The latest movie theater news and updates

  • August 4, 2016

    Laurel, MD – Laurel Theater: From movies to theater, comedy to wrecking ball

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    From The Baltimore Sun: Lloyd Wineland was the head of Wineland Theaters, which eventually controlled 13 theaters, including most of the drive-ins in Prince George’s County, according to Robert Headley in his book “Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, D.C.

    After buying the Laurel Theater, the Wineland era lasted for 36 years. In all that time, only two managers were employed. The first was Albert Pohl, who had already been on the Wineland payroll for 10 years as the company’s secretary-treasurer. He ran the Laurel Theater at night from 1934 to 1959, while continuing his other duties with Wineland during the day. Pohl told the News Leader in 1976 that “We used to run three shows a week except when the races were in town. There were so many people who worked at the track and had rooms in Laurel. They had nothing to do in the evenings so we ran a different show every night for them.”

    In an oral history in the collection of the Laurel Historical Society, Pohl recalled that theaters first offered concessions in 1929. He also talked about the role of ushers keeping order in the old days. “They were in charge,” he said.

    The theater was embroiled in controversy in 1935, when it asked the City Council for permission to show movies on Sundays. The uproar was led by the Federated Council of Church Women and the Ministers of Laurel, who started a petition drive to show “their disapproval of further desecration of the Lord’s Day.” According to the Washington Post, the delegation told the City Council that Sunday movies “would be a great catastrophe to the town.” But in a special city-wide election, Laurel citizens voted 299 to 254 to allow Sunday movies. Sunday shows started at 3 p.m.

    The first full-color movie shown at the Laurel Theater was “Three Women,” in 1936.

    During the Wineland era, the theater was frequently involved in community affairs. During World War II, war bond and stamps were sold in the lobby by the Women’s Club of Laurel.

    Segregation

    Until the mid-1950s, Laurel was a segregated town, like the rest of Maryland. But the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education had broad implications beyond educational issues.

    According to Mildred Awkward, 92, who has lived most of her life in the Grove, Laurel’s historically black community, blacks were not allowed to attend movies at the Laurel Theater until things loosened up after the Brown decision. Even then, though, there were unwritten rules, she said.

    Black patrons had to enter the theater at a side door, where an usher was stationed to take their ticket money. They were not allowed to stand in line on Main Street with white patrons, she said. The side door led directly to the stairs leading to the balcony, where the black patrons were required to sit.

    This continued until Civil Rights legislation was passed in 1964 outlawing any “discrimination in public accommodations.” Cynthia Whitfield, who grew up in the Grove during the 1960s and witnessed the Jim Crow laws personally, remembers when “they eventually let us come downstairs.”

    Passing the baton

    Pohl retired from managing the theater in 1959, but continued as a corporate officer with Wineland until his full retirement seven years later.

    Ray Prior replaced Pohl as manager in 1959. Like Pohl, Prior lived in Old Town Laurel and was a big part of the community. Back in those days, newspaper ads and lobby posters for the theater prominently displayed the manager’s name.

  • New York, NY – NYC’s Most Incredible Old Movie Theaters

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    From Paper Magazine: Before cineplexes—and before you could easily access old movies at home—going to see a movie was a completely special adventure. You had to leave the house, often entering some eccentrically glorious theater that added, in its grandiosity (or sometimes squalor), to the cinematic quality of the experience. Here are some of those lost treasures du NYC cinema:

  • August 3, 2016

    Fort Lee, NJ – Luxury Movie Theater Opens in Bergen County Friday

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    From readability.com: Fine dining and luxury seating come to a new movie theater opening in Bergen County this Friday. iPic, a chain of dine-in movie theaters, is unveiling its fourteenth location, iPic Hudson Lights, on August 5 in Fort Lee.

    The theater features over-sized, extra-cushioned leather seats, a menu designed by Chef Sherry Yard, as well as an assortment of “classic candies” and “custom treats,” according to iPic’s website.

    Food is delivered to your seat while you’re watching the movie and the waitstaff is trained as “ninja waiters,” so as not to disturb the viewing experience for any customers, iPic president and CEO Hamid Hashemi told northjersey.com.

