• December 19, 2016

    Meeker, CO – Personal recollections of a small-town movie theater


    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

    Schuyler, NE – Volunteers working to keep theater open


    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.

  • December 14, 2016

    Richmond, San Francisco, CA – After Decade-Plus Wait, Richmond’s Historic Alexandria Theater May See New Life


    From The historic Alexandria Theater, which has sat unoccupied at Geary and 18th Avenue for the past 12 years, may finally regain its place as a neighborhood fixture—albeit with an entirely different function.

    In a Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) submitted to the Planning Department earlier this month, the 93-year-old theater’s owners have proposed turning its first floor into a swimming center, complete with locker rooms, a viewing gallery, and two indoor pools in place of the theater’s auditorium seating.

    As proposed, the second floor would be expanded to make room for a learning center, including 12 classrooms and a large gathering area. It’s unclear who would use the learning center, but the PPA makes mention of an afterschool program, as well as meeting space for non-profit and community groups.

    The third floor would be dedicated entirely to office space, uniquely positioned below the theater’s historic domed ceiling and chandelier.

    “One of the guiding principles in the renovation of the Alexandria Theater is to retain its rich historical character,” the proposal states. To that end, the plans call for maintaining the theater’s historic exterior columns and box office, as well as restoring its marquee and neon sign.

  • Milwaukee, WI – Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra hopes to acquire Grand Theatre for its future home


    From the Milwaukee Business Journal: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is hoping to restore the historic Warner Grand Theatre on West Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee and start performing in the venue in fall 2019.

    The acquisition and rehab of the building at 214 W. Wisconsin Ave. is part of a $120 million fundraising effort by the MSO that also will increase its endowment and raise bridge funding, said Mark Niehaus, the group’s president and executive director. The MSO currently plays in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on North Water Street, where it is not master of its own scheduling.

    Rehabbing the 1930s-era Grand movie theater will let the MSO generate more revenue and become less dependent on donations, Niehaus said. It also will bring thousands of people to West Wisconsin Avenue for weekend performances and contribute to the revitalization of that area of downtown Milwaukee.

    “We see ourselves not only fitting into it, we see ourselves as an instigator, as the prime reason people come to West Wisconsin Avenue,” Niehaus said.

    The theater is across Wisconsin Avenue from The Shops of Grand Avenue. The owners of that mall are looking to redevelop it into upper-floor office space, a grocery story and a ground-floor marketplace. Bringing more bodies to West Wisconsin Avenue would support that vision.

    The MSO tallied $17 million in revenue in its 2015-’16 season, achieving a sales and attendance record, and a balanced budget for three years running. But owning and controlling its own theater space would open more opportunities, Niehaus said.

    For starters, the MSO had to stop playing shows in the Marcus Center Dec. 3 to make way for the Milwaukee Ballet’s The Nutcracker 2016. Holiday shows are a big stream of revenue for other symphonies, Niehaus said, citing the $2.2 million earned in December by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

    Also, the MSO can only schedule performances in the Marcus Center 12 to 18 months out, which makes it difficult to book national conductors to come to Milwaukee, Niehaus said.

  • Visalia, CA – Burst pipe floods historic Visalia Fox Theatre


    From Employees of the historic Visalia Fox Theatre are moving forward after suffering a major setback last week.

    Thousands of gallons of water flooded the basement and the old orchestra pit last week after a pipe burst. On Monday, theatre officials are still not sure about the extent of the damage.

    This isn’t the first time the Fox Theatre has had a flooding issue. About a year ago, an abandoned water line in an exit hallway started leaking into the same basement.

    Theatre employees said they’d like to replace their whole plumbing system but that takes a lot of time and money.

    Films, concerts, special events – the Visalia Fox Theatre is home to all of the above. But below the stage floor, a very different and unexpected performance was in the works last Wednesday.

    A piece of the theatre’s original water pipe burst and caused 15,000 gallons of water to flood the basement. The wave of water worked its way into the old orchestra pit, threatening both their prized organ and hydraulic lift system.

    “About an inch from the organ itself,” Erin Olm-Shipman with the theatre said.

    Olm-Shipman said they were fortunate that their operations supervisor spotted the problem, but the source of it was not so easy to find. The short-term solution involved using buckets to remove water from the pit and a sump pump to keep the water level from rising in the basement.

    “The section of pipe they removed was about right here,” she said, pointing to the location.

    Workers had to cut through several layers of wood and concrete to find the affected area and underneath the original stage. And workers had to move quickly because there were events scheduled through the weekend, including a double Tulare County Symphony Holiday performance.

    “So, we definitely needed to take care of the flooding, clean up the mess, locate the broken pipe, repair that, repair our stage and get our heating system up as soon as possible, and get running water back in the auditorium as soon as possible,” Olm-Shipman said.

