Biggest Little Movie City: Ithaca’s Theaters Then and Now


Wharton Studio Museum & Historic Ithaca Present a multimedia exhibit February 1 through April 2022

Wharton Studio Museum (WSM) and Historic Ithaca (HI), both nonprofits focused on local history and preservation, have collaborated to produce Biggest Little Movie City: Ithaca’s Theaters Then and Now, a multimedia exhibit highlighting and celebrating Ithaca’s rich legacy of movie making and watching. By the mid-nineteen teens, downtown Ithaca boasted an abundance of beautiful theaters – The Star, The Crescent, and The Lyceum among them – where the city’s denizens flocked daily to watch movies and episodic serials. The development of motion pictures and the burgeoning of the movie industry – including the city’s own Wharton, Inc. Studios – allowed people to be transported to other worlds and escape, for a time, their daily routines by simply paying an admission fee to enjoy a movie on the big screen.


Watch out for an in-depth article about the history of movie making in Ithaca – coming in the May/June 2022 issue of Life in the Finger Lakes magazine!
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Curated by Historic Ithaca and Wharton Studio Museum and designed by Joe Lamarre of uncommonplace, the exhibit explores all seven movie theaters in downtown Ithaca, as well as the Willard Straight Theater on Cornell University’s campus, built in the late 20s, and the current home of Cornell Cinema. The State Theatre and the Willard Straight Theater are the only two theaters still showing movies. Digital screens on either side of the exhibit tower afford the visitor the opportunity to dive more deeply into related materials, including film clips from the Wharton Studio era, and to discover more about what the moviegoers’ experience was like in that era.  The exhibit will also highlight Cinemapolis, Ithaca’s popular independent movie theatre.

“Historic Ithaca and Wharton Studio Museum wanted to collaborate on an exhibit celebrating Ithaca’s theaters for some time,” says HI’s Executive Director Susan Holland, “and we’re so excited it’s now coming to fruition. These old theaters were – and the remaining ones are – such an integral part of the city’s built environment. For a small city, Ithaca had so many theaters!”

Biggest Little Movie City: Ithaca’s Theaters Then and Now runs from February 1st, 2022 through the end of April in the Atrium Tower at the Tompkins Center for History Culture, 110 N. Tioga Street on the Commons, and is free and open to the public. Exhibit viewing hours are Monday – Saturday, 10am to 5pm. COVID protocols are in place.

Wharton Studio Museum is committed to preserving and celebrating Ithaca’s silent film history and transforming the historic Wharton Studio building in Stewart Park – one of only a handful of silent movie production studios still standing in the country – into the Wharton Studio Park Center, in partnership with Friends of Stewart Park and the City of Ithaca.

Historic Ithaca promotes and preserves the built environment through education, advocacy and action throughout Tompkins County. For more than 50 years, HI has engaged the community in valuing its buildings, landscapes, and historic sites through tours, lectures, educational programs, workshops and the delivery of preservation services. Advocacy and action are at the forefront of its efforts to celebrate, sustain and maintain the historic and yet-to-be historic resources for future generations.

The exhibit is made possible by Canopy by Hilton Ithaca Downtown. The hotel is built on the site of the former Strand Theatre and its Strand Café is named for the theater.

Exhibit Co-Sponsors are The State Theatre in Ithaca and Cornell Cinema; and the exhibit’s Media Sponsor is Cinemapolis.

Historic Ithaca | (607) 273-6633 |

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