    There will also be a restaurant on-site called City Perch Kitchen + Bar, which will serve “abundant appetizers, just-picked vegetables, generous salads and outstanding main courses from spit-roasted chickens to char-broiled steak,“ according to iPic’s website.

    Ticket prices range from $12-25, depending on the seat. Tickets for the 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. screenings of “Bad Moms” on August 5 are already sold out. Also screening for the opening weekend: “Jason Bourne,” “Nine Lines” and “Suicide Squad.” Grab your tickets at the iPic website.

  • Middletown, OH – Music Hall’s ‘sister theater’ poised for a rebirth in Middletown

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    From WCPO.com: While Cincinnati’s Music Hall gets a $135 million makeover, the theater’s “sister” is hoping for a rebirth at the hands of some dedicated volunteers.

    The same man who designed Music Hall designed the Sorg Opera House in Middletown; the Sorg was built in the 1890s by Samuel Hannaford. It was later transformed into a movie theater.

    The building was recently bought in foreclosure for $32,000 by a group of local people who want to restore it to its former glory.

  • August 2, 2016

    South Bend, IN – Ghost hunters take over State

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    From the South Bend Tribune:
    Skeptic, believer or somewhere in between — on Saturday, everyone got something out of public ghost hunts at The State theater.

    For the believers in the paranormal, it was an opportunity to try to communicate with the past. For the skeptics, it was a unique tour-by-flashlight of one of South Bend’s historical treasures. For the State itself, it was a chance to raise money for repair work to return it to it’s former glory.

    Theater manager Jackie Oberlin said she’s experienced unexplained activity throughout the historic structure, which opened in 1921 as the Blackstone Theatre Vaudeville House. It became the State in 1931 and closed in 1977. It opened later as a nightclub, and was foreclosed in 2005. In recent years, efforts have been made to restore the crumbling plaster and other issues the aging structure faces.

    “You can be in here and feel cold spots, hear noises or catch something out of the corner of your eye,” she said Saturday evening, standing in the theater’s main room. “I hope that people can get a better feel of the State, and, if people have that openness to connect, maybe experience something from the past.”

    BSR Paranormal founder Jennifer Jacobs orchestrated the event, marking her second time exploring the theater for paranormal activity. The first time she came with her Fort Wayne-based team was February. On that trip she experienced cold spots, felt touches, saw electromagnetic field readers light up and even caught voices on a recorder, she said.

    She didn’t expect to have a roomful of believers on the several public tours Saturday, but hoped that people who came out were interested in the property for one reason or another, whether that be paranormal or just to see the theater and play a part in its restoration. She said she does encounter skeptics from time to time.

  • Flushing, Queens, NY – Historic Flushing theater may finally be redeveloped after 30 years of neglect

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    From Curbed NY: Xinyuan Real Estate, the Chinese firm behind Williamsburg’s The Oosten and a forthcoming Hell’s Kitchen tower, is making its first foray into Queens with the acquisition of RKO Keith’s Theater in Flushing. The firm acquired the theater for $66 million with plans to convert it into a 269-condo building, Real Estate Weekly writes.

    The theater’s acquisition marks a next chapter for the decrepit, partially-landmarked building that’s been vacant for over three decades. Seller JK Equities’s plans to remake the theater into a 269-unit condo crumbled when the developer relisted the property in February.

    JK Equities was the most recent in a string of developers looking to recast the once-lovely theater as an inhabitable destination, but through the decades those plans have fallen by the wayside for one reason or the next. In the late 1980s, former site owner Thomas Huang wanted to convert the theater, with its newly-landmarked ticket booth and grand lobby, into a hotel. But Huang illegally demolished some of the interiors in a move that netted him felony charges and put the theater back on the market.

    Controversial developer Shaya Boymelgreen purchased the site in 2002 for $15 million with plans to build out condos at the site, but Boymelgreen ended up selling the theater to Patrick Thompson in 2010 for $20 million.

