September 16, 2016
From the Wichita Eagle: They were going to tear it down and replace it with a parking lot.
You’ll read that on the timeline of many historic downtown theaters across the United States, including several dozen in Kansas. Thanks to grass-roots efforts to save and preserve the buildings, historic theaters across the state make great road trip destinations, taking you to the cultural core of towns of all sizes, showcasing architecture of a bygone era and providing diverse entertainment, including movies, concerts, comedy shows, plays, ballet, opera, musicals, children’s programming, lectures and conventions.
These theaters were designed and constructed during a time when the building was meant to be part of the show-going experience.
“All of these theaters have a tremendous history, and their beauty takes you back to a different time, a different place,” said Jennifer Allen, past president of Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre and president of the Kansas Historic Theatres Association until she moved to Colorado recently. “It’s a really fun experience to go see a show at a historical theater in any town.”
You can find theaters in all stages of restoration in Kansas. Some are fully restored; for example, Emporia’s Granada Theater or Hutchinson’s Historic Fox Theatre. Some are operating yet continuing restoration efforts, such as Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre or the soon-to-open Burford Theatre in Arkansas City. Others are closed while undergoing restoration, such as the Colonial Fox in Pittsburg, although still offering tours and occasional events.
The approach taken with the 1924 Burford Theatre is a good example of what you can expect when visiting one of the region’s historic theaters. Executive director Ellen Snell said the project involved preserving, restoring and modernizing. For example, they were able to preserve the 92-year-old terrazzo floor in the lobby. There are signs of wear and tear – like the marks from stools used where a soda fountain once stood – but nothing distracting. They restored the orchestra pit and the single stage, which had been removed when the building was converted to a three-screen movie house, and returned the decorative scope of the entire theater to its original Spanish renaissance style. They modernized the bathrooms, concessions areas, audio-visual technology and seating.
Taking a tour, attending an event, shopping at the theater’s gift shop or becoming a patron all support a theater’s renovation efforts and its ongoing operations. Next time you’re in the mood for dinner and a show, check the schedules at these historic theater destinations. Though their calendars are fullest from September through April, they schedule programming year-round and take a something-for-everyone approach.
The Augusta Theatre was built as a movie palace in 1935 and operated by the Bisagno family for 50 years. It was donated to the local arts council in 1989 and has been completely restored to its appearance in 1948, which was the year a full concessions stand was built in the theater’s lobby. The exterior of the two-story art deco building features individual tiles of opaque structural glass and a decorative neon marquee. The colors of interior murals, hand-painted ceiling panels and handmade ornamental plaster designs create an Egyptian appearance.
Volunteers operate the theater, which mostly shows current movies on Saturdays and Sundays. This fall’s schedule also includes children’s theater. Check the schedule at augustahistorictheatre.com.
Burford Theatre (Arkansas City)
The Burford Theatre opened in 1924 as a vaudeville silent-movie house. It was converted to a three-screen movie theater in the mid-1980s and closed in 2004. It was donated to the local arts council, which decided to renovate and restore the space to create the VJ Wilkins Family Center for the Arts at the Burford Theatre. After 12 years of work, including thousands of volunteer hours and $7 million raised through private donations and grants, the Burford is scheduled to reopen this month.
The main auditorium, which seats 350, will be open, but the balcony is not yet finished. While operational, the theater will begin a second restoration phase. Grand opening events are scheduled from Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 and include a theater dedication, an open house, a 1920s-themed party and two performances of the “Burford Follies” featuring Music Theatre Wichita and local talent.
Initial programming is scheduled through December and offers movies, dinner theater, a vaudeville night and jazz performances. For more information, visit the VJ Wilkins Family Center for the Arts at the Burford Theatre page on Facebook or call 620-442-5896.
Emporia Granada Theater
The Emporia Granada Theater opened in 1929 with 1,400 seats, showing movies and hosting live performances before closing in 1982. The theater sat empty and deteriorated until demolition threatened in 1994. Local residents rallied to save the theater, and it reopened in 2007, renovated to its original Spanish Colonial Revival style inside and out and now seating 800.
