The latest movie theater news and updates

  • September 12, 2016

    The rich history and fantastic theaters of Graven & Mayger, a forgotten architecture duo

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    From Curbed.com: At the intersection of 13th Street and Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s South Loop there stands an art deco building with strong vertical pillars and textbook, streamlined organic ornamentation. No plaque marks the building, and the city’s online database identifies it only as an office building from the 1920s by Graven, A.S.

    It’s the only reference to the work of this particular firm in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, a 10-year effort to catalog important buildings. In a city overflowing with iconic, turn-of-the-century skyscrapers and high-rises, it doesn’t draw much attention. But it’s far from the firm’s only work, in the city or elsewhere. A 24-story office building still stands at 100 N. LaSalle Street, festooned with the same ornamentation as its cousin in the South Loop. Another stands nearby at 232 S. Wabash, noted in the survey but unattributed. They’re relics of a firm that had a brief, shining run designing palatial buildings across the country in the early 20th century.

    Anker Sverre Graven was the principal of an eponymous architectural firm when it was located at 100 N. LaSalle. He had originally founded a firm with his longtime partner, Arthur Guy Mayger, in 1926, and the pair went on to design a string of fantastic theaters across the United States.

    For the most part, their work stands forgotten. If not for the interest of a former colleague, a little luck, and the recent discovery of the firm’s forgotten archives, much of Graven and Mayger’s architectural work might have gone unnoticed, or unrecorded, just more building from the early 20th century by unknown architects that have been lost to time.

  • Northampton, MA – An unexpected find: Academy of Music restores historic scenic curtain

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    From the Daily Hampshire Gazette: Time was when all kinds of places had them: theaters, town halls, grange halls, opera houses, or any place else you might stage some kind of artistic performance.

    Scenic backdrop curtains.

    It turns out Northampton’s Academy of Music had one, too, but it had pretty much vanished from view years ago until Academy staff members discovered it two years ago when the building was being restored.

    Now that 103-year-old curtain — evidently the largest known to exist on the East Coast — has been given a makeover by a Vermont conservation group that specializes in refurbishing these historic backdrops. On Tuesday, the Academy will unveil the curtain to the public during an open house from 5:45 to 6:30 p.m.

    “It’s the largest [scenic curtain] we’ve ever worked with,” said Christine Hadsel, director of Curtains Without Borders, a conservation group from Burlington, Vermont. “It’s an impressive work.”

    Hadsel, who with members of her team spent several days in August working on the curtain, said the Northampton backdrop measures 42 by 28 feet. Most of the curtains the group conserves are in the range of 18 by 10 feet, she noted.

    Debra J’Anthony, director of the Academy of Music, said the curtain was designed in 1913 by Maurice Tuttle, a New York painter who created scenic backdrops throughout the United States and Canada. It was first displayed for the public in October 1913 as the main drop curtain for a performance by a theatrical group, the Northampton Players.

    J’Anthony says she believes the painted scene was inspired by Paradise Pond on the Smith College campus in Northampton and by a tower that was part of a local factory and business, Maynard’s Hoe Shop, which was destroyed by fire a few years later. On the curtain, the tower stands alone and is surrounded by trees and framed against a blue sky. The lush scene could pass for a painting from the Romantic Era, with the tower representing an old medieval or Roman ruin.

    A stylized graphic, with abstract motifs that may have been painted on with stencils, lines the painting on three sides.

    Tuttle’s design, Academy staff say, was painted over one side of what had been the theater’s original main proscenium curtain, a blue-and-white striped canvas decorated in floral stencils and hand-painted pinstripes. That curtain dated from the building’s opening in 1891.

    At some point — it’s not clear exactly when — the curtain was taken out of use and stapled to the back of the Academy’s cut-velvet main drape curtain, which dates from 1917, J’Anthony said.

    After Tuttle’s work was discovered, J’Anthony got in touch with Curtains Without Borders; staff from the group made three visits to the Academy to assess its condition and develop a plan to conserve it. A deep clean In mid-August, several members from the group returned to the Academy to start that effort. First job: scrub a century’s worth of dirt and stains from the huge curtain.

