January 4, 2017
From the Houston Press: In July 1999, the River Oaks Theatre had the honor of exclusively hosting The Blair Witch Project for two weeks. Lines snaked around the building for an endless stream of sold-out shows. People began trying to sneak their friends in through the exit. With too many people and not enough seats, a minor riot ensued.
Then-general manager Rob Arcos and the rest of the staff ended up barricaded in the office while the cops escorted people out. Artisan Entertainment eventually sent the various Landmark Theatres staff T-shirts saying “I survived The Blair Witch Project,” as thanks for handling the two weeks of insanity.
Ah, those heady days when going to the movies was still a must-do experience. Nowadays, confronted with streaming entertainment and digital piracy, Houston theaters are finding new best strategies as they try to hold onto their share of the market and remain relevant.
For instance, he really isn’t a ghoul, but when Robert Saucedo of Alamo Drafthouse finds out a celebrity actor has died, he springs into action, operating on the premise that when someone you love dies, you go to that person’s funeral. When an actor you love dies, you go to the movies.
From the Daily Bulletin: The olden days of moviegoing in Pomona is an occasional topic here. My column last fall on the Sunkist Theater, the most obscure of the four major theaters in town, had as its genesis a reader query about the city’s classic movie houses.
Don Russell, a retired general manager of this fine publication, had emailed to say he’d find it interesting “to read about the other walk-in theaters that once were in the city of Pomona and what happened to them.”
In my attempt to oblige him, my research turned up the startling fact that Howard Hughes had built and operated the Sunkist, an association that had been brief and long-forgotten.
So the Sunkist became the story. But as I still have all my notes on the other theaters, let me round up those stories for you now before we get caught up in the mad whirl of 2017. Posterity demands it.
The facts are gleaned from Progress-Bulletin files, the website Cinema Treasures, the Facebook group Growing Up in Pomona in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s and, last but not least, the Pomona Public Library.
• In the silent era, when theaters were fairly easily set up, Pomona had several, among them La Pictoria (478 W. Second St.), the American (470 W. Second St.), the Lyric (366 W. Second St.) and the Fraternal Aid Opera House (Gordon and Third), all of which appear to have closed by the mid-1920s; none of the buildings is still standing.
• The Belvedere (255 S. Garey Ave.) opened in 1911. Howard Hughes’ Hughes-Franklin Co. bought the theater in 1931, early in the sound era. The company announced a major remodeling that would include a name change to the Mirror and an exterior that would be covered in “thousands of little mirrors.” Neither occurred. (Imagine having the job of gluing them onto the building.) Still named the Belvedere, the theater burned down Nov. 20, 1933.
• The California/United Artists (235 W. Third St.) opened in 1923 as the California with Buster Keaton’s still-delightful comedy “Our Hospitality.” The theater, at 1,212 seats, later became the Fox California and, in 1949, the United Artists Theater, closing in 1972. In the 1980s it became the Pomona Valley Auditorium, which hosted rock concerts, some of them promoted by a young Paul Tollett, who now puts on the Coachella festival. The former theater these days is a Spanish church.
• The Fox Pomona (301 S. Garey Ave.) opened in 1931 with Laurel and Hardy’s “Laughing Gravy.” The city’s grandest theater with 1,751 seats, it often hosted sneak previews of movies, for which stars and studio heads would be in attendance, the better to gauge the reaction of a typical audience so that changes could be made before release. The Fox closed as a first-run movie house in 1976. It showed Spanish-language movies until the late 1980s, was used as a church and later for rave concerts. In 2009, the Fox reopened as a concert venue after a $10 million renovation. The theater has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981.
January 2, 2017
From The Roanoke Times:
Actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore have donated the Liberty Theatre in downtown Hailey to a local theater company.
The Idaho Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/2ir425O ) that the formalized gift gives the Company of Fools a secure, permanent space where the theatrical company has performed since 1996.
December 30, 2016
From nwi.com: The question of whether the Town Council will say “action” on renovating the Town Theatre probably will be answered next month, the theater’s board of directors recently learned.
