David LeVan ’68 wasn’t unlike many other children. He would sprint to the outskirts of his family’s lawn in Gettysburg, adorned in his favorite—albeit oversized—cowboy hat, and dream of his moment to save the day.
Loyalty, honor, and a steady hand in times of uncertainty—these were the attributes that defined his silver screen heroes, icons like John Wayne and Gary Cooper who lifted his spirit and captivated the imagination of friends and neighbors at the Majestic Theater.
“I have so many great memories of the Majestic from a very early age,” LeVan reflected. “As a kid, the Majestic was the heart of entertainment. I’d go there with my parents and older sister. They played Disney shows, nature shows, animated shows, and of course Westerns—Westerns were huge at the time.”
The grandeur of the Majestic—its lights, curtains, and enchanting marquee—left a lasting impression on LeVan. It was a place for excitement, a place for family.
When he returned to Gettysburg many years later, however, LeVan discovered that the Majestic no longer resembled the theater he remembered. It was weathered, worn, and itself in need of saving.
“It was almost depressing to see it in the condition it was in,” lamented LeVan, who built a successful career over 30 years in the railroad industry, ultimately ascending to CEO of Conrail, before returning to his hometown in 1998. “The Majestic was such a special place to me, and to see how it had deteriorated was really difficult.”
LeVan—Gettysburg College’s Chair of the Board at the time—and the College’s 12th President Gordon Haaland soon began to brainstorm strategies to bring the Majestic back to prominence.
“Gordon recognized the Majestic’s potential as a performing arts center,” said LeVan. “I understood the price tag for a restoration like this would be steep, but I also saw it as a great opportunity for us to create a stronger bond between the College and the town.”
Haaland shared that the College would provide much-needed capital support for the project, but in order for the endeavor to truly be successful, it would require a resilient and dynamic Gettysburgian at the helm—and he had one specific alumnus in mind.
“That’s when the ask came,” LeVan declared with a laugh.
“I had recently started Battlefield Harley-Davidson in Gettysburg, and I felt given my leadership role in town and at the College, I was the best person to lead this campaign.”
Inspired by LeVan’s lead gift and vision for the Majestic, generous donors within the community and across the state rallied to resurrect the theater through a bold 16-month, $16.5 million restoration project in 2004 and 2005.
Today, the Majestic Theater—owned and operated by Gettysburg College—is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places; serves as the rehearsal and performance home for the Sunderman Conservatory of Music’s orchestra and wind ensembles; and presents a live celebrity series with acclaimed performers from around the world, as well as award-winning independent films in its two nightly cinemas. In fact, the League of Historic American Theatres has cited the Majestic as a national model for small-town college and community partnerships.
And at any given performance, you’ll find LeVan seated in his favorite spot—first row, center balcony.
“Every time I walk through these doors, I feel a sense of pride in the role I played for the Majestic Theater,” he said, citing both the artistic and economic impact it has had on the community. “It is really one of the top five endeavors I have ever undertaken.”
100 Years and Beyond
On November 13, 2017—the eve of the Majestic’s 92nd birthday—Gettysburg College alumni, donors, and friends gathered for an exclusive evening together to celebrate the legacy of the Majestic Theater, as well as prepare for the future.
The event—underwritten by LeVan and featuring a keynote address by Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts—focused on the Centennial Endowment Campaign, a multimillion-dollar fundraising effort aimed at creating an endowment to expand and diversify its programming. These funds will ensure Majestic programming remains as entertaining and relevant for future generations.
“In many ways, the Majestic Theater is the cultural heartbeat of our historic town—and really all of south-central Pennsylvania,” said Gettysburg College President Janet Morgan Riggs ’77 before the crowd in attendance. “It’s up to all of us to ensure that it keeps beating strong for years to come.”
“The arts are what enriches people’s lives. Singing, acting, dancing—we have a responsibility to expose a new generation to the arts. I think that is critically important,” he said.
“That’s why this endowment is essential to the future of our Majestic Theater. It will provide the kind of security that will allow us to take risks in our programming into the future and showcase many art forms here in Gettysburg.”
For information about how you can support the Majestic, please contact 717.337.8237.