    To do that, it was removed from its risers and laid out flat on dozens of rented tables mounted on the Academy’s stage. Staff from Curtains Without Borders, on their hands and knees, rubbed the curtain — made from a cotton muslin, Hadsel said— with specialized dry sponges.

    Curtains from those days, she added, “would absorb a lot of dirt. People used to smoke in theaters, dirt would fall from the ceiling, and it would accumulate.”

    The conservators also planned to clean the backside of the curtain. Additional conservation work included vacuuming, repainting faded sections of the curtain, repairing tears and holes, and trimming ragged edges with iron-on patches.

    “It’s the biggest curtain we’ve ever worked on,” Hadsel said. “It’s quite a job.”

    Her group, started in 1996 as a project of the Vermont Museum & Gallery Alliance, has since surveyed and worked on hundreds of old painted curtains and backdrops in New England and in other parts of the United States. They’ve conserved one at the Majestic Theatre in West Springfield and are scheduled to work on one in Orange.

    “These kinds of backdrops were very popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially in New England,” Hadsel said. “Just about any place that could host a performance had one. Sometimes they’d have a whole set of them.”

    While many of these backdrops featured pastoral scenes, some offered street scenes or interior views of houses; others would contain advertisements, usually for local businesses that supported that arts. Many of these “advertising” curtains are in grange halls, Hadsel notes, as granges used the revenue to pay for the artistic work and upkeep, while town hall curtains were paid for by donations or public money.

    “They’re really great examples of American folk art,” she said.

    She’s cataloged many of the curtains her team has worked on in a new book, “Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England.” The colorful backdrops detailed in the book recall the era before TV, radio and the internet, when live theater was the main form of community entertainment.

    J’Anthony says the Academy is thrilled to have its painted curtain — a missing piece of the city’s history — back in place. In addition to Tuesday’s free unveiling, it will be available for viewing during future history tours, special events and selected performances at the theater, she said.

  • Missoula, MT – Stockman Bank gets permission to demolish old Cine 3 movie theater

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    From The Missoulian:
    A vacant movie theater in Missoula that has become a magnet for crime soon will be torn down to make way for a new bank.

    The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors has approved a request from Stockman Bank to proceed with demolishing the old Cine 3 movie theater building at 3601 Brooks.

    The bank intends to construct a new two-story bank building and one other commercial or office building at the site. It’s expected to be complete within two years because the ongoing construction of a massive new six-story Stockman Bank building downtown is occupying the company’s resources.

    However, the current movie theater building – which has been vacant for 10 years – has apparently become an immediate problem for both the owners and the Missoula Police Department because it has been frequented recently by people engaging in illegal activity.

    “The owner is regularly cleaning up used syringes and empty alcoholic beverage containers, and the rear of the building has become a dumping ground for abandoned vehicles,” said MRA executive director Ellen Buchanan in a memo. “Neighboring businesses are increasingly expressing concern about vandalism and criminal activity.”

    She added that Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady has requested increased patrols around the building, but there continue to be issues. Brady has also asked that the MRA help expedite the removal of the building and the cleanup of the lot.

    The bank asked to proceed with demolishing the building without prejudicing any future requests they may make for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) assistance, because the site is in an Urban Renewal District.

    Randy Rupert, the regional director of business development for CTA Architects, is working for Stockman Bank on the building. He said that the bank is ready to demolish the current building within four or five weeks.

    “Two weeks ago we got broken into again,” he said. “It’s been blighted long enough for the city of Missoula. People know the building’s empty and they find ways in. It’s probably the only deserted property around there.”

    The bank plans to recycle as much of the materials from the deconstruction as it can.

    The Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s board also approved a request from the Missoula Housing Authority to proceed without prejudice on moving forward with prepping the site at 110 N. California St. for a new six-unit affordable housing complex. The MHA has been awarded a $700,000 state grant for the project, but they need to get going in order to not jeopardize the funding. Each unit will be one-bedroom.

