In the shadow of the Great Depression, a businessman named George Dietrich thought that Tunkhannock could use a little bit of joy. He knew the perfect escape: the movies. In 1937, he built the Dietrich Theater, complete with modern marvels like a deluxe sound system and air conditioning. On opening weekend alone, over 1,500 people came to see the new state-of-the-art theater.
The Dietrich continued to show movies until the 1980s. Like many small-town theaters, it struggled to compete with the massive cineplexes and had to shut its doors. But without the Dietrich, downtown Tunkhannock felt like it was missing something. A group of volunteers gathered together and plotted how to bring the beloved local theater back to life.
After lots of hard work and an outpouring of community support, the Wyoming County Cultural Center at the Dietrich Theater reopened in 2001 and has been a local staple ever since. You can’t mistake its sleek Art Deco architecture, the red glow of the marquee, and the buttery aroma of their legendary popcorn wafting down East Tioga Street. From family movie nights to first dates, this historic four-screen theater is full of memories and nostalgia that you’ll just never find at a movie theater at the mall.
Yet, the Dietrich offers so much more than the movies. As a nonprofit, they also host countless educational programs, art classes, and community events.
Twenty Years of Fine Films
Although you can always catch the latest blockbusters, the Dietrich is also well-known for their seasonal film festivals. Each festival is three weeks long and typically features 21 independent and foreign films (perfect for watching a different movie every day).
Fall 2023 will mark the twentieth anniversary of the film festivals.
“We started them to bring a different kind of film offering to our community,” explained Erica Rogler, executive director. “Over the years, we’ve definitely cultivated an audience. The Dietrich is now a destination for independent and foreign films. I like to think of it as the Sundance on the Susquehanna.”
Normally, film buffs would have to go to an art house theater to see many of these films. However, viewers from near and far come to the Dietrich to experience the movies in a beautiful, historic community.
“We get people from Long Island and Philadelphia,” noted Rogler. “They have these film offerings in their own cities, but they love to come to the Endless Mountains and make a weekend of it. We treasure that.”
Every film festival kicks off with an opening night gala, which features two films and an abundance of local snacks, wine, and beer. A few years ago, the Dietrich also added a free preview day, where viewers can watch the trailers and plan which movies they want to see.
Arts for All Ages
Beyond the big screen, the Wyoming County Cultural Center at the Dietrich Theater is also a local hub for the arts and education.
“Since day one, the mission has always been to use the money from the movies to support cultural programming for all ages,” said Rogler.
The theater is truly a home for the arts with studios, galleries, performance space, and more. As soon as you walk into the lobby, you’re greeted with local artwork and historical exhibits. Even the building—adorned with murals of Vosburg Neck and the Tunkhannock Creek Viaduct—is a work of art in itself.
The Dietrich hosts a variety of classes, events, lectures, and exhibits that are equal parts enriching and entertaining.
“We have lots of different art classes and health and wellness classes for all ages. We also have events to bring the community together,” said Mary Turner, assistant cultural director.
At the Dietrich, you can learn everything from pottery and jewelry making to yoga and qigong. Their children’s programming is especially robust, ranging from preschool art classes to summer drama camps for tweens and teens. They even coordinate community events like the annual River Day, a celebration of nature, music, and family fun at Tunkhannock’s Riverside Park.
Plan Your Visit
Whether you come for a show or attend an event, you’ll quickly see why the Wyoming County Cultural Center at the Dietrich Theater is a local favorite.
“I always say it’s the heart of the community,” said Turner. “It really feels like home. People feel comfortable here. They enjoy coming here. It just feels lively.”
The Dietrich Theater is open 365 days a year at 60 East Tioga Street in Tunkhannock. For a full schedule of movies, classes, and events, visit www.dietrichtheater.com or follow them on Facebook @wyomingcountyculturalcenter. You can also reach them by phone at 570-836-1022.
Photos provided by the Wyoming County Cultural Center at the Dietrich Theater.