Invitations to bid were sent out to about 15 contractors, said Redevelopment Director Cecile Petro. “We’d like to have a lot of bids.”
The bids are due by noon Jan. 16, when they will be opened and announced in Town Hall through the help of Morris Architects and Planners of Chicago.
Although no official action will be taken that day, the public will be allowed to attend the bid openings.
“Basically, the architect will go through them and evaluate them” to make sure they follow the stipulations set by the Redevelopment Commission, said Rhett Tauber, theater board attorney, of the bids.
Contractors must include a base bid for comparison purposes, board members said.
The ultimate winner — if the project is approved — will be the lowest and most responsive qualifying bid, Petro noted.
Town officials will conduct a walk-through of the historic 70-year-old building on Jan. 5 for interested contractors.
Attendance at the function will hint at the level of interest among qualified builders, Director Michael Maloney said. Interest already has been expressed by inquiring contractors from Indianapolis, South Bend and Chicago, Petro said.
The bid amounts will determine whether the curtain will be raised again in the theater.
December 27, 2016
From Pittsburgh Magazine: On Feb. 27, 1928, the Stanley Theater — later renamed the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts — opened in Downtown Pittsburgh. The massive movie house was dubbed “Pittsburgh’s Palace of Amusement,” where guests could stay all day for 65 cents (reduced to a quarter for those arriving before noon). After decades as a mixed-use performance space and a stretch as the city’s most storied venue for rock concerts, the facility reopened in 1987, painstakingly brought back to its original grandeur; the restoration of the theater was the first major project of the then-new Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
From the Bensonhurst Bean: We learned yesterday that longtime retail branches Mandee’s and Annie Sez will be vacating their shops at 6401 18th Avenue at the end of January. As many of you know or remember, and as many of you have likely inferred based on the building’s large awning, long before 6401 18th Avenue hosted either women’s clothing chain the building was home to a theater called. It was called The Walker.
According to the website Cinema Treasures, The Walker Theater opened in the January of 1926 and was turned into a multiscreen when it was taken over by United Artist’s Theatres in 1986 before closing in 1988 after 62 years.
Some may recall the Walker’s Wurlitzer, one of the last theater organs remaining in the city at the time of the Walker’s closure. The theater was immediately converted to retail following the end of its life as a moviehouse, the New York Times reported at the time.
The theater was named for former New York City Mayor James J. Walker.
From the Tampa Bay Times: There’s a brand new Publix across the street, a McDonald’s next door and two movie theaters about 15 minutes north in Riverview.
While the area around it bustles with development, the Ruskin Family Drive-In on Highway 41 has remained a constant in south Hillsborough County since it opened in 1952.
Owner Karen Freiwald said the new movie theaters — Goodrich Quality Theaters and Xscape Riverview 14 — aren’t hurting her business in the least.
“Our customers come from Bradenton, Sarasota, Port Charlotte, Venice,” Freiwald said. “If they’re going to drive by all those other theaters, they’re not going to stop for those.”
No, her biggest concern isn’t competition. Her customers are loyal. They like to sit outside in an atmosphere so family focused that her husband has been known to stop the movie if he catches someone sneaking a beer.
Rowdiness of any kind is forbidden. And at a time when tickets to an indoor theater with popcorn and drinks can set a family of four back $100, Freiwald works to keep prices low. For $24.99, one family of four ordered a large coke, two 12-inch pizzas, and two nachos. Movie tickets run $6 each for adults. Cash only.
“If you spent $40 here at the snack bar you wouldn’t even be able to eat it all,” Freiwald said. “Customers appreciate you looking out for their best interest and they come back for more.”
The biggest issue facing the Ruskin Family Drive-In is supply: The lineup of kids movies available has been running thin for the last several years.
“They don’t even make G-rated movies any more,” Freiwald said. “Everything is PG or PG-13.”
Her customers just don’t turn out when the movies are too violent, too complicated or sexual and that hurts business.
“Some people don’t even have kids, they just like the kids movies,” Freiwald said. “Customers will tell me they want to see more action movies but when I play them no one shows up.”
