The latest movie theater news and updates

  • December 16, 2016

    Chicago, IL – Historic Lincoln Square theater reveals $5 million makeover

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    From Curbed Chicago: Built in 1918, Lincoln Square’s old Davis Theatre is preparing to open its doors this week after an extensive $5 million overhaul. Originally known as the Pershing Theater, the 98-year-old building at 4614 N. Lincoln Avenue is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The remodeled Davis brings back numerous cues from its Art Deco past such as red curtains and detailed moldings and shows off newly-uncovered original organ pipes in its main theater.

    The renovation work was a collaborative effort between Kennedy Mann Architecture and Analogous Design and saw the building’s two rear theaters combined into a single 300-seat venue with stadium seating. Two smaller 150-seat theaters have also be restored and upgraded with new bathrooms and state-of-the-art projection equipment.

    The revamped Davis—along with an adjacent 3,500-square-foot dining and cocktail establishment known as Carbon Arc Bar & Board—will open for business this Thursday. The theater’s grand opening coincides with its screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

  • Dennis, MA – Cape Cinema launches campaign to restore chairs

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    From the Cape Cod Times: The historic Cape Cinema is planning some restorations, and the job will start with what most affects audience comfort: the seats.

    Cinema managers and the Cape Cod Center for the Arts Inc., which owns the building, recently launched a campaign to raise more than $165,000 to restore the 277 original art deco chairs that were built back in 1930 specifically for the movie theater space – and specifically to match its massive, celestially themed ceiling mural.

    While a small portion of the chairs have been previously patched, covered, reupholstered or replaced, this will be the first time in the intervening 86 years that the seats have been rebuilt to the original vision.

    Synthomas Upholstery in Hyannis is due to take each chair apart and, by hand, rebuild and reupholster it in tangerine suede to match the original plan, according to Eric Hart, who operates the theater. While the covers will be fire-proof and stain- and rub-resistant, there will also be padding and support added. Contemporary patrons will likely welcome those additions, Hart notes, especially for the multi-hour simulcasts of live opera, theater and ballet the cinema has offered in recent years.

    About half of the money (so close to $80,000) needs to be raised by the end of the year for the project to go forward, says general manager Hugh Hart. Once repairs begin, 15 chairs are scheduled to be restored by hand per week, with the project taking more than five months while the cinema remains open.

    The moviehouse will likely shut down for a couple of weeks in spring, Eric Hart says, to finish up the work and make other changes (including new carpeting, sealing the floors and rebuilding the lobby concession stand in an art deco style) before the 2017 summer season begins.

    Although all donations are welcome, the campaign urges patrons to donate $600 for the cost of restoring one chair (which includes the floor work). Those who do will have their name engraved on a plaque on the chair, get free admission to movies there for a year and, according to a fundraising letter from Hart and center president Leslie A. Gardner, “become a part of the ongoing legacy of this historic building.”

    Pretty much every part of the cinema has an art-related history – including those chairs. Raymond Moore, founder of the 90-year-old Cape Playhouse next door, opened the summer movie theater in 1930, with New York architect Alfred Easton Poor designing the facade using Centerville’s Congregational Church as a model.

    The auditorium was created in art deco style and the arm chairs designed by Vienna-born Paul T. Frankl – considered one of the most influential artists of the American art deco period, according to cinema lore – through his New York City gallery. The chairs were produced by the Johnson Furniture Company with black lacquer frames and tangerine suede, meant to complement the cinema’s 6,400-square-foot ceiling mural of the heavens designed by American painter, printer and illustrator Rockwell Kent.

    The chairs, according to Eric Hart, were individually cut for a specific space in the theater, with legs different sizes because of the sloped seating. The three dozen or so chairs in the balcony were replaced sometime in the 1970s – before Hart was involved – with flip-down movie-theater chairs and those are not part of the current restoration plan. But the extra originals from that balcony replacement have, over the years, been used to fill in for broken chairs downstairs. Chair legs have had to be trimmed, though, so the replacement chairs would fit specific spaces, Hart notes.

    Regular patrons know the current chairs have white seat-covers, which Hugh Hart believes may have been originally used to protect the seats when the summer-only theater was shuttered. More recently, the covers have obscured rips and wear as the year-round use of the theater over the past decade has accelerated deterioration. Some of the chairs were also damaged decades ago, Eric Hart says, when the sprinkler system was tripped during the winter and poured 2 feet of water into the theater.

    Restoring the seats has been under discussion for a decade and multiple companies were consulted and explored. Acknowledging such a large fundraiser is “a risk,” Eric Hart says he hopes the major community effort needed to restore the seats will also be the start of a wider push to raise money to restore the Rockwell Kent mural, too.

    There could be “a whole movement to restore the theater rather than just maintain it,” he says. “We could make it as beautiful as it was when it opened in 1930.”

    But, the Harts hope, with the comfort level desired by 21st-century patrons.

  • Schuyler, NE – Volunteers working to keep theater open

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    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

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    From Hoodline.com: 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

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    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.

  • Indianapolis, IN – Owner of historic Rivoli Theatre hits revival milestone

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    From ibj.com: Supporters of the historic Rivoli Theatre on East 10th Street have hit an important milestone for stabilizing the fragile structure.

    The building’s owner, the Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts, announced Monday that it thinks the group has raised enough money to finish installing a new roof.

    The not-for-profit received $300,000 through a community development block grant, pushing the total raised to more than $500,000.

    Jim Kelly, the group’s president, told Property Lines in an e-mail that members “have fingers crossed hoping this will be enough.”

    They plan soon to release the bid package to get estimates from contractors. If all goes well, they hope the entire roof project will be finished by next fall.

    It’s been a monumental undertaking to get a roof installed—the first step in saving the building that opened in 1927 as Universal Studios’ first Indiana theater.

    The Rivoli Center for the Performing Arts put a new roof over the auditorium portion of the building in May 2014 and will spend a total of nearly $1 million to complete the roof repairs.

  • Lafayette, CA – Park Theater revitalization scrapped

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    From the East Bay Times: The potential buyers of the Park Theater have pulled out of plans to purchase the empty movie house, ending hopes for its revitalization.

    Lafayette residents Cathy and Fred Abbott and business partner Alex McDonald have terminated their efforts to buy the 75-year-old theater on Golden Gate Way they hoped to transform into a performance and rehearsal space, and venue for art house films.

    “Simply put, there were too many circumstances making it infeasible for us to return a theater use to this location,” the couple wrote in a Dec. 12 email to city administrators.

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

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    From abc30.com: 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

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    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

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    From whatcomtalk.com: 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.