From the Ken-Ton Bee: In 1926, the Wurlitzer organ was the heartbeat of sound as a silent film played at the downtown theatre in North Tonawanda.
The theatre, which was first called — and spelled — the Twin Cities Rivera, held its opening night on Dec. 30 of that year.
“And with that opening came the installation of the Wurlitzer,” said Neil Lange, who has been on the board of directors since 1985. “In 1926, there were only silent films; there was no sound that came along with movies. “That didn’t happen ’til the following year. [In] 1927, “The Jazz Singer” was released, which had some talking in it.”
November 30, 2016
From The Providence Journal: The Rhode Island Division of Taxation has approved a $3.1 million in state historic preservation tax credits for the renovation of the Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center at 19 Touro St. in Newport.
According to the agreement, the renovation is expected to cost $14.5 million and is scheduled for completion in 2018. The tax credits are awarded after work is completed.
The theater was built in 1867 and was originally a four-story building with a mansard roof, according to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. The fourth floor was removed in 1957 after a fire at the building next door.
November 29, 2016
From the Sonoma News: Sonoma filmgoers can look forward to sequels, spinoffs and retro classics for years to come at the Sebastiani Theatre on the Plaza. At the Sonoma City Council meeting on Nov. 21, the City of Sonoma and the foundation that operates the theater entered into a 25-year lease with the owners of the building, with an option for an additional 25 years.
The five-member Council approved the lease agreement unanimously.
“We’ve worked for five years on this,” said Darryl Bellach, president of the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation, adding the 50-year commitment “will allow the efforts of the Foundation, and the City, and all of those involved to shepherd the theater into the foreseeable future.”
Since 2011, the City has been renting the 84-year-old movie palace from Oakland-based Sebastiani Building Investors, then subleasing it at a lower price to the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation, which operates the facility.
Under that model the rent for the theater increased against the Consumer Price Index, a sometimes volatile measure that sent rental rates up to its current $5,426 per month. In 1986 when the City started leasing the building, the rate was $3,000 monthly. The new lease holds annual rent increases to a predictable 2 percent.
Longtime theater manager Roger Rhoten spoke at the Monday meeting about his 25 years at the Sebastiani. “We want to keep and maintain the theater for future generations,” said Rhoten, who described the lease as the start of a “new era.”
“We want to improve the theater top to bottom and bring new and exciting programming to the theater.”
The City was also granted the right of first refusal in the event of the theater being sold, an added assurance that Sonoma will maintain some degree of control over the fate and use of the historic building. The Art Deco structure dominates the Plaza on First Street East, and was the last theater designed by noted Bay Area architect James W. Reid, who with his brother, designed many of Northern California’s most luxurious movie theaters as well as hotels and other large buildings.
Key to the new agreement is the condition that the theater must be upgraded to Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance, which pleased Jeanne Allen. “For 16 years I’ve been going to the Sebastiani for movies and events – and for 16 years I haven’t been able to use the bathroom,” said Allen, creator of the regional Incredible Accessible guides.
Allen added that it would take more than providing bathroom access to bring the theater into ADA compliance: a ramp or lift is needed to provide access to the stage, 1 percent of the seating must have companion seating, and another 1 percent must be aisle seats with no arm rests or, at least, folding armrests.
“It’s important that an active wheelchair user be involved in the design,” urged Allen, who volunteered to be that person.
Attaining ADA compliance has been a major stumbling block en route to getting a food and beverage license, as the model of serving wine or beer with movies has become increasingly popular in recent years. Such an upgrade is planned for the Sonoma Cinemas, at the recently-sold Fiesta Plaza on Sonoma Highway.
“It’s a big thing in movie theaters these days,” Rhoten has said. “If I could, I’d have done it a long time ago.”
From The Hololulu Civil Beat: The Queen Theater’s neon marquee has been dark for years, its double doors shuttered.
Some people would love to see the venerable Kaimuki venue reopen for live shows or classes and have even formed a Friends of Queen Theater organization.
But the theater’s reclusive owner, Narciso Yu Jr., is said to be reluctant to sell the space.
Once a neighborhood anchor at the corner of Waialae Avenue and Center Street, the Queen is now the quietest building on the lively block.