“One of the things we’re really proud of is the painted ceiling,” said Bryan Williams, executive director since 2012. “When you come in, be sure to walk all the way down to the stage and look back. The ceiling alone took 30 days to sand it back and hand paint it using stencils.” The carpet was specially milled to match a swatch of the original carpet, and there is gold leaf paint in the lobby.
Williams said community support has been strong for programming that includes concerts, comedy shows, movies and dinner movies, and it’s not unusual for events to sell out. Upcoming events include country acts Craig Morgan on Sept. 28, the Charlie Daniels Band on Nov. 6 and Sawyer Brown on Dec. 10. Visit emporiagranada.com for a full schedule.
Hutchinson’s Historic Fox Theater
Hutchinson’s art deco Fox Theatre opened as a movie palace in 1931 and closed in 1985. A local preservation group purchased it in 1990 and reopened it in 1999 after spending $4.5 million to restore it to its 1931 appearance. Josh Davies, executive director, said visitors are intrigued with the intricate decorative moldings; the original light fixtures, including six large chandeliers; and the marquee, the first flashing display of neon in Kansas and now one of the few surviving original and functioning marquees in the country.
Programming includes live entertainment by nationally touring performing artists, Hutchinson Symphony Orchestra performances and a weekend film series shown on a 40-foot-wide screen. Fall concerts include Frankie Avalon on Oct. 8, Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen on Oct. 28 and jazz artist Karrin Allyson on Nov. 17. Visit hutchinsonfox.com for a full schedule.
C.L. Hoover Opera House (Junction City)
In 1882, a section of the newly constructed public hall in Junction City was built as a 600-seat opera house. A fire destroyed the building in 1898, and it was rebuilt the same year; this time the theater had a larger stage and more seats. It operated until 1982, seeing many renovations and eventually becoming a movie theater. The theater remained closed for 26 years, then reopened as the C.L. Hoover Opera House in 2008 after a $7 million restoration.
The exterior looks the same – distinguished by a Romanesque-style clock tower – while the interior layout changed significantly to become a multi-use facility for the local performing arts community in addition to hosting regional and national acts in a 416-seat theater.
Events this fall include a New York touring musical comedy improv, the premiere of a film based on Kansas history and shot nearby and a “Singin’ with the Big Band” concert featuring Christopher Alan Graves. Find a full schedule at jcoperahouse.org.
McPherson Opera House
When the McPherson Opera House opened in 1888 as a live performance venue, it had no equal between Kansas City and Denver, making it a popular stop for acts crossing the country. It was designed with two balconies and seating for 900. It converted to a movie theater with one balcony in 1929 and closed in 1965. A group formed in 1986 to save the building from demolition.
After $8.5 million in renovations, the building is now a fully restored multi-use facility. The 470-seat auditorium reopened in 2010 with 1913-style renovations, when a redecoration added decorative stenciling throughout and a hand-painted mural above the proscenium arch. There’s also a resale shop on-site that benefits the opera house and an arts center with classes and rotating galleries.
McPherson Opera House events this fall include a cappella, opera, cowboy music, jazz and bluegrass. Visit mcphersonoperahouse.org for more information.
Orpheum Theatre (Wichita)
When the Orpheum Theatre opened as a vaudeville theater in downtown Wichita in 1922, it was the first atmospheric theater in the United States.
“An atmospheric theater was a theater with a painted theme that gave you the feeling you were somewhere else. Ours was under a Mediterranean sky,” said Diana Gordon, the Orpheum’s president and chief development officer.
The theater closed in 1976 and was saved from demolition in the mid-1980s. It officially reopened in 2000, and since then, more than $5 million has been raised and invested in the theater. The auditorium, which seats 1,298, has yet to be fully renovated.
The Orpheum hosts more than 100 events each year, and fall is typically its busiest time. In addition to its monthly classic film series, the theater screens films as part of the Tallgrass Film Festival in October. Other upcoming events include Alton Brown on Oct. 6, Elvis Costello on Oct. 8, Boz Scaggs on Oct. 23 and Lewis Black on Nov. 18. See the complete schedule at wichitaorpheum.com.
Stiefel Theatre (Salina)
The Stiefel Theatre opened in downtown Salina in 1931 as the Fox-Watson Theater, an art deco venue that showed mostly movies until it closed in 1987. It remained dark until a nonprofit restoration group began work in 1997 and reopened it in 2003.