This year, the hottest kids movie of the holiday season is Sing, an animated, musical film starring a koala. But that’s about it. The second showing will be Almost Christmas, a live-action PG-13 movie about a family struggling to get along during the holidays.
A couple of years ago, Freiwald and all other theater operators had to come up with about $100,000 to upgrade to new digital projectors. She was able to make up the difference, but many drive-in operators weren’t. The Ruskin theater is now one of only about seven drive-ins in the state, Freiwald said. But the business is still going strong.
With space for 220 vehicles, there’s no more room to expand on the property. During peak season, like over the summer or during spring break, she has to turn people away because the lot fills up.
The Internet has made it easier for people to find the theater. And as it grows into more of a novelty, Freiwald said, she has seen an increase in European tourists seeking the old-time American experience.
But it’s the locals who have kept the business alive so long.
“I’ve been coming here my whole life,” said Chris Jordan, 47, of Ruskin, who had a front-row spot last week to see the new Jack Reacher movie with his 17 year-old son, 14-year-old daughter and his wife. “It’s kind of like you step back in time.”
From The Hays Daily News: Like a scene out of the 1950s, bikes and scooters leaned against the front of the Dream Theater in Russell, 629 N. Main, as children raced inside with friends to spend their afternoon eating popcorn and enjoying a picture show earlier this month.
With the holidays in mind, the Russell Knights of Columbus Council No. 3034 was sponsoring a free Christmas movie that afternoon — “The Polar Express.”
The theater originally opened in 1923 as Main Street Theater. In 1947, the theater burned down and was reopened in 1949 as Dream Theater. It was owned by the same family, the Danielsons, from prior to the fire to approximately 1982 or ’83.
After that, the theater was sold to a chain in Missouri, and changed hands a few more times.
The Russell Arts Council, which is a non-profit, 501©(3), took ownership of the theater in 2000.
“It was reopened in 1949 after the fire, pretty much as you see it today,” said Steve Wells, president of the theater board and former board member of the Russell Arts Council for many years.
The theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2006.
“It is operated totally by volunteers, 100 percent,” Wells said. “The only people that get paid are those that do the cleaning.”
The volunteers include eight board members who commit to working — two members each Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday night — as well as community volunteers and civic organizations.
Revenue comes mainly from the box office and concession sales.
“You don’t make a lot of money on ticket sales,” Wells said. “Mainly from concessions and pre-show advertising. But we’re not trying to make money; we’re just trying to cover our costs.”
The theater does take donations and has received memorials in the past.
Recently, the Russell County Area Community Foundation provided funds to put in closed-captioning equipment and new handrails. It also helped pay for a portion of the new carpet.
The new carpet that was installed in November is an exact recreation of the original 1949 carpet.
“We went to Myers Furniture down the street and looked at some new options, and they just weren’t right for this art deco building,” Wells said.
They sent a sample of the original carpet from the basement to a mill in Dalton, Ga., and they recreated the original style and color.
All of the woodwork, light fixtures and ironwork are original. Even the original box office is used to sell tickets.
Since 2000, other improvements include all new seats — 254 of them — including five luxury seats, new carpet, handrails, renovations to the marquee, new sound cloth on the walls of the theater and the theater upgraded to digital projection and 3D capabilities.
“In fact, we went digital before Hays, Salina and Great Bend,” Wells said.
They also built a stage so the theater could be used for other community events. The Russell Arts Council recently hosted a “Russell’s Got Talent” community talent show Dec. 1 at the theater.
A non-denominational church, Olive Branch Chapel, is using the theater Wednesday nights and Sundays until they raise the funds to build their own worship space.
The space even has been rented out for weddings.
Scott and Jamie Schneider were married at the theater in May 2003.
“There were a couple reasons we chose the theater,” Scott Schneider said. “We thought it would be a unique location, and we used the screen to play a slideshow of our children.”
Schneider said the concession stand was open during the wedding, and guests were eating popcorn and slurping sodas as the Schneiders said their vows.
