Center Theatre

The interior of the Center Theatre

The Center Theatre is an art deco theater that was designed by architect Abraham H. Okun and built in 1938. Okun was a prominent local architect at the time, known for many other buildings in the county (such as the Ohave Shalom Synagogue). Located in the hamlet of Woodbourne, NY in the Borscht Belt (an area of the Catskills known for being a popular vacation spot for Jewish people from the New York metropolitan area), it was the first air-conditioned theater in Sullivan county.

View of the Center Theatre from the stage

The theater was built for both film showings and vaudeville performances. The auditorium was the largest in the area with 650 seats, and was used for area high school graduations in the 40’s and 50’s.  In the early 1970’s a group of people that was attracted to the region due to it’s proximity to the Woodstock Music Festival site rented the theater. They reopened it as the Peace Palace (complete with a “natural” snack bar) and hosted live musical performances. A large mural known as the “Woodstock Peace Painting” was painted above the foyer. The painting combines both the art deco style of the original construction and the popular psychedelic art of the early 70’s.

Part of the mural in the lobby area

The theater fell victim to the decline of the Borscht Belt and closed in the 1980’s. In 2001, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. There were plans to renovate the theater in the mid 2000’s, but there has been no additional work done since 2005.

The ceiling of the Center Theatre

The exterior of the Center Theatre


17 thoughts on “Center Theatre

  1. These photos are extremely painful for me to see. This place was SO MUCH a part of my summers between 1943–1950. I was close friends to a buddy who worked there…..and, at night, we hung out at this once magnificent little place well after the movie ended and the crowd was gone. We also had the pleasure of coming in early the next morning to clean up the popcorn boxes, the candy wrappers, the soda cups and whatever else the crowd had left behind from the night before.
    Over the years, for old time’s sake, I revisited Woodbourne many times. I was distressed by what I saw on the outside of this “little palace” and wondered about what could possibly have happened inside. Now I know…..and I cry.

  2. Hello from Australia, I like R.Levy cry at the disgrace. I am a former Page Boy, then Film Projectionist and now a Filmmaker.
    I was there when our wonderful palace the Regent Theatre in Melbourne was burnt down and I cried for 3 days.
    Thank you again Mr.Levy. My empathy is indeed with you.

    Thomas Knight. ACA. ALC. AFFPA.
    Wintergarden Films (Aust)

  3. Thanks to you R Levy. My family, the Wilkenfelds were residents of Woodbourne from before the turn of the century and owned the grocery store on the other side of town. As a kid in the 1940’s, I saw many films at the Center, which we considered a local version of Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan. This theater was the pride of Woodbourne and the most beautiful theater in that part of the Catskills. The Rialto in South Fallsburg that was older was another showplace. I have not seen the interior of the Center since 1948 when my grandparents moved out west. It is heartbreaking to see how this once art-deco gem has deteriorated. It is good to know that it’s friends are spread as far as Australia. I have so many wonderful memories of spending my early years in Woodbourne and seeing some of the great film classics at the Center. I plan to drive up with my daughter who has an interest in seeing some of my past.
    If only I had the $$$$ to restore this gem, but I am grateful that is listed in the historic registry.

  4. Hello all. I acquired the murals from the Center Theatre after someone else bought them at an auction of the interior of the theatre many years ago. I would love to know if anybody knows anything about them? I believe them to be made by Ezra Winter who created the mural at Radio City Music Hall. It is hand painted velvet and they lined the sides of the movie theatre, measuring 28 feet high and 18 feet wide. I had them displayed in a loft in the New York for many years but sadly they are now folded up and waiting for their next display. I would build a house or gallery if I could just to display these Art Deco Masterpieces. Anybody having any comments would be greatly shared.

    • Jerry – I did some quick checking (including the NRHP form for the Center Theatre) and couldn’t find any more information about the murals. Do you happen to have any photographs of them?

      • hello Matt, sorry I didn’t pick this email up earlier. Yes I do have photos of the murals from my own apt but do not have anything from the theatre originally. Do you know anything about them?

        Send me your email and I will send you photos.
        Jerry Weinstein

    • I performed there in 1972, when it had become The Peace Palace. Two suggestions: try having them displayed at the Sullivan County Historical Society in Hurleyville, NY. Also in Hurleyville is the new Hurleyville Arts Center which has a state of the art movie theater and features works of art in their lobby. As your murals are relevant to the area movie theatre scene, they may be interested in looking at them. Erin Dudley is the contact there–Google HAC to find contact info. And, as it was once called The PEACE Palace, there might be some synergy with the Museum at Bethel Woods, site of the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969. I have contacts there if you’d want to give it a try.

  5. I remember the Center theater from way back in 1953. We called it the Woodbourne Theater. Nothing lasts forever, even people.

    There was a restaurant just over the Neversink River that served the most delicious pizza that I’ve ever tasted.

  6. I remember that most every summer in the late 40’s and 50’s there was a revival of Gone With The Wind.

    We spent summers at Frank’s Villa in Woodbourne and on rainy days there would be 15-17 kids piled into Mr. Frank’s big brown car with running boards. A layer of kids would sit,then another layer on laps and the last layer standing in that huge old car. Looked like a clown car when we all got out to go to the movies.

  7. Reading about the Peace Palace wishes I had the money to restore it.
    I lived in upstate Ny in the early 70s. (from the Hudson River Valley originally)
    One of my favorite places was The Peace Palace.
    It had great food,…Hagen Das Ice Cream and good cakes…coffee, tea and great films…and atmosphere…
    Truly -some organization NEEDS to buy it and turn it into a theatre again.
    I saw so many good movies …”They Shoot Horses ,Don’t They”
    All night Marx Brothers movies, Fritz The Cat,..and on and on..
    Bring some good vibes and culture back to Woodbourne!!!!

  8. I’m researching a band that I belonged to (Total Crudd); we had a gig at what was then the Peace Palace, year 1971 or 1972. It was the first time we got to see our name on a marquee. The event consisted of a movie (“War of the Worlds”, I believe), and then our set. Parker Gambino

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  10. My late husband, Michael Clemmons ran the Peace Palace in the 70’s and showed avant garde films, hosted concerts such as America, and had one of the first health bars inside of a theatre. Andy Warhol bought the tapestries or banners that adorned the theatre and Michael helped Andy make some film footage. I remember the chrome peace symbol doors that graced the entrance and I still own the original stock certificate. It became one of the iconic landmarks of the era.

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  12. When I was in the kitchen crew at the Campbell Inn in Roscoe, we went to the Peace Palace to see “Freaks” and “Pink Flamingos”. I wish I still had the poster.

  13. I was only 2 years old in 1938 and throughout the 40’s I watched many movies at the Center. My grandparent lived in Woodbourne and I spent vacations with them. The interior was very 1930’s and some said it was patterned after Radio Center Music Hall.
    A few years ago, I visited the town and was able gain access to the inside. Unfortunately there is nothing left, just littered empty space except for some glass bricks from the border as you enter the seating area. The sign outside claims that the building will be rehabilitated as a meeting hall

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