The latest movie theater news and updates
December 5, 2016
From the Connecticut Post: How difficult is it to revive the long-shuttered movie houses — the Poli Palace and Majestic Theater — and vacant Savoy Hotel on the edge of downtown?
Consider: The once grand buildings at Main and Congress streets languished when Tom Gill, who returned this summer to his old job of running the city’s economic development office, originally occupied that position. The year was 1976.
“There was no interest in them at all,” Gill recalled recently. “There were moves to tear them down. I’m glad that never happened.”
Gill now has a second chance to help bring new life to the theaters. After being approached over the last four months by a handful of investors interested in the city-owned sites, Gill and his staff are preparing to issue a formal solicitation.
“We are getting a Request for Proposals together which we hope will draw in more interest,” Gill said. He expected it will be released by early 2017 at the latest.
He said the city will be looking for mixed uses — a hotel, housing, retail — for the buildings and the revival of at least one of the theaters, probably for some type of live performing arts.
“I don’t think anybody believes it could go back to two theaters,” Gill added.
The intent would be to preserve the historic facades and as much of the ornate interiors as possible.
Opened in 1922, the Palace has 3,200 seats, the Majestic 2,200 seats. They provided live, then movie entertainment for decades before going dark in the early 1970s.
The theaters were among Mayor Joe Ganim’s campaign stops when he waged his successful comeback campaign last year. Like Gill, whom he re-hired, Ganim is not new to City Hall. He ran Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003.
“There are a lot of players in Bridgeport, and we want to expose this to people doing business here and let them see how it adds a benefit to their investment,” Ganim said.
Gill did not reveal the identities of those that have been eyeing the theaters, but said they are new entities who are not now doing business in town.
Gill attributed the renewed interest in the buildings to the progress in the nearby Downtown North neighborhood, where developers are in different stages of rehabbing other historic buildings into apartments and stores.
A major challenge for the investor or investors who take on the Palace and Majestic is how to make even one rehabilitated theater profitable considering there is plenty of competition in the immediate area.
The 1,400-seat Klein Memorial Auditorium hosts musical events; the cozy Downtown Cabaret Theater offers musical performances, tribute bands and children’s productions; the closed Playhouse on the Green is supposed to reopen as a comedy club; a new luxury movie theater has been proposed for the East End neighborhood; and the Webster Bank Arena is the spot for big name concerts.
Then there is the Bijou Theatre on Fairfield Avenue. Like the Palace and Majestic, the Bijou, which opened in 1909, originally offered live shows and movies. It was re-opened in 2011, but its future has been unclear.
The nonprofit running the Bijou closed it in early August citing financial pressures. But property owner Phil Kuchma has said he has found a new tenant.
Bridgeport native Maura O’Donnell was the Bijou’s general manager for the past three years. Asked if there was room for another revived theater, O’Donnell said, “I don’t know. I’d like to think yes. I’d like to think there’s no such thing as too many arts projects.”
O’Donnell recalled being a patron at the Majestic in the 1960s.
“They were beautiful (theaters),” she said. “I’d love to see them restored, but I think it would cost a fortune.”
Gill said developers could take advantage of state and federal incentives set aside for historic properties.
O’Donnell said, “The problem I saw at the Bijou is it takes a while to find your niche.” The calendar included live theater and music, as well as some film showings.
And while there is a market for showing classic films on the big screen, O’Donnell did not think that alone could sustain a reopened Palace or Majestic.
“For survival, in my opinion, you’d have to work that in with something else,” she said. “Movie theaters in general are hurting.”
Robert Halstead, a preservationist and former City Councilman, suggested the city and developers think about renovating the non-performance spaces in the Palace/Majestic/Savoy complex.
Halstead said there is not currently room for yet another theater downtown. But, he said, with new housing being built and other redevelopment moving forward, that will change.
“As the tide rises, so do all the ships in the harbor,” Halstead said. “I’m optimistic. I think downtown’s going to come back and be a vibrant arts community. And as the tide rises, so do all the ships in the harbor.”
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
The roof on the historic Schubert Theatre is leaking, damaging nearly 100-year-old hand-painted canvasses and interior molding.
The theater, built by Frank Gooding — elected Idaho governor in 1904 and a U.S. senator in 1920 — is an iconic building along the small town’s Main Street. Community leaders hope to restore it to its former glory.
Two years after it was formed, nonprofit organization GREAT Inc. — Gooding Restoration for Entertainment, Arts & Theater — is about halfway to its $63,000 fundraising goal to replace the roof.
“It’s a real landmark here in Gooding,” Mayor Walt Nelson said. “I’d like to see it back to where it’s being used.”
So far, the nonprofit has about $30,000 to replace the roof and is waiting to hear back about a few grants.