The completely renovated theater seats 1,287 and has one of the busiest schedules among the state’s historic venues. Among the Stiefel’s upcoming shows are ZZ Top on Sept. 21; Martina McBride on Sept. 23; an evening of rock, blues and folk with Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite on Oct. 22; humor writer David Sedaris on Oct. 30; and the Goo Goo Dolls on Nov. 7. A full schedule is available at stiefeltheatre.org.
September 15, 2016
From WBUR.org: When you think of widescreen cinema there’s a good chance “Lawrence of Arabia” or “2001: A Space Odyssey” come to mind. They were shot to wow audiences with a picture so enormous it would literally turn heads. From left to right in a jam-packed movie palace, that is, not toward a tiny personal screen.
And unless you’ve seen them in 70 mm — the most robust of all motion picture film formats, popularized in the late ‘50s and '60s to lure people away from TV — you haven’t seen them at all. So says David Kornfeld, the head projectionist at the Somerville Theatre.
“The 70 mm frame is bigger than your iPhone!” Kornfeld points out, referring to the size of the image on a film print. “You should not miss these.”
Both classics will screen in 70 mm along with 14 other films as part of the Somerville’s 70 mm & Widescreen Festival. It’s a first for the theater, as well as the region, and the showings will take place from Friday, Sept. 16 through Sunday, Sept. 25.
Kornfeld is die-hard about film tech history, with a rabid fondness for 70 mm in particular.
“Film stocks, projectors, cameras, lenses, special effects, the history of sound … it goes on and on,” he says. “You will never touch bottom. You can spend a lifetime and still learn something.”
Putting together a festival that celebrates all that widescreen formats can offer has been a dream of his for at least a dozen years. But he didn’t do it alone.
Reviving ‘A Dead Format’
“I’ve worked every theater in Boston. Most don’t exist anymore,” Kornfeld says of a projectionist career that started in 1978 and fizzled out as systems became automated, unions broke down and, in his opinion, quality control disappeared. He says Ian Judge, the Somerville’s director of operations and programmer, pulled him out of retirement in 2004 (about two years after Judge took the reins). They’ve been plotting ways to screen 70 mm ever since.
First they needed projectors. Judge says that Boston Light & Sound helped him track down a pair of Norelco DP-70s from the home of film restorationist Robert Harris about a decade ago. That was the easy part. Tweaking sound capability, including finding and installing processors, was far more complicated. As an example, there are 10 different sound formats for 70 mm alone.
Judge recalls that naysayers told him, “This is pointless, you’ll never find prints to run, it’s a dead format.” Last year, the Somerville ran several 70 mm screenings to troubleshoot glitches and now, Judge says, “We can run virtually every format ever made with rare exceptions.”
While shooting films on 70 mm became less common from the ‘80s onward, there are still many titles that were blown up to 70 mm for a better picture and six-track magnetic sound. “Silverado,” Lawrence Kasdan’s 1985 Western that is showing in this year’s festival, is case in point.
From the Dallas Morning News: There was never any doubt that the Dallas City Council would vote Wednesday to designate the 78-year-old Lakewood Theater an official city of Dallas landmark.
“This building is the soul of East Dallas,” said council member Phillip Kingston, whose district includes the former movie palace.
Failing to protect it was never an option.
“This is something you ought to be very proud of as a city,” Landmark Commission chair Katherine Seale said shortly before the council’s 15-0 vote in favor of landmark status for the Lakewood. “I want to applaud all of you.”
The process, which Seale started last year without the owners' consent, wasn’t easy. It took longer than anyone expected and hit a few speed bumps when the owners and city staff spent the first half of this year wrangling over footnote-size details involving parking requirements, roofing materials, exterior remodeling and other minutiae.
But, finally, it’s done — and with the blessings of the Lakewood’s owners, Craig Kinney and Bill Willingham, whose property has been vacant while awaiting the outcome of Wednesday’s vote. Kinney said afterward that he was relieved because now they can begin marketing the building, whose limbo has cost the owners a small fortune in would-be rental revenue, he said.
