December 5, 2016
From Film Journal International: For the Texas Theatre, the m.o. is simple: “Innovating and keeping up, as well as preserving the heritage of the space and its legacy.” The innovating part, as related by Texas Theatre operator Barak Epstein, comes down to the same basics that most theatres are concerned with: continually providing a high-quality experience for their audience in terms of tech, amenities and top-notch concessions offerings.
The “heritage” aspect…well, that’s where this single-screen theatre nestled in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood is unique. Originally opened in 1931, the theatre rocketed to national prominence on Nov. 22, 1963, when police officers converged on the theatre to arrest a man suspected of murdering a local police officer. The man’s name: Lee Harvey Oswald, later to be arraigned for that day’s assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Epstein calls the theatre “an infamous place, for better or worse” due to its role in that historic tragedy. That infamy isn’t what drew Epstein and independent film production/distribution outfit Aviation Cinemas, which he founded, to the theatre; he was “more interested in the fact that it was an almost-functioning space that just needed some work, to finish it out.”
But the theatre’s somewhat macabre history is impossible to escape, even if one wants to. “People come to Dallas, the first thing they want to do is go to the grassy knoll, right? So often the third or the fourth place they want to go is the Texas Theatre. We get people every day”—individuals and tour groups alike—“who just want to come in and see where Lee Harvey Oswald might have sat.” (Incidentally, Oswald sat in two seats, and they’ve both long been replaced, but a Texas Theatre employee will be happy to explain where in relation to the theatre’s current layout they used to be.) Those tours are more than welcome; though Epstein half-jokingly admits that it would be great if everyone who came in bought a movie ticket or a drink at the bar, he’s “not going to charge if you pop your head in and look around. As long as the doors are open and we’re open for business, people are welcome to come in.”
Sightseers and moviegoers alike will enter through a façade that’s a replica of what the theatre looked like when Oswald was caught there in 1963—though not the same one. You can thank Oliver Stone. In 1965, in an effort to shy away from the spotlight that resulted from the JFK assassination, then-owner United Artists gave the Texas Theatre’s exterior a complete overhaul. A subsequent exterior renovation followed, and then, in 1989, the theatre closed. In swooped Stone, who restored the exterior to what it looked like in 1963 so he could shoot parts of JFK there.
“Another box office from another theatre that was getting torn down was moved to the Texas Theatre so they could recreate what the box office mostly looked like in ’63,” explains Epstein. “That box office is still there, the one they moved in for the movie. The marquee had to be worked on again years later, but essentially we were able to keep it up to be what the ’63 marquee looked like.”
Moving on, we come to the ’90s, which weren’t kind to the Texas Theatre. It passed back and forth between multiple owners and remained vacant for years, at one point almost burning down. In 2001, the property was purchased by the Oak Cliff Foundation, which did a lot of structural work in anticipation of one day having a tenant. In 2010, that tenant became Aviation Cinemas.
But Aviation Cinemas had some renovations of its own to do. Thanks to the work done by Oak Cliff, the theatre’s infrastructure was sound, but “the lobby had been gutted several years ago, so it was kind of an empty space,” Epstein recalls. Renovations included a new lobby area, a concession stand and a full bar, the latter of which serves craft cocktails and craft beer, as well as themed cocktails tied to specific films or directors. There’s also a record player, with guests encouraged to BYOV (Bring Your Own Vinyl.) In terms of food, typical concessions fare is on offer, as are pizzas from Campisi’s, a Dallas staple since 1946.
But the main draw, as with any theatre, is the movies—and guests at the Texas get to see them in a gorgeous, 645-seat theatre that doubles as an event space for concerts, podcast recordings, spoken-word events and comedy acts. “We can do changeover in 35mm, which we installed in 2011. And we got DCP in 2014—we have a 4K Christie 4220. And then this year we upgraded the auditorium for surround sound, so now we run a 5.1 Dolby system,” Epstein explains.
High-quality tech dovetails with the legacy of one of the Texas Theatre’s early owners, eccentric entrepreneur Howard Hughes. The connection was a brief one: Hughes and his business partner Harold B. Franklin purchased the Robb & Rowley Theatres chain, which the Texas Theatre was a part of, right around the time the venue opened. “The story goes that he sold it right back right after the Depression,” Epstein says. “But it was actually [Hughes’] capital and his cash flow that potentially carried Robb & Rowley through the Depression, while a lot of theatres were not able to stay in during those rough years. So even though he was only around for a little while, his company probably really helped keep the building going.”
With only one screen, programming at the Texas Theatre can be tricky—it’s not like you can offset potential risks by always having one or two “sure thing” options on deck at any given time. That said, over the six years the Texas Theatre has been in operation, its management team has gotten to know its audience—and its audience has gotten to know them.
“We’ve had to cultivate a crowd. A lot of it is trial and error,” Epstein notes. For example, “in the beginning, not everybody was coming to a lot of repertory. And I think that DCP, industry-wide, has increased the viability of repertory programming. Everybody is doing repertory now, which is fine, because it’s telling us that people want to see these movies in a theatre. Even the mainstream theatres will do it—but I don’t think that hurts us at all. It actually calls attention to some of the more difficult stuff we can do.”
Specifically, the Texas Theatre has a soft spot for directors’ series—a Sidney Lumet series runs through November, and past series have been devoted to figures as diverse as David Cronenberg and Mike Judge. Epstein highlights a recent Jean-Luc Godard series as something that did unexpectedly well; he expected returns to be “modest,” but the screenings were “all very well-attended!”
Emboldened by the success of the Godard series, the Texas Theatre took a stab at German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but that one didn’tquite pay off. “Dallas might be ready for Godard, but not necessary Fassbinder,” Epstein chuckles. “That’s where we have to rein it back in a notch.”
Still, even when audiences don’t respond to certain programming decisions, the Texas Theatre is a nimble enough operation that it’s not locked into any one thing. Taken as a whole, the Texas Theatre’s lineup is surprisingly diverse, spanning from directors’ series to new independent films to special-interest docs to an occasional mainstream movie.
For example, last year the Texas Theatre took a break from smaller releases to screen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The decision wasn’t just motivated by money—“we have a large space and good projection and sound, so we want to give people the experience of seeing a new, big film that everybody wants to see in a classic theatre,” says Epstein. He has fond memories of the NorthPark 1 & 2, a two-screen Dallas institution that closed its doors in the 1990s. “It was a massive experience—people made it a thing to go see movies there. They opened a really big repertory program that I was a massive fan of when I was in high school. Part of me has always been in awe of that, of a space where you would go seeJurassic Park, and you could also go there at midnight to see 2001.”
It’s the Texas Theatre’s eclectic mix of programming that is helping to bring moviegoers back to the Oak Cliff neighborhood, which Epstein describes as a “transitional part of town” that “was an older, hip neighborhood that went away and then came back.” Over the last few years, Oak Cliff has seen some measure of revitalization, which Epstein hopes is at least in part due to the draw of its newest/oldest cinema: “We like to think we helped get more businesses interested in being close to us.”
As for the future of the Texas Theatre, an overhaul of the currently unused balcony is in the cards. And the addition of another theatre to the Aviation Cinemas roster at some point in the future is certainly a possibility, as well. “We’re definitely open to opportunities,” Epstein confirms. “The opportunities we think would make sense are other buildings like ours, where we could create a new model for movies, live events and a bar in other underutilized and unutilized historic buildings.”
December 2, 2016
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.”