“We can’t do anything inside until we get the roof on,” building owner and Gooding resident Charmy LeaVell said.
The nonprofit — which has a seven-member board and a core group of volunteers — wants to replace the roof this spring. Its efforts to raise money include bake sales and writing grant proposals.
From the Laguna Beach Indy: Signs of life are visible within Laguna Beach’s only movie theater, a landmark building that closed 16 months ago and is expected to reopen shortly. There is new carpet in the lobby and a giant popcorn maker gleaming just inside the front doors. Painters are dodging ladders and caution tape, working to meet the slated opening date.
Theater operator Vintage Cinema will show first-run movies on two screens, with an opening date target of Dec. 16, Chris Leonard, an attorney for theater owner Leslie Blumberg, said in an email.
From QNS.com: Downtown Flushing will soon see a brand new movie theater after over 30 years without, according to reports.
The 1.2 million square foot mixed-use development called Tangram — formerly referred to as Two Fulton Street — includes plans for a 34,000 square-foot movie theater.
The massive commercial and residential project at 133-15 39th Ave. between College Point Boulevard and Prince Street is being co-developed by F&T Group and SCG America. Plans currently include four 15 or 16-story buildings which will feature a mix of condominium units, retail and office space, food hall and a three-level parking garage with 1,200 spaces.
The project’s co-developer F&T Group has been active in the Flushing area: the group is working on the huge Flushing Commons project and constructed the nearby One Fulton Square.
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.”
From WTOV-9: The Grand Theatre in downtown Steubenville has seen a massive amount of reconstruction during the past several years.
And a crucial piece of the historical building – it’s stage – was worked on Monday, free of charge, thanks to the folks at Byers Concrete.
“If this place can get rolling, the sky is the limit on what they can do with it,” said Jonathan Byers, owner of the concrete business.
Byers said when he came down and saw what it entailed, he immediately knew he was in.
“This is exciting to me,” he said. “Because the atmosphere walking into this building, the history behind it, and just walking in here, it kind of gives you a different, weird kind of energy."
The theatre has seen a number of volunteers and businesses donate in some fashion during the past 6 years.
“I think without that, we wouldn’t get it done,” said Scott Dressel, president, Grand Theatre Restoration Project. “Especially in a community that has been struggling as hard as Steubenville.”
“Anybody that is interested in putting up about 10,000 square foot of drywall on a ceiling that’s 5/8th thick, we need someone to do that,” Dressel said with a laugh.
Byers hopes, like has, that others will follow suit.
“There’s a lot of people that maybe don’t realize how big of a deal this is,” Byers said. “If this place could get kickin again, it might open up something big down here.
“Little positive things like this, hopefully it’ll boost something bigger, and then it’ll overcast all that negativity that goes on around this area."
If you would like to lend a hand and volunteer at the Grand Theatre, you can contact Dressel at 740-632-2899.
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.
From the Mail Tribune: Supporters of the restoration of the historic Holly Theatre in downtown Medford announced this week the project has received another $300,000 in donations.
Fundraising is continuing, with supporters hoping to bring in enough money to launch major construction in the months ahead.
“I’m excited, because if we’re able to raise about another $500,000 by the end of the year, we’ll be able to start construction in the first quarter of 2017,” said Randy McKay, executive director of Jefferson Live!, the organization in charge of the restoration. “And that means we’ll be able to be open in early 2018 so the community can come back and enjoy this beautiful place that’s been boarded up for the last 30 years.”
The cost of the restoration is estimated at $4.3 million, although updated bid figures are being sought, McKay said.
From The American Press: A restored marquee and a new paint job will soon greet visitors to the historic Strand Theater in downtown Jennings. Work has begun on a $75,000 face-lift project, which is expected to continue through the spring.
“The Strand Theater is our pride and joy on Main Street, and it just needed a face-lift,” said City Project Coordinator Dusty Chaisson.
The theater, built in 1939, still hosts plays, music shows, classic movies, pageants and other events, but was “looking rundown,” said manager Lin Fake.
“We want the public to be proud and see Main Street Jennings for what it was back in the day,” Chaisson said. “We are very proud to try to restore the pride and take care of a historical structure that offers service to the community that so many other cities do not have.”
Not many old historical buildings like the Strand Theater are still being used today, he said. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The old marquee has been removed and is being restored, cracks in the facade are being repaired and windows are being replaced. Crews are also working to repaint the exterior in the theater’s original colors, which were hidden under layers of paint.
“It is going to be a painted lady, like it originally was,” Fake said. The retro colors will include hues of violet, red and yellow.
The theater last underwent renovations just prior to the 1993 Hollywood-style premiere of John Sayles’ “Passion Fish,” which was filmed in the Jennings and Lake Arthur area.