Kinney said that “at most it would be divided into three spaces,” probably for restaurants that have expressed interest in recent months. He said there could be other uses, but that’s confidential for now: “Don’t want to give competitors any information,” he said on his way out of City Hall.
Preservationists and neighborhood residents first became concerned about the Lakewood Theater’s fate in November 2014, when Kinney and Willingham began touting a major makeover and said the cavernous theater would probably be divvied up into several spaces. The owners maintained that the neon tower would remain.
And, for a while, the neighborhood was content with that. But in August 2015, crews were spotted tossing the Lakewood’s chairs into a dumpster, and word spread that the stage was being ripped out. The owners maintained that it was for asbestos remediation. But Seale and East Dallas residents weren’t satisfied with that answer.
September 14, 2016
From the Los Angeles Times: The iconic Bay Theatre in Seal Beach has sat dark for the past four years, but a Fullerton-based developer with a penchant for historic buildings has recently made it his mission to purchase the venue and rehabilitate it for films, music and the arts.
With the Seal Beach City Council’s vote Monday officially designating the structure as a historic landmark, Paul Dunlap of the Dunlap Property Group is one step closer to breathing life back into the abandoned building. “I personally like preservation and historic buildings,” said Dunlap, who added that he became aware of the art house in early May through friends. “I appreciate the history of the architecture of the area; it helps people have a greater sense of the place.”
Located on Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, the single-screen theater has been a significant gathering spot for locals since it opened in 1947. It featured independent, foreign and classic movies on 35mm film for $8 admission until it closed in 2012. The noticeably large structure stands out among the boutiques and other shops on Main Street.
From the Democrat & Chronicle: The 87-year-old marquee at the Little Theatre was taken down from the front of the historic East Avenue theater Monday. The marquee will get a renovation that addresses not only its appearance, but also its structure and electrical components, said Jim Malley, facilities manager of the theater.
“Safety was a concern,” Malley said. Zoning laws have changed since the marquee was erected around 1929, and the marquee is no longer in compliance with modern-day codes. As a result, the process will require frequent meetings with the city to get approvals. The goal is to have the marquee back up and running in October or November.
The marquee has had a series of changes and improvements throughout its history. The goal of this restoration is to incorporate the best features of the previous versions and add some new touches as well, he said.
From the Albany Herald: Lane Rosen’s not pointing a finger at anyone but himself. He knows he should have followed up on his “informal proposal.”
But when engineers called him recently seeking information about the historic downtown Albany Theatre,under the mistaken assumption that Rosen owns the building, the downtown businessman decided to speak up.
“Look, I want to make it clear that I’m not blaming anyone in this but myself,” Rosen, who unsuccessfully challenged Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard for her seat during the most recent municipal election, said Friday. “I sent out an informal proposal indicating my interest in rehabbing the Albany, but I didn’t really follow up. And I had a few informal discussions with (city commissioner) Roger Marietta and shared my ideas with some of the folks in Planning.
“But I didn’t go through proper channels. So I’m not pointing any fingers. But I honestly thought that by letting people know my interest in that historic building, someone would have at least reached out to see if I was serious. I really thought I’d get a call. But the only call I’ve gotten is from engineers who are apparently in the process of readying the building for demolition.”
And the D-word is not one of Rosen’s favorites.
“I have a love for history, and I have a love for old buildings,” the developer/entertainment manager said. “And I have a five-generations business tie to this community. I don’t know if the driving factor in my desire to try and save that building is familial — my great-great-grandfather built it — or if it’s historic. I guess a little of both.
September 13, 2016
From The Times Union: An ambitious $3 million project to restore the closed American Theater as a first-run movie showcase has won city support for an application for $1 million in state funds.
Bonacio Construction, Bow Tie Cinemas and the city are working together on a plan for modernizing the historic brick theater at 285-289 River St.
The theater project is seen as a catalyst for attracting more people to downtown Troy.
Bow Tie has been successful opening movie theaters in downtown Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, and bringing people from throughout the Capital Region to those cities.
“They’re confident it will do very well as a first-run theater. It’s a great reuse of that site,” said Steven Strichman, the city’s commissioner of planning and community development.
The city is touting the project for a $1 million Restore NY Communities Initiative grant. The City Council voted 9-0 at its September meeting to support the application.
