

The primary function of the Building’s recreational facilities was for the use of the Hershey Men’s Club.  The Men’s Club offered an extensive range of programs and activities for the boys and men of Hershey.  The facilities were very impressive.

Game Room: 180 feet long, contains four bowling alleys, a court for practicing driving golf ball or putting, three shuffleboard tables, four ping pong tables, five pocket billiard tables for men, one billiard table for boys, a table for curoque, and a section devoted to games for boys in addition to tables for cards, checkers, chess, etc.

Game Room, Community Building; ca. 1932-1942

Game Room, ca.1932-1942

On same floor is a swimming pool 75 feet long by 25 feet wide, 3 – 9 1/2  feet deep,  with three spring boards.  Separate showers for men and boys
 
Community Building Swimming Pool, ca. 1950-1960 
 
 
Gymnasium:  (80 x 44 feet with 35 foot ceiling) for class work, volley ball, basketball, softball, badminton and special exercising rooms as well as two courts for four-wall hand ball, also can be used as squash courts.
 
 
Men's Club Junior Division, Community Building Gymnasium, ca.1935

Men's Club Junior Division, Community Building Gymnasium, ca.1935

The Archives oral history collections contain many memories of the Community Building and how important it was to the residents, particularly the children.  Many men shared memories of their childhoods spending afternoons and evenings at the Community Building:
 

Frank Simione (93OH02):

In the early years, from starting at my eighth birthday, we belonged to the Hershey Community Building, which at that time was called Community Club for us, where they had the Hershey hospital on the sixth floor, later became the Hershey Junior College. At eight years old, we belonged to this Community Building, where we learned all the athletic sports, all types of games. I think it was three dollars for six months, and you started as a cadet and went up to a junior, and then you went into intermediate, then you went into a senior program.

Spending all that time and all those years there, I learned many athletic games and as much as all the small games that you would play, like checkers and dominos and pool and ping-pong and bowling. We were fortunate to have this facility. At the time, we didn’t know any better, but as we grew, and later on in life, we found that that was a beautiful place for kids to go.

To learn more about the Archives’ oral history collections use this link to visit the Archives online collections database.