In bygone decades, it screened Disney cartoons, surf films and porn flicks, and its history is as quirky as Kaimuki’s business district.
November 23, 2016
From WRTI.org: Since it opened its doors in 1913, the Apollo Theater has survived a series of iterations, closures, renovations, and shifts in direction. Its allure as a venue for jazz began in the 1930s with the debut of Jazz a la Carte, a show with an all-black cast.
Soon after, the famous talent contest Amateur Night took off, with Ella Fitzgerald as an early winner on November 21, 1934. She was just 17.
He sought relief in the shade near a stage door of the theater on 125th Street. Then the owner spotted him.
The man who first opened the door for Apollo historian and tour guide Billy Mitchell was Frank Schiffman. Starting in the ‘30s, Schiffman played a key role in transforming the theater from its first life as an all-white (performers and audience, alike) burlesque house, to the renowned venue for jazz and popular African American performers.
Billy Mitchell leads tours of the Apollo for hundreds of thousands of people who come to get closer to its remarkable past and present. He was recently in Philadelphia to speak at the University of Pennsylvania. WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston sat down with him at Penn to learn about his fascinating start, his take on amateur night, and his backstage experiences.
November 21, 2016
From kivitv.com: A key piece of downtown Nampa’s revitalization is still ahead with a new effort to restore the historic Pix Theatre. With the brand new public library right across the street, the foundation’s new executive director says the timing is right.
But, let’s rewind for a moment. Imagine life without tv and radio on its way out. Seeing movies on the big screen was a part of people’s lives.
Plus, there were plenty of perks.
“A bag of popcorn, pop, a movie, it was all for less than a dollar,” said Debbie Lasher-Hardy, executive director for the Pix Anew foundation.
Lasher-Hardy is the Pix Theatre foundation’s new executive director. It’s called Pix Anew. She wants to bring the historic movie house back to life.
The last movie played on the big screen in 1999. Amid an effort to restore the theatre, the roof collapsed in 2003. All funds raised to date were poured into replacing the roof and removing asbestos from the premise.
Looking at it today, you’d never know it was one of three theaters that were frequented in downtown Nampa back in the day.
From abc30.com: Police are looking for the suspects who vandalized the historic Warnors Theatre in downtown Fresno.
Owners arrived Sunday to find broken glass in front of the theatre and box office. The glass is virtually irreplaceable because of its original etching that dates back to the 1920s.
It’s the second time that the booth’s glass has been shattered in the theatre’s history.
“That’s what’s so heartbreaking it’s just no respect or care for other people’s property or of anything that’s of significance or historic value,” Sally Caglia with the theatre said. “To some people, it just doesn’t mean anything, and that just breaks my heart.”
November 18, 2016
A massive fire appears to have caused extensive damage to a Montreal building famous for having housed Canada’s first-ever movie theatre.
Fire crews responded to the blaze at 974 St. Laurent Blvd. on Thursday morning but were forced simply to contain the inferno and prevent it from spreading to other buildings in Montreal’s Chinatown district.
What started out as thick black smoke quickly turned into hot, bright orange flames licking out the windows and eventually breaking through the building’s roof. Shortly before noon, a brick wall crumbled and fell under the intensity of the fire. It was followed by a loud boom from an unknown source.
As fire crews trained their hoses on the blaze, a white smoke filled the skies above downtown Montreal, forceing many passersby to cover their mouths and noses.
The commercial building, known as Edifice Robillard, is a designated heritage site.
“It’s a four-storey commercial building whose fame is well hidden — that of housing the first interior cinematographic projection in Montreal on June 27, 1896,” reads an article published by the City of Montreal about the building’s historical importance.
From The Ephrata Review: Ephrata Main Theater owner Steve Brown understands that movie studios these days would like to release straight-to-home movies and even run movies exclusively in bigger markets.
“I mean with Netflix and all these things, the national trend is down overall for all movie houses,” he said.
And that, coupled with Hollywood’s 64 percent cut on all ticket sales, is the first part of the equation that leaves Steve and his wife Karen Brown at a crossroads for the future of their movie theater business.
He realizes that people are particular how they spend their money and “want blockbusters, good plots and good stories and entertainment.”
But the challenge is more specific to the Ephrata Main survival, one of the last remaining small-town, two-screen, theater gems “that are disappearing one after another.”
