Harkins is synonymous with movie theaters in several southwestern states. The Harkins Valley Art Theater has been a part of Tempe for 70 years, and is an icon of the downtown area. Originally called the College Theater, it was constructed in 1938 by Dwight "Red" Harkins. This was Harkins' third theater in Tempe. He opened his first theater, the State Theater, in 1933 on Fifth Street, and operated an unsuccessful outdoor theater for one year in 1934. The College Theater was a successful expansion of Harkins' theater operations in 1938. Later, Harkins and his son, Dan Harkins, expanded their theater operations across the Salt River Valley. The building is importantly associated with Depression-era business in Tempe. Entertainment was one of the few areas that were economically successful during the Depression. Also, the theater contained new innovations such as glow in the dark carpet, headphones for the hearing impaired, and automatic drinking fountains.
The Harkins Valley Art building is significant as the only Depression-era theater constructed in Tempe. Virtually intact, it provides a positive contribution to the historic character of the streetscape along Mill Avenue. Character-defining elements include the wood frame movie poster cases and freestanding ticket booth.