(Lindenwold, NJ) – On Tuesday, Camden County honored legendary film director Steven Spielberg in a historical placard ceremony at the site of the former Westmont Theater. It is believed that the theater, located about four blocks from his elementary school, is where his passion for cinema first began after watching several films in his early years.
The ceremony is part of the county’s ongoing efforts to preserve its rich history with the installation of historical markers at iconic locations from Camden City to Winslow Township. So far, the county has erected markers near the former home of American Poet Walt Whitman in Camden and
at the Merchantville Country Club, in honor of John McDermott, the first American to win the U.S. Open, and the first head professional at the club.
Spielberg’s father, Arnold, was an electrical engineer that worked for RCA in Camden City in the 1950s. The family lived in Haddon Township prior to moving to Phoenix in 1957.
Spielberg’s newest Oscar contender, “The Fabelmans” is a fictionalized version of Spielberg’s own childhood and young adulthood that recreates his experience at the Westmont Theater and shows how his time in New Jersey during the 1950s set the stage for his illustrious career in film.
“The Westmont Theater is an iconic location here in Camden County that has played a part in so many of our childhoods, including that of Steven Spielberg,” said Commissioner Director Louis Cappelli Jr. “We wanted to honor Spielberg and his connection to South Jersey by installing a commemorative placard at the site where the Westmont Theater once stood.”
Spielberg’s connection to Haddon Township runs deeper than the Westmont Theater. The family lived at 267 Crystal Lake Terrace in Haddon Township and during his time here, Steven was an avid cub scout, he even made large donations to the scouts later in life based on his experience in his Haddon Township troop.
The family was part of the Beth El congregation in Haddon Heights and Steven attended Thomas Edison Elementary School on Melrose Avenue, which was referenced by Tom Hanks’ character in Saving Private Ryan.
Spielberg is one of the most renowned directors in Hollywood who wrote, directed and produced some of the best-known movie franchises in all of cinema. The films span from Jaws and Indiana Jones to Saving Private Ryan and Lincoln. His portfolio of movies has grossed more than $10 billion over the last almost 50 years.
The Westmont Theater opened in September 1927, originally showing silent films, and featuring performances from a 120-piece orchestra every Sunday. It went through several private owners throughout its operation but was purchased by the township in 2000 for $250,000.
“I want to commend the Commissioners for continuing their efforts to preserve our rich history in Haddon Township for perpetuity with the historical marker program,” said Haddon Township Mayor Randall Teague. “Spielberg was a Haddon Township resident and as one of the most prolific writers, directors and producers in film we want to honor his legacy, but also lay claim to his formative years that shaped him into the person he is today.”
The Westmont Theatre was listed on the New Jersey Registry of Historic Places on July 8, 2010, but just six years later was converted into a Planet Fitness.