    The board also approved a $79,720 TIF request from the North Missoula Community Development Corp. to deconstruct the existing house at 503 E. Front St. to build seven affordable housing units. The NMCDC will own the land, and sell two-bedroom units for around $130,000, and four-bedroom units for around $150,000, well below market value. However, the resale value of each unit is capped so that they remain affordable for future buyers while still rewarding homeowners for the equity they’ve put in as good caretakers.

    “It’s really exciting for us to get some permanent affordable homeownership downtown, which is an extremely rare commodity,” said Jerry Petasek of the NMCDC.

    Finally, the board approved a TIF request of $22,216 from the owners of the 16-unit apartment building at 534 E. Front St., on the corner of Madison Street, for sidewalk improvements. The owners are renovating the entire building, and the taxpayer money will go to fund right-of-way improvements.

  • Hanford, CA – Beloved ceiling stars shine again at Hanford Fox after restoration

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    From The Fresno Bee: The Hanford Fox Theatre, one of the jewels of the central San Joaquin Valley, is shining brighter than ever following a two-year restoration that cost nearly $4 million.

    The rehab took place under the watchful eye of Dan Humason, a believer in historic preservation and owner of the building that he says “owns me.”

    With the theater open again, the stage that hosted BB King, Red Skelton, Bob Hope, the Smothers Brothers, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, George Strait, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss and Brooks and Dunn is ready for live performances.

    The Fox opened as a movie palace and vaudeville stage in 1929 and grew into a Hanford institution where big-name entertainers perform and local organizations hold private events.

    Next door to the Fox is Lush wine bar owned by Lindsey Oliveira, who grew up in Hanford and fondly remembers watching movies and shows there.

    Her business has benefited from Hanford Fox foot traffic, she said.

  • Boston, MA – Emerson considers reopening Colonial Theatre

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    From The Boston Globe: Nearly a year after closing the Colonial Theatre, Emerson College is considering proposals from a handful of outside groups to reopen the storied playhouse — a move that would broaden the city’s cultural offerings and could help arts organizations navigating a rapidly changing entertainment landscape.

    The college, which endured widespread criticism last fall when the Globe disclosed Emerson’s possible plan to convert the Colonial into a flexible dining hall and performance space, has declined to identify the groups or characterize their proposals. But the Globe has identified several organizations that submitted bids. They include a consortium of arts groups operating locally, as well as at least one national theater management company.

    The local consortium — which includes Celebrity Series of Boston, Broadway in Boston, Boston Lyric Opera, and Live Nation — has put in a proposal to provide programming. In addition, Boston Lyric Opera submitted its own independent programming bid.

    Pennsylvania-based SMG, an international venue management, marketing, and development firm, has also entered a plan for the theater, which has been dark since “The Book of Mormon” closed in October.

    “We’re looking at the proposals internally,” said Carole McFall, director of media relations at Emerson. “We’re hoping to make a decision this fall.”

    Don Law, president of Live Nation New England, said the consortium would bring touring Broadway shows, musical acts, opera, and more to the theater.

  • Beverly, MA – Beverly couple buys Larcom Theatre

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    From the Salem News: The sale of the Larcom Theatre became official on Friday when a husband and wife from Beverly purchased the landmark venue for $645,000.

    The new owners, Donald and Lisa Crowell, plan to continue the theater as a performing arts center, said former owner David Bull.

    The Larcom had been on the market since March, with an original asking price of $699,900. It had been owned since 1984 by a group of performers from the former Le Grand David Magic Company, which also owned the Cabot Theatre before selling that building in 2014.

    “I know I share the sentiment that we are absolutely delighted that both the Cabot and the Larcom are continuing on as they were intended as performing arts venues,” said Bull, who played Le Grand David in long-running shows at both sites.

    Donald Crowell declined to comment on the sale. Bull described the Crowells as a young couple who moved to Beverly last year.

