History of the Strand Theater

The Strand Theater was built in 1914 by Gioachino and Rosalia Sapienza, who were Italian immigrants seeking a new life and opportunity in America and Zelienople.  In order to blend in with their adopted community, they became known to friends and neighbors as Joseph and Rosalie.  Joseph originally wanted to build a fruit market, but the local banker convinced him that the town really needed a theater. Two-thirds of the structure was dedicated to The Strand (then ‘The Star’), and the remaining third was Sapienza’s Fruit Market.  The theater featured silent films with live piano accompaniment as well as Vaudeville-style shows on its small stage. It is unclear when the name switched from ‘The Star’ to ‘The Strand’, but it is estimated to have taken place some time in late 1920’s to the early 1930’s..

In 1939, The Strand underwent its first major renovation and the structure was dedicated entirely to the theater, albeit with a nearly exclusive focus on the motion picture medium.  Joseph moved his fruit market across the street into what is now The Stony Run Winery and The Hair Loft.  But the ‘Sapienza’ name is still emblazoned across the top of the building’s facade.

The Strand thrived as a social center for Zelienople and Harmony for decades, providing a destination for families to escape the drudgery and routine of rural life and to meet and enjoy a night’s entertainment. But The Strand began to struggle when multiplex cinemas began dotting the suburban landscape.  The theater became more of a drop-off point for parents to leave their kids for an afternoon matinee.

With increased pressure from the onset of the Multi-Plex and VCR era, The Strand could no longer compete. One night In the early 1980’s, The Strand closed its doors and they did not reopen to the public for over two decades!

There have been a variety of suitors for The Strand over the years. Developers and private investors considered making use of the building for everything from a mini-mall to a dance school to a dinner theater. Even the FBI considered The Strand for use as a field office. However, the extensive cost of buying and renovating the property kept potential developers away.

The Strand Theater Initiative was created in 2001 as a non-profit corporation to save the venerable old theater from the wrecking ball, with the goal of reviving The Strand as a cultural, education and community outreach center.  Through private and public financial support, The Initiative purchased The Strand in 2002 and completed an exterior renovation in January, 2005. 

The Initiative raised nearly $3 million toward its original capital campaign and major renovations to the theater were completed in July, 2009. Considered to be Phase 1 of a 3-Phase renovation, The Strand is a versatile structure, capable of presenting a wide and eclectic mix of professional, live programs as well as classic, contemporary and independent films. After nearly 25 years of decay and neglect, The Strand has been welcoming the public through its doors for nearly 15 years.

More help is needed in order to move on to the next phases of construction; which includes a full stage house with a larger stage, left and right wing space, fly space and adequate dressing room facilities for performers, a 2-level parking deck and a multi-purpose space for black box theater, dance & acting classes as well as private functions. When completed, The Strand will  be able to present an even wider mix of live programming, including full-scale, theatrical productions and larger touring shows.

We seek civic-minded individuals, corporations and philanthropists, willing to help us with donations and networking.  Additional foundation and other funds are under consideration. With your contributions, you demonstrate to these groups that The Strand enjoys the continued support of the communities that it serves.  Please contact us to get involved.  We offer a variety of tax-deductible corporate philanthropy and individual patronage geared to fit any budget.  Customized honorariums are also available.