A new movie usually comes in once a week that plays from Friday through Monday night, with additional special showings on some Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
Wells said they look at what is showing well nationally when deciding which movies to get, and they also invite people to suggest movies through their website.
Mondays are Senior Night, and seniors get a discounted admission price, while every Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. from Thanksgiving to the end of the year features a free children’s movie courtesy of About You Realty, Russell. One Sunday a month features a classic film.
“I’ve always grown up knowing the theater, as has Traci (Wieger), the other co-owner,” said Kendra Trueblood, About You Realty. “It’s just a passion of the community to continue the theater and those efforts so the kids can enjoy it. People just really love it.”
In fact, the motto of the theater is “Keep the Dream Alive.”
“It’s very well-supported,” Wells said. “I think that has to do with our prices, but also community pride. We couldn’t do all the upgrades we’ve done without community support.”
Wells stated the theater also belongs to the Kansas Historical Theater Association, which allows them to attend different venues every quarter to learn from and share information with other historic theaters.
Dream Theater is not only well-supported by the local community, but it draws crowds from other towns as well.
“Before Hays and Great Bend went digital, we were getting those people,” Wells said. “And we still do get those people just because no one can touch our concession prices.”
Two large drinks and a large popcorn is only $8.
Ticket prices are $6 for adults and $4 for children. It is only a dollar more for a 3D movie, where many theaters charge $3 more.
For more information about Dream Theater and upcoming movies, find it on Facebook or visit dreamtheater.org.
On Dec. 4, as families snuggled up in the historic theater enjoying “The Polar Express,” the magic of Christmas and the cinema came to life.
The characters in the movie watched Santa’s sleigh, pulled by his reindeer, fly off into the starry sky to deliver presents to the children of the world.
One of the children, her eyes full of wonder, whispered, “It’s everything I ever dreamed of.”
December 19, 2016
From the Rio Blanco Herald Times: Meeker’s first movie theater, the “Princess,” came to Meeker with the building of the Rio Theatre by Harlan Coulter in 1920. When Glen B. and Dixie Wittstruck purchased the theater in 1936, it was renamed the Rio Theatre, possibly reflecting the Spanish name for river, since the White River was an icon of the town and county.
December 16, 2016
From The Columbus Telegram: The Colfax Theatre is celebrating 10 years of hot, buttered popcorn, cold soda and movie magic.
This month’s celebration also recognizes all the work dedicated volunteers have done to keep a piece of the community’s history alive.
“To be still in operation after 10 years is a pretty good milestone,” said John Sayer, president of Schuyler Enrichment Foundation. “Because it takes a lot.”
In 2001, a group of community members decided they wanted revitalize the shuttered movie theater at 314 E. 11th St., which was built in the late 19th century and operated for decades before closing. When the group purchased the building it was being used for storage.
Sayer was one of the foundation’s founding members and part of the team that spent five years raising money to renovate the space and purchase a projector. While funding was coming in, volunteers cleaned and restored the building.
The renovated theater screened its first film in 2006. For a few years the theater could be rented for parties, but trademark laws now stipulate that if they screen a DVD a $200 fee must be paid to the copyright owner, so that business has diminished.
“Our hands are tied,” Sayer said.
The foundation had other plans for the space, as well.
Sayer said he hoped schools would use the small stage behind the screen for theater productions and community organizations might rent the space for meetings and events. Other ideas included hosting traveling events and shows.
But none of that took off.
“It all fizzled out,” Sayer said. “Probably from a lack of interest, it fizzled out.”
Sayer says the size of the stage is an issue.
“The stage is kind of small,” he said. “The big groups for school, it’s too small for them.”
Many people who work in Schuyler live outside the city, which also hurts the theater.
“They drive in, then when they’re off work, they drive out of town,” Sayer said. “So we don’t have anyone around to work on this stuff.”
The theater’s only employees are managers who work during show times. All the other positions, from concessions workers and ticket-takers to maintenance staff, are volunteers.
Colfax Theatre loses money each year, according to Sayer, and the foundation is kept afloat by donations.
Low attendance doesn’t help that problem.