    The Larcom and Cabot are vaudeville-era theaters located less than a half-mile from each other in downtown Beverly. The Larcom, at 13 Wallis St., was built in 1912, eight years before the Cabot.

  • September 8, 2016

    Ann Arbor, MI – Ann Arbor’s historic State Theatre to close soon for major renovations

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    From MLive: The historic State Theatre in downtown Ann Arbor is getting ready to undergo a major restoration and transformation.

    The movie house at 233 S. State St. will show its last midnight film this Saturday, Sept. 10, followed by a handful of additional film screenings next week, before closing for renovations for eight to 12 months.

    The city’s Planning Commission voted Wednesday night, Sept. 7, to approve the plans, which include constructing a 2,000-square-foot addition on the south side of the building where there’s an alley enclosed behind double doors.

    The addition, measuring 7.7 feet wide and 88.5 feet deep, will fill in the alley and house a new elevator, which is just one of a number of upgrades planned. The Michigan Theater Foundation is undertaking a large-scale interior and exterior renovation of the State Theatre to restore its art deco look and feel in conjunction with its 75th anniversary in 2017.

    That includes restoration of the iconic marque and facade along State Street, as well as converting the two-screen theater into a “one-of-a-kind cinema space” with four smaller screening rooms, more comfortable seating and more leg room.

    The project includes restoring and refreshing the art deco design of the entrance, lobby and restrooms as well.

    The theater is in the State Street Historic District. The city’s Historic District Commission already signed off on the project, which has support in the form of funding from the Downtown Development Authority and private donors.

    The theater was originally designed by architect C. Howard Crane, who also designed the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

    Construction began in 1940 and the State Theatre opened in 1942. The first floor was originally clad in red structural glass panels.

  • San Jose, CA – Downtown San Jose’s Camera 12 Movie Theater to Close

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    From San Jose Inside: Downtown San Jose is losing its only first-run movie theater. Camera 12 Cinemas, San Jose’s largest independently owned movieplex, announced today that it will punch its final tickets this Friday, Sep. 9. Camera Cinemas’ two other theater complexes—Camera 3, located just blocks from Camera 12, and Camera 7 in Campbell—will remain open.

    “I’m really sad—really sad,” said Jack NyBlom, a managing partner of Camera Cinemas. However, he added, the closure simply could not be avoided. “A decade’s loss of revenue from a promised growing residential market, that’s just now coming online, coupled with the staggering costs of maintaining a large, aging, poorly designed building has led us to this decision to close.”

    Camera Cinema’s spokesman, Dan Orloff, said that years of accumulated debt posed a challenge to the local ownership group. The “straw that broke the camel’s back,” Orloff says, was the tenant’s obligation to maintain and repair the roofs, escalators and other building elements, which were in serious disrepair.

    Camera 12 took over the taxpayer-subsidized cinderblock building next to the federal courthouse and Fairmont Hotel in July 2004, several years after United Artists moved out of the complex without notice in the middle of the night. The $11 million, 70,000-square-foot complex received $4.4 million in city redevelopment funds after another national chain, AMC, abandoned its plans for a 16-screen complex as part of the Pavilion, a Redevelopment-sponsored retail mall that was eventually converted into a computer server farm.

    In December 2000, just four years after the theater was built, Redevelopment Agency director Susan Shick tried to knock it down. “The theater is obsolete,” Shick said. “It’s not a theater built to modern-day standards.” Things turned around after the Cameras leased the facility, and both private and public money was poured into maintaining the operation.

    And yet it was not enough. According to NyBlom, after a tile fell from the cieling a few weeks back, it was discovered that the building had some serious plumbing issues. Plus, he added, the theater’s escalators were proving to be both a hazard and a money pit. “It’s just not a safe environment for our customers anymore,” he said.

    NyBlom is pleased that Camera Cinemas’ other two locations, Camera 3 and Camera 7, will be able to keep showing films. But even though both theaters are doing well, he believes the loss of the independent Camera 12 represents a major blow to downtown San Jose culture.