    However, the shows went on and were a success. Fox Theatre employees are still waiting to see what insurance can cover but know for a fact the cost of cleaning up and repairing the stage floor will be thousands of dollars. Perhaps, though, it’s simply the price to pay to keep the history of the Fox alive.

    “The old girl you never know what she’s going to throw at you,” Olm-Shipman said. “But I think everyone that has been here for a significant amount of time knows that she will throw you something. She will surprise you.”

    Employees will be putting in a monitoring system in the basement, which will be connected to their alarm system. That way they’ll be able to respond quickly to any leaks or flooding. They’ll also be testing the organ and lift system for any damage soon.

  • December 12, 2016

    Logan, UT – The Utah Theatre – an alternative to the usual movie experience


    From the Utah Statesman: The Utah Theatre, Logan’s newest — but third oldest next to the Ellen Eccles and the Caine Lyric — theater is unique for many reasons.

    For starters, it houses a mighty Wurlitzer organ, one of the few in the state. It also has one of the only full-fly systems in the valley. But the Utah Theater doesn’t plan on being just another stage (it’s next door to the Caine Lyric Theater and only a block away from the Eccles), it plans on being an alternative movie theater as well.

    “We try to show a little cartoon before the show starts like they would have in the olden days,” said Jared Rounds, the theater manager.

    Rounds said what the Utah Theatre offers is an experience out of the ordinary, per request of Michael Ballam, director and founder of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater company, who funded the project.

    “We’ll never show first run movies,” Rounds said. “They want to keep this more of a different kind of experience. Michael said he doesn’t want to compete with the other theaters, he wants to do something different here.”

    Managing Director of UFOMT Gary Griffin said he understands the appeal of at-home movie services like Netflix and Hulu, but they don’t compare to what the Theatre offers.

    “You can see the difference in watching a movie like ‘White Christmas’ on a 36 inch screen or a 36 foot screen,” he said. “Most movies were made to shown on the huge screens.”

    Some movies lend themselves to smaller screens, he said, but when you get into spectacles like “Gone With the Wind” and “The Ten Commandments” viewers just can’t get the same feel at home that they could on a giant screen in a theater.

    “And the fact that you’re in a theater with a bunch of people sharing an experience together, I don’t know, there’s just sort of a different feel than just sitting at home alone watching a movie on a TV screen,” he said.

    Griffin said he plans on not just showing classic movies year round, but also continuing the little festivals, especially around holidays like Halloween and Christmas. He also has plans for a John Wayne festival in January, and said they’ll eventually get to all the classic stars.

    “We’ll probably show a different movie every week,” he said. “We’ll get to all the greats eventually. Jimmy Stewart, Bogey and Bacall, we’ll do all sorts of stuff.”

    Rounds said the theater won’t only be showing black and white classics however, but also films that are classics to the younger generation.

    “I think we want to show more stuff that’s not super classical, for the college kids, and maybe do an ‘Indiana Jones’ marathon or a ‘Back to the Future’ one,” he said.

    He said hopefully doing this kinds of things will also make the audience want to come more often both to movies and plays. The Theatre is unique because it aims to give a full classic movie experience.

    “We do show movie trailers of what’s upcoming so we try to give the full classic movie experience as opposed to just sitting at home and turning on Netflix,” he said.

    The theater will also have a discounted price on Wednesdays, $5 per ticket, to help bring in the younger crowd. Griffin also wanted to do a “Star Wars” festival as well, but he has been successful in getting the rights for films from almost every studio, except Disney.

    “That’s a tough nut to crack,” Griffin said. “Disney won’t license any of their movies because they keep bringing them back themselves.”

    Last month, the theater ran the “Hitchcock Film Festival” exclusively showing “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “The Birds” and other Hitchcock classics. But the suspense and macabre gave way Dec 1 with the theater’s new series of holiday films for the Christmas season like “Elf,” “White Christmas” and “A Christmas Carol.”

    Griffin said the theater is the only one in Utah that doubles as a live stage and a movie theater, due to the adjustable curtains on the side walls, which change the acoustics depending on what kind of show is being performed. The theater opened this last summer, housing shows from the UFOMT’s season. It started with Peter Pan and “had people flying across the stage and everything,” Rounds said. This upcoming summer it will house “Seussical The Musical” and “Rex” as part of the 2017 UFOMT season.

    The remodeling of the old building began in 2008. Ballam put two and two together after receiving a Wurlitzer organ as a donation and also noticing the dilapidated state of the theater building, which is just around the corner from the Eccles theater where UFOMT holds its season. With $11.5 Million in donations over an eight year period, the space was bought and renovation began. The Wurlitzer itself has 16 foot long pipes that extend beneath the building floor, where they are protected from an underground canal by concrete.