The Main had been averaging around 30,000 customers annually when the Browns financed a $125,000 digital conversion three years ago that included two projectors and software.
Ticket sales last year dipped to about 22,000 and revenue, from $8 admission tickets, has fallen short of the cost of financing the digital conversion which has three years left to pay off.
“The film companies got the savings when we converted from film to digital but we’re the one who got the added expense,” Karen Brown said.
Maintenance on the new digital equipment is cost prohibitive compared to film as the Browns recently replaced a pair of projector bulbs at a cost of $2,500 each.
Brown said he hoped to come to an understanding with the local community if it’s interested in maintaining the Main.
“I was very, very adamant three years ago coming to the community saying ‘I know how to do this, I can do this, but you’ve got to keep coming,” he said.
The Browns presented a $130,000 loan plan to his bank and accountants based on 30,000 annual tickets sales and a $2 price hike from $6 to $8.
“If ticket sales had stayed the same, we would not be having this conversation,” said Steve Brown. “The problem is admissions were down from 30,000 to 22,000 last year and this year is not over but they’re down again this year.”
The Browns in the past have used revenues from its other business, Lily’s Restaurant, to offset the Main losses. But Lily’s, which was established 19 years ago, can no longer cover those costs,” he said.
That leaves only one “very quick solution” to keep the Main open alive, and that is to get the admission up to 30,000 a year,” Steve Brown said. “To get there, customers can’t see just The Hunger Games and Star Wars, you can’t just see two movies per year. It doesn’t work.”
The Browns say Ephrata Borough and Downtown Ephrata Inc. have been very supportive and sincerely want the Main to continue in operation. The building, which houses both Lily’s and the theater, is leased to the Browns by Windstream.
Borough Councilwoman Susan Rowe, the Council Liaison to the DEI Board, said hope may be on the way and that some new initiatives may be available soon.
Meanwhile, the borough cannot use taxpayers funds to support a business, she said.
“That does not mean the volunteers that sit on council are not supportive of the businesses in the borough, including the Ephrata Main Theater,” Rowe said. “The borough had initiated a restricted Economic Development Fund a few years ago with a clear plan for seed money for the fund and methodology to keep the fund balance healthy. The borough council recently hired a consultant…to assist the three main non-profit groups.”
One other possible solution for the Main would be to sell on-screen business commercials which they offer for an annual fee of $2,500.
“If we were to sell 10 ads per year it would pay the (lease) on the projectors” Karen Brown said.
So far, Windstream is the only local business to step up to purchase an ad.
The Browns, who began operating the theater in 2010, remain committed to bringing first-run movies to the theater. They’ve also offered live theater, music, concerts and special events are performed on stage.
Concessions at the Main offer reasonable prices, such as a kids snack pack with popcorn, soda and candy for $6. Popcorn was $4 and up, nachos were also $4. A big soft pretzel was $3. There were all the usual sodas, along with French sodas with fresh fruit flavors.
But what is truly unique about the Main is a “grownups” menu offering a glass of wine, including a selection of chardonnay, pinot grigio, rose and claret. There are also cocktails, like frozen Fifty Shades of Grey Goose, strawberry Margarita and frozen Manhattan.
Steve, who is chef and manager at Lily’s on Main, selects the wines and comes up with cocktail ideas. The theater has also been a staple for Ephrata High School grads who attend the schools after prom there.
The ambiance of the Main harkens back to 1938, when the Main Theater opened at 124 E. Main St. It was owned and operated by the Stiefel Brothers Roxy Theater Circuit. By the 1980s, the glorious Theater was a fading star, showing second-run movies. Worn and dilapidated, it closed in May 1990.
But there was hope. The Theater building was purchased by the local Denver and Ephrata Telephone Company. Engineers determined that renovating the theater would not be possible. A new theater was included in plans for the new Brossman Business Complex. Many of architectural and design features were preserved. In November 1993, the Main Twin Theater reopened. One Theater was called the Grand with a stage for live presentations, while the other is the Roxy, both named after former Ephrata theaters.
Steve admitted he hears a common complaint that customers want wider seats and cup holders.
“These seats have the original monogrammed gold-leaf seat frames,” he said. “If I alter those and start drilling into the wood, people are going to get mad at me.”
