Casino Theatre (Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania)
The Casino Theatre Entertainment Center is a two-screen movie house and ice cream shop in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. This year-round family-owned and operated business, founded in 1975, was built on the site of the Casino dance hall and night club, which was itself established in 1922.
In addition to first-run movies, the Casino houses the Village Malt Shoppe, which features an old-fashioned soda fountain offering ice cream soda, malted milk, milkshake, egg cream and phosphates, as well as a large selection of ice cream flavors.
The "Casino" name predates the existing Casino Theatre building and business, and goes back to a landmark dance hall built on the same spot in Mount Pocono, Pennsylvania. Several decades later the building was transformed into a movie house, with seats placed on the flat dance floor and the screen on the stage. The "Casino Theatre," complete with British spelling of "theater," was born.
The original one-story 1922 Casino building, originally used as a dance hall and night club, was converted to a movie theater after being purchased by Mrs. H.C. Smith of Stroudsburg.
The theater building was purchased in 1974 by three local couples: George & Sheila Litz of Cresco, and two couples from Pocono Farms, Victor & Diane Genco and John & Ruth Hildebrand. The three families formed a business entity called LIGEND, Inc., from the letters of their last names, and incorporated it with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on March 12, 1975.
The families renovated and modernized the vintage structure, opening for business on April 4, 1975, with the addition of an old-fashioned ice cream parlor called the Village Malt Shoppe, with 20 flavors of ice cream. The new decor featured paneling with an old-fashioned newspaper design, along with crisp white curtains and Tiffany-style lamps. The building was also home to two other LIGEND businesses: the Needles N' Things sewing and craft shop and the Early American Gift Shop.
The single 200-seat Casino movie theater reopened that May with a showing of the classic Gone With the Wind.
Less than a year after the grand reopening, disaster struck. On March 11, 1976, the renovated Casino Theatre and neighboring businesses burned to the ground. Operated as a summer business, the movie theater and malt shop were closed for the season at the time. The building had been broken into several times over the winter, fueling speculation about the cause of the fire.
The Casino had been scheduled to open on April 26 with the movie musical 1776 in honor of the United States Bicentennial, and the local bicentennial committee had been planning to sell tickets to the show to raise money for a Fourth of July parade.
Two hours after the first firefighters arrived at the scene, only the brick facade of the old wooden building remained.
The new building opened just four months later, in July 1976, with a new single-screen movie theater and new ice cream parlor. The silver lining of the fire was that the resulting destruction of the original building meant that the new building was built with a slanted floor, allowing a modern movie-going experience instead of the neck-craning involved when watching a film from the flat floor of the old dance hall.
Within just a few years, the Litzes bought out their partners and began expanding the operation. Today, after more than 30 years, the business is still owned and operated by the Litz family, and the Casino is in its second generation of family management. (With the third generation often employed there.)
Over the years, the Litzes added a kitchen, miniature golf course and a game room targeted at pre-teens and younger, with prize redemptions. The 1950s theme of the decor dates to 2004, when a gift shop featuring nostalgia and retro items was added. Items featuring Betty Boop, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, I Love Lucy, and other icons of the 1950s.
For years, the Casino ran second-run movies or classics, permitting the theater to show a greater range of films by showing them for shorter periods of time, as makes sense for a business with a relatively small customer base. But as the population of The Poconos has grown, so has the Casino: The theater was twinned in 2003, when the Casino also started running first-run movies.
The business continues to grow. For years, the Casino was a seasonal business, open for weekends only from mid-March through Memorial Day, then running full-time through the end of September, when it would revert to weekends only through Thanksgiving.
In 2007, the Casino became a year-round operation. With a movie theater, malt shop, sandwich restaurant, children's arcade room, gift shop and miniature golf operation all under one roof, the owners are recasting the business as the Casino Theatre Entertainment Center.
"Malt Shop opens" (Newspaper clippingPocono Record. 1975-04-19. p. 19. "In these days when nostalgia is all the rage, what better way to bring back memories than an old-fashioned ice cream parlor.").
Ruth Vince and Steve Blakely (1976-03-11). "Raging fire destroys famed Casino Theatre" (Newspaper clippingPocono Record. p. 1. "... From across the street and up the block, some 200 curious spectators watched as the old Casino Theatre gave its final performance.").
Geoff Dougherty (1994-08-21). "About people: George Litz - Family fun" (Newspaper clippingPocono Record. p. C-11. "People can feed their kids here, have ice cream, and don’t feel like they’ve left their paycheck.").
Joe Lyons. "A family affair kind of place / Casino Theatre, ice cream parlor rise from ashes after a fire." (Newspaper clippingPocono Record. "Our idea is to make it a very family-oriented type of operation – where a person can come in here with his family and have a lot of things to do.").
"Casino Theatre fun place for family". Pocono Summer (Newspaper clippingPocono Record). 1997-07-03. pp. 29, 45. "We're kind of unique in that all our sundaes are served in glass - we don't use paper products.") (
Lauren Kurz (2003-06-20). "Three generations keep Casino Theatre humming". Pocono Weekend (Newspaper clippingPocono Record). p. E2. "Affordability and a commitment to family entertainment seem to be a winning combination for the business.") (