    “The organ pipes are literally sitting in the canal,” Rounds said. “When they were putting in the organ pipes downstairs they ran into the canal so they had to find a way to divert the water.”

    The building features a Florentine art deco style interior done by italian painter Nino DeRobertis. It also has a large crest of Orpheus, the Greek God of music, who is also the muse of the building.

    Griffin also said they have plans to show a silent film once a month utilizing the Wurlitzer. The Wurlitzer will be put to use this Friday for a showing of a Laurel & Hardy silent film and a live show, the “Farley Family Mighty Wurlitzer Extravaganza.”

  • Bellingham, WA – Saving Historic Movie Palaces Like Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre


    From E ach generation has the responsibility to balance embracing the new while preserving the old. But how do we decide what is worthy of saving, restoring and renovating, and what is to be replaced? The historic movie palaces built around the world between the 1910s and the 1940s are an important example of this dilemma. Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre (MBT), opened on April 29, 1927, is a stunning example of how history can be preserved while serving the demands of modern, continuously changing society. But it is also the only survivor of five movie palaces built in Whatcom County.

    Over the years, MBT has evolved into the civic historic home to a premiere Pacific Northwest cultural tourism destination that also sustains the regional community through its arts education programs and substantial economic impact. Around the world, citizens and municipalities continue to work hard to save the remaining historic movie palaces born of that time.

    The Historic Movie Palace

    Around 1900, silent motion pictures became a small part of the live entertainment offered in vaudeville theatres. Bellingham enjoyed an ideal location on the well-worn Pacific Coast vaudeville circuit. Small storefront theaters and Nickelodeons developed across the country in the 1900s and 1910s, catering affordably to the lower and middle-classes. But there were real concerns over the physical safety of the Nickelodeon theaters as they were often cramped with little ventilation and the nitrate film stock used at the time was extremely flammable. The upper-class was used to more refined viewing typical of the opera. But as more sophisticated, complex and longer films featuring prominent stage actors were developed, the upper-class wanted to attend the movies and that desire paved the way for the opulent movie palace.

  • December 8, 2016

    New York, NY – Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema: Why New York Cinephiles Could Lose a ‘Crown Jewel’


    From The clock may be ticking for New York City’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema. The building that houses the arthouse theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has been up for sale for more than a year, and while no buyer has materialized yet, some feel it’s only a matter of time before real estate developers turn the beloved cinema into a high rise apartment building.

    Though a number of media outlets have reported that the Sunshine’s lease will be up for renegotiation at the end of 2018, the existential threat facing the theater has less to do with its lease than the possibility that a new buyer will demolish the building and replace it with a towering apartment complex. Built in 1898, the property has a reported price tag of more than $35 million.

    Ted Mundorff, president and CEO of Landmark Theaters, told IndieWire that turning the theater into a high rise is easier said than done. “It would take years for anyone who’s going to pay the kind of money they’re looking for to demolish [the building] and construct something,” he said. “At this point I don’t see any imminent danger of us leaving the property.”

    Though Mundorff said Landmark “loves” the Sunshine, calling it one of the “best properties in Manhattan,” he acknowledged that the company has expressed concern over the theater’s sustainability before. In 2012, the local Community Board denied Landmark a liquor license for the Sunshine that representatives of the company said was critical to keep the theater open in the long term, given its steep annual rent of around $200,000. Landmark was planning to invest $1 million to renovate its theaters and provide dine-in food and beverage table service, a move that would have brought in crucial new revenue, but local residents feared that the addition of alcoholic beverages would have a negative impact on the theater, and the plans were scrapped.

  • Sidney, OH – Theatre’s marquee comes down


    From the Sidney Daily News: A desire to help with the restoration of the Historic Sidney Theatre has led four friends to donate funds to help bring brilliance back to the theatre’s marquee.

    Jan and Murray Elsass and Tom and Sandy Shoemaker, all of Sidney, will be able to look at the new marquee and know its bright shining lights are the result of their donation.

    The marquee is being removed by Wagner Electric Sign Co., Elyria, for renovation. The process will take six to eight months.

    “We were neighbors over the years,” said Sandy Shoemaker. “They’ve (the Elsasses) been big supporters of events in Sidney and so have we.

    “The history (of the theatre) is important,” she said.

    “We believe in this community,” said Jan Elsass. “I said I wanted ‘to see this done in our lifetime.’”

    Tom Shoemaker was originally approached by Tom Milligan about helping restore the marquee. He said he and his wife would be interested in taking on half of the costs to restore and reconstruct it.