The theater also maintains its red and gold theme, giving the feeling of the gilded age of movies with a modern vibe. The neon wall lights in the original Theater were restored and are used in the two new theaters.
The Browns say they want to continue the tradition established over the years. But that may require some thinking outside the box.
“We’ve open up for free on Black Friday when Santa comes to town with (movies) ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and the ‘Grinch’,” Brown said. Maybe it’s time we maybe want to pass the hat or something.”
November 16, 2016
It starts with an email.
Would you find out what happened to the time capsule buried near the box office of the old Terrace Theatre at Friendly Center?
The theater, torn down to pave the way for a Macaroni Grill in 2002, long had been a favorite haunt of his, Mike Evans says. A 10-minute walk from home, he went there often as a child. He saw “2001: A Space Odyssey” three times there.
The theater opened on Christmas Day 1966 with Walt Disney’s “Follow Me Boys,” according to a Greensboro Daily News article that year. Earlier that month, community members buried the time capsule, which would be opened in 50 years.
“It’s just something that I have thought about on occasion,” says Evans, who was 7 when the theater opened. “I realized that this was the year — 50 years.”
So our quest begins.
We start with Brad Rogers, general manager at the Friendly Center.
Do you know whatever happened to the time capsule?
It’s not here, Rogers tells us. The owners took it with them to their new theater when the Terrace was razed.
“It was a big deal in the community when it happened,” Rogers says.
He recommends calling the former Terrace owners.
So we do. Nina Bennett, daughter-in-law to the late local indie movie theater icon Dr. Hugh Hammond “Ham” Bennett Jr., remembers the time capsule well.
They got calls about it all the time, she says.
The Bennett family owned the Terrace for the last 13 years it operated. The six-screen cinema closed in April 2000, losing a battle with age and competition — Consolidated Theatre’s 16-screen The Grand opened at Friendly Center in March that year.
When the Terrace was torn down to make room for the Macaroni Grill, the family took the time capsule to their new theater on Battleground Avenue, Bennett says. The family operated a series of theaters through their company, Janus Theaters.
“When we left Friendly, Friendly said they were getting calls about the time capsule,” Nina Bennett recalls. “They said come and get it. We went over there and dug it up.”
It ended up at the Bennetts’ new theater, the Carousel Luxury Cinemas, which opened in 1999.
They didn’t bury it again, Bennett says. Best she recalls, it was still in the theater somewhere.
However, the Bennetts sold the Carousel in 2014.
We follow the trail again, this time to developer Marty Kotis, who bought the Carousel and rebranded it RED Cinemas as part of his “restaurant entertainment district.”
The idea of that history just lying around intrigues Kotis, who sets out to search the theater.
In a projection room they find the time capsule and plaque — the one Evans stared at every time he stood in line to get his ticket at the Terrace.
“It’s been sitting back here for about 16 years,” says Jake Murphy, director of theater operations for RED Cinemas. “It’s still buried in a sense.”
Kotis says they’ll open the time capsule in a special ceremony on the planned date. In the meantime, it will be placed in a display case in the theater’s lobby.
“People love the nostalgia stuff,” he says.
So what’s in the time capsule? We know some of the items from news reports at the time. But we’re not saying for a very good reason — a free movie and meal are on the line.
RED Cinemas wants folks to guess what history got buried 50 years ago. You get to submit five answers. A right answer wins a free movie ticket. Get the most right and it’s dinner and a movie — on the house. (Kotis’ company owns the restaurant next door, the Traveled Farmer, which is expected to open the second week of November.)
The theater also plans to collect items for a new time capsule to be buried somewhere on the RED Cinemas property on Dec. 7. Suggest something they like and you can add to the treasures some future Greensboro residents will unearth in 50 years. (Murphy’s thinking he’ll offer an iPad. “So someone is going to say, ‘That’s how they used to communicate with each other?’”) Send suggestions to RED Cinemas on Facebook.
But first comes the opening of the 1966 time capsule.
Bennett believes children may have been invited to place items inside. She thinks water might have gotten into it before they unearthed the capsule.
Who knows what it will contain after five decades.
Evans wants to be first in line.
“I was hoping that it was there because I want to be there when it’s opened,” he says. “I was 7, so I was hoping I’d still be alive.”