Bringing back the 6,800-square-foot theater has been under consideration for several years; Bow Tie and Bonacio officials discussed it back in 2013. The American Theater has a seating capacity of 450.
The movie theater for many years operated as the Cinema Art Theater showing adult films. The city closed it on March 2, 2006, with police alleging some patrons engaged in sexual acts. The city also removed the marquee on April 13, 2006. In 2012, the city paid Jan DeGroot, the building’s owner, $30,000 to settle his lawsuit about the marquee’s removal.
“We’ve looked at a lot of different possibilities,” Larry Novik, director of business development for Bonacio, said about the building’s future. “Restoring the original use reflects the character of the building.
Bonacio invested $5.9 million to transform the neighboring Dauchey Building at 275-283 River St. from office use into apartments.
The return of a first-run theater is expected to stimulate business downtown.
“It will bring business in. It would be great. It will bring social engagement and social interaction,” said Marla Ortega, chef-owner of the Illium Cafe at 9 Broadway on Monument Square, a short walk from the theater.
Ortega said the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene would benefit from a theater bringing new customers downtown.
“They need another renaissance benefiting downtown,” said Ortega, who compared the movie theater to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, which attracts patrons to restaurants before and after a show.
The city will hold a public hearing on the application for the $1 million grant at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the Planning Department Conference Room in City Hall, 433 River St.
The movie theater project will depend on securing the state grants and other funding, Novik and Strichman said.
From the Desert Sun: The closed Plaza Theater in downtown Palm Springs could be on its way to a full restoration, setting the stage for live performances, film screenings, lectures and other entertainment uses.
That’s the recommendation headed to the City Council from a subcommittee set up to explore how to move forward with establishing a new life for the historic city-owned theater.
“I think it’s an amazing venue. I think we’re truly fortunate to have it. And at the same time I recognize, how do we deal with it?” said City Councilman J.R. Roberts at the subcommittee meeting in mid August.
September 12, 2016
From Curbed.com: At the intersection of 13th Street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s South Loop there stands an art deco building with strong vertical pillars and textbook, streamlined organic ornamentation. No plaque marks the building, and the city’s online database identifies it only as an office building from the 1920s by Graven, A.S.
It’s the only reference to the work of this particular firm in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, a 10-year effort to catalog important buildings. In a city overflowing with iconic, turn-of-the-century skyscrapers and high-rises, it doesn’t draw much attention. But it’s far from the firm’s only work, in the city or elsewhere. A 24-story office building still stands at 100 N. LaSalle Street, festooned with the same ornamentation as its cousin in the South Loop. Another stands nearby at 232 S. Wabash, noted in the survey but unattributed. They’re relics of a firm that had a brief, shining run designing palatial buildings across the country in the early 20th century.
Anker Sverre Graven was the principal of an eponymous architectural firm when it was located at 100 N. LaSalle. He had originally founded a firm with his longtime partner, Arthur Guy Mayger, in 1926, and the pair went on to design a string of fantastic theaters across the United States.
For the most part, their work stands forgotten. If not for the interest of a former colleague, a little luck, and the recent discovery of the firm’s forgotten archives, much of Graven and Mayger’s architectural work might have gone unnoticed, or unrecorded, just more building from the early 20th century by unknown architects that have been lost to time.
From the Salem News: The sale of the Larcom Theatre became official on Friday when a husband and wife from Beverly purchased the landmark venue for $645,000.
The new owners, Donald and Lisa Crowell, plan to continue the theater as a performing arts center, said former owner David Bull.
The Larcom had been on the market since March, with an original asking price of $699,900. It had been owned since 1984 by a group of performers from the former Le Grand David Magic Company, which also owned the Cabot Theatre before selling that building in 2014.
“I know I share the sentiment that we are absolutely delighted that both the Cabot and the Larcom are continuing on as they were intended as performing arts venues,” said Bull, who played Le Grand David in long-running shows at both sites.
Donald Crowell declined to comment on the sale. Bull described the Crowells as a young couple who moved to Beverly last year.
The Larcom and Cabot are vaudeville-era theaters located less than a half-mile from each other in downtown Beverly. The Larcom, at 13 Wallis St., was built in 1912, eight years before the Cabot.