    Sometime later, Jan Elsass asked Sarah Barr, executive director, what she and her husband could do to help with the theatre project. Once Jan found out the Shoemakers were interested in the marquee, she and her husband jumped on board to help with the project.

    “This is what our community is all about,” said Barr. “Everybody loves the theatre and they all have a piece of it through their donations.”

    Wagner Electric Sign Co. employees began taking down the marquee and its signage Tuesday.

    According to Larry Ester, production manager for Wagner Electric Sign Co., their goal is make a replication of the current marquee. The new marquee will have the same face and appearance as the one that has been on the theatre. The sign was placed on the theatre in the 1930s and the tower was added in the 1950s.

    “We’ll have a crane here and a trailer to take the pieces back to our shop,” said Ester. “We’ll be running a trailer back and forth to Elyria with the pieces. It’ll take us Tuesday and Wednesday to take it down.

    “The ceiling is very large,” he said. “It’s integrated together with bolts. We’ll be bringing it down in sections.”

    Once the pieces are all in Elyria, drawings will be made of the sign and ceiling. Measurements of each item will be recorded. They’ll look at how it was built and then use present day engineering standards to bring it up to today’s codes.

    The drawing of the project will be completed by Darryl Wagner, vice president of the company.

    “He will put on paper something for us to follow,” said Ester. “We’ll submit it to an engineer to make sure everything is up to standards. Once the drawing is acceptable, then we’ll begin to rebuild it.”

    A rod will be threaded through the final project so the sign and marquee can’t move up and down.

    “It should last you another 100 years,” said Ester. “The manufacture and design process will make things last.”

    Ester said the company has been restoring and recreating theater signs since the 1980’s. The Sidney Historic Theatre’s project is the 50th one the company has worked on. Some of their projects include the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, the Fort Wayne, Ind., Embassy, the Princeton Theatre in Princeton, Indiana, and the Palace Theatre in Marion.

    “It will be a new sign,” said Ester. “It will look just the same as it does now. We may be able to use part of the old sign in the new one.”

    Colors for the sign and what type of light bulbs will be used are yet to be determined. Barr said they are working with DP&L to make sure the marquee is as energy efficient as possible.

    Once the sign is complete, he said, it will take about a week to reinstall it at the theatre.

    Work on the marquee is the latest project for the Raise the Roof for the Arts Committee. The infrastructure of the building is complete. The roof has been repaired. Masonry and downspouts have been installed. There’s a new heating and air conditioning system in the building.

    The stage rigging system has been installed, which will enable full stage performances to be held. There’s new electrical service in the building.

    Work also completed includes updating the outer lobby area, exterior painting and renovating the east store front into an office.

    Barr said the group is working on plans for the inner lobby and concession area renovation, updating the restrooms, the auditorium, stage lighting and sound and finishing the interior.

  • December 7, 2016

    Sandpoint, ID – Panida Theater recognized as key building


    From the Daily Bee: The Panida Theater was recently recognized nationwide by the Society of Architectural Historians as an architecturally significant building in Idaho.

    “We have a wonderful historic building, and it’s exciting to have professionals in the field of architectural history recognize that,” said Nancy Renk, board chair for the Panida. “And it’s being recognized nationwide, not just statewide — this is quite an honor.”

    The SAH Archipedia is an online encyclopedia where the editors are putting together a list of the top 100 classic structures for each state. So far, 63 buildings have been listed in Idaho and the Panida is one of four theaters listed in the state. The other theaters listed are in Boise, Rupert and Moscow. The website currently contains the history, photographs and maps of more than 17,000 structures and places in the United States.

    Three other Bonner County buildings are listed on the website as well. The Cedar Street Bridge, which originated as a crude footbridge in 1893, is listed, as well as the old Sandpoint Federal Building, now First American Title, which was constructed in the late 1920s. Priest River’s Beardmore Block, developed in 1922, is also listed as an architecturally significant building on the SAH website.

    According to a statement released by the Panida this week, Edward A. Miller, a well-respected Portland architect, designed the Panida Theater for owner F.C. Weskil in 1927 as a vaudeville theater and motion picture house. The Spanish Colonial Revival style, popular in Hollywood, was unusual for North Idaho. When the Panida opened in November 1927, people marveled at the lavish interior and special features such as the “cry room,” a small room with large glass window that allowed parents to watch a movie without having their fussy children bother others in the theater.

    Renk said Panida board members and staff are discussing ways to celebrate the Panida’s 90th anniversary throughout the 2017 year, such as events and possibly some Panida trivia. She said suggestions are welcome and anyone with photos or stories of the theater are encouraged to share.

    “I think there are a lot of people out there who have stories,” Renk said. “There are people who grew up with the Panida and they may have some wonderful stories to tell.”

    Anyone with memories or ideas to share can email the Panida at .