    For starters, Camera Cinemas has always made it a priority to work with the local community in ways larger theater chains might not. At Camera 7, for instance, on the first and third Wednesday of every month, there are special showings for parents with infants—the idea being, if everyone in the crowd is bringing a baby, no one will object to a little crying.

    Camera 12 has also been a major hub for screenings during the Cinequest Film Festival. “We’re going to try to continue to work with Cinequest,” NyBlom said, noting that Camera 3 will remain available as will Camera 7. However, that does leave a big vacuum when it comes to downtown screenings. “We have a 27-year relationship with those guys. We’ll try to get them placed wherever we can.”

    Camera Cinemas has also served as a force for good in sticking up for other independent theaters. After moving into the Camera 12 building in 2004, Camera Cinemas sued the national Century Theater chain over their practice of creating “clearance agreements” with movie studios. These agreements would guarantee Century had exclusive rights to screen certain movies for a certain period of time within a given region—sort of like the radius clauses live music venues make bands sign, preventing many acts from playing both San Francisco and San Jose in succession.

    Their legal action proved fruitful—at least in San Jose—after then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer launched an antitrust investigation into the practice of clearance agreements. Though no legal action was taken, Century backed off and Camera Cinemas won the rights to screen first-run films at Camera 12, a major coup for the independent theater.

    The suit may have also played a role in spurring other independent theaters to take fight clearance agreements in their regions.

    See below for the full Camera Cinemas news release.

  • Iuka, MS – State’s only drive-in looks to upgrade

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    From the Daily Corinthian: For Mississippi’s only remaining drive-in movie theater, the show must go on.

    Even after most major film production companies halted the making of 35 mm film used by the Iuka Drive-In last December, manager Earl Curtis had the find a way to keep this drive-in open.

    “Thankfully a couple of companies continued to release some of the bigger titles on 35 mm film,” said Curtis, who has leased to drive-in from Bubba Jourdan for the last 30 years. “I think we’ve only shown like five movies all summer.”

    The historical landmark on West Quitman Street has been a fixture in Iuka since around 1957. Normally open from April-October, Curtis decided the drive-in could only support June-August or September this year.

    “Labor Day might be our last weekend,” he recently told the Daily Corinthian.

    “Suicide Squad” and “Central Intelligence” have been showing as a double feature at the drive-in for more than a month.

    “I know our customers have got tired of the same couple of movies being shown this year, but we’ve been trying the best we can,” he said. “It’s better to be open and show the same thing, then to be closed for good.”
Earlier this year, Curtis launched a Gofundme online account to try to raise the $50,000 needed to update the drive-in’s old 35 mm projector to a new digital projector.

    A month ago he found an even better deal.

    “TriState Theater Supply has a used digital projector for $10,000 and our plans are to get that one. Hopefully, we can have it upgraded by next year and back to showing first-run movies,” said an excited Curtis.

    With less than $8,000 to go, Curtis said they can’t do it without the community’s continued support and donations.

    “People have been pretty good to us,” he said. “So with everyone’s support, I don’t think there’ll be a problem to get to the $10,000 we need.”

    (Online donations can be made at gofundme.com/keepiukagoing. For more information, visit facebook.com/iuka.drivein.)

    Read more: Daily Corinthian – State s only drive in looks to upgrade

  • Chicago, IL – Davis Theater Could Be Ready By November: Look At The Progress So Far

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    From DNA Info: It’s one of the most eagerly anticipated movie premieres of the year — the return of the Davis Theater.

    The cinema, 4614 N. Lincoln Ave., has been closed since January for a multimillion-dollar makeover.

    The opening date is now looking like November, according to owner Tom Fencl, who’s aiming to have the Davis up and running in time for the holiday season.

    Ben Munro, operating partner at the Davis and its new companion restaurant/bar Carbon Arc, provided a recent behind-the-scenes tour.

    Stadium seating is taking shape in the Davis' two front theaters (labeled Theater One and Theater Three) and meticulous restoration work is progressing on the main theater (aka, Theater Two), which is being returned to its Art Deco glory.