College (Valley Art) Theater

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 operates over 30 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)


Valley Art Projectionist, ca. 1977
Valley Art Projectionist, ca. 1977 A projectionist in 1977 in the Valley Art Theatre adjusts the film for movie viewers. Photo courtesy of Tempe History Museum. Source: Cameras Rolling - Tempe Daily News 12/28/1977, December 28, 1977. 2001.19.2303. Tempe History Museum.
Valley Art Theatre, ca. 1972
Valley Art Theatre, ca. 1972 The Valley Art Theatre has been popular since its inception during the Great Depression. Here is the theater pictured in 1972. Photo courtesy of Tempe History Museum. Creator: Valley Art Theatre - 509 South Mill Avenue, Tempe, Arizona, September 28, 1972. 1992.2.2115. Tempe History Museum.



Thomas Black, “College (Valley Art) Theater,” Salt River Stories, accessed May 23, 2024,