Harlem breathing new life into old theater

Columbia County’s oldest movie theater is going to start showing movies again – and a lot more.

The old Columbia Theatre in Harlem is undergoing an extensive renovation, so by next summer the city hopes to reopen the building as a visitors center; a 50- to 75-seat theater for both classic and contemporary films; and a larger museum paying tribute to the legendary movie comedy team that is the city’s biggest tourist draw.

Dozens of residents got a glimpse of what’s planned for the old theater Thursday evening at a public meeting in Harlem. A presentation showed the condition of the building now, and what needs to be done to it to help boost the small city’s downtown as a popular visitor destination.

The big event that draws thousands of people to Harlem each October is the Oliver Hardy Festival, which pays tribute to Laurel and Hardy, the slapstick comedy duo that made more than 100 movies from the 1920s to the ’50s. Hardy was born in Harlem in 1892.

“It gives downtown Harlem a center point. So we’re real excited about that,” City Manager Brett Cook said. “I think it’ll be good for all businesses in Harlem, but it’ll be good for the residents, too, just being able to have a place we can direct people to. I think having a visitors center here is going to be a good step forward.”


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