When he was just 25 years old, Dwight “Red” Harkins founded Harkins Theatres and built the College Theatre in 1940 at the tail-end of the Great Depression. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Harkins was bound for Hollywood, with dreams of becoming an actor. He never made it past Tempe, Arizona. In 1933, he built the State Theater located on Fifth Street, just blocks away from the Valley Theater. Red Harkins also invented the FM multiplex radio and ran Phoenix’s second television station, Channel 12. Harkins Theatres now owns and runs 30 different theaters in the Southwestern United States, including theaters in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas.
The College Theatre is unique because it is the only single-screen motion picture auditorium left in the Valley. The theater reminds Tempe of the successful entertainment industry of the Depression era. In its heyday, the College Theatre used cutting edge technology, including glow-in-the-dark carpeting, headphones for the hearing impaired, and even electronically controlled drinking fountains.
"The theater is the last remaining single-screen motion picture auditorium in the Valley of the Sun. It opened as the College Theater in 1940, named for its close proximity to Arizona State University, then Arizona State Teachers College. Owned and operated by Dwight Harkins, it was his third theater in Tempe. A successful expansion of Harkins' theater operations, the building is importantly associated with Depression-era business in Tempe." (Tempe Preservation, Mill Ave Tour)