    JK Equities picked the site up from Thompson in 2013 for $30 million, and have now sold the theater to Xinyuan for over twice what they paid for it just three years ago. Whether or not Xinyuan will be the developer to end the site’s 30 years of plight remains to be seen, but their plans are promising, at least.

    Judging by a statement released by Xinyuan Chairman Yong Zhang, the condos planned for the site will cater to a more monied demographic, “The location for this project in downtown Flushing is ideally situated particularly as there is a shortage of inventory in the higher-end condominium segment. Given the location of this project, we expect it will be appealing to both local and foreign buyers and investors.”

    Real Estate Weekly reports that Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, the firm co-founded by Pritzker-winning architect I.M. Pei, will be designing the project. The firm’s website lists a project known as Flushing Square, the LLC that held the title for the property when JK Equities owned the site, as in development. Curbed has reached out to confirm PCF’s role.

  • August 1, 2016

    Springfield, MO – Springfield multiplex theater ends 20 year run with final films Sunday

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    From KY3.com: The curtain comes down Sunday on a 20-year run for a Springfield movie theater.

    Wehrenberg’s Campbell 16 Theatre will close at the end of Sunday’s showings. The company announced earlier this summer that it would close the theater, saying it could not compete in a market with so many movie screens. There are two other complexes showing first-run movies with between 11 and 14 screens.

    The theater will close with a little Hollywood fictional tie to the Ozarks. One of the last films showing is Jason Bourne, starring Matt Damon. The character’s back story in the series of films is that he was born in Nixa.

    The theater will not stay closed for long. Alamo Drafthouse Cinema announced plans this month to renovate the theater and open next winter as a multiplex with a full service restaurant, bar and several movie screens.

  • Bridgeport, CT – Supporters rally to save historic Bridgeport theater set to close

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    From News12CT.com: Staff and supporters of a historic Bridgeport theater held a rally Sunday in an effort to keep the venue from shutting its doors for good next week.

    The owners of the Bijou Theater on Fairfield Avenue say they can’t afford to keep the theater up and running.

    Members of the group rallying say they are all deeply invested in the nonprofit community theater and are trying to raise $100,000…

  • Colorado City, TX – Colorado City movie theater flickering back to life

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    From the Abilene Reporter-News: There’s three things every teen wants. Big towns or small, they all want a place to eat, a street to cruise and a movie to watch.

    But most Big Country towns don’t have a movie theater. In Colorado City, they did have one for a time, but like Rule’s Tower Drive-In, it’s become a victim of progress.

    “I guess within the last five years they’ve been talking about us converting to digital because they were going to stop making film,” said Marcus Monroe. He and his wife, Beatrice, own the Palace Theater, which is attached to the Baker Hotel downtown.

    As movie cameras have gone digital, so too have movie studios when it comes to the distribution of finished movies on physical motion picture film.

    “We’ve gotten to that point where it’s rare that we can get a film,” Marcus said. “We open whenever we can get one, but it’s not that consistent or easy to get a film.”

    The couple bought the Palace in 2007, reopening it after nearly two decades. Both are from Colorado City and recalled being in middle school when the theater closed.

    “Oh, I was upset, I remember that feeling,” Beatrice said. “I was disappointed, we thought, ‘What are we going to do now?’”

    Marcus felt the same way, but even in eighth grade he had an idea of what to do about it.

    “When it shut down, everyone was upset and I told everybody I was going to reopen it when got older,” he said, a smile on his face. “And I did.”

    The closest movie theaters are in Big Spring or Snyder. One-way, that’s a 40- or 25-mile drive, respectively.

    “The reason that I support this is because I remember when my little sister was in high school,” Beatrice said. “Her group of friends went to Snyder to watch a movie, and one of them had an accident. She passed away; it was awful and it shook the whole town.”

    That wintertime tragedy brought home to her the need to have a cinema in Colorado City, but it wasn’t the only reason.

  • Indiana, PA – Palace Gardens Drive-In reopens with digital projector

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    From the Indiana Gazette: Equipped with an added piece of expensive technology, the Palace Gardens Drive-in Theater finally opened for the summer Friday evening.

    But the technological upgrade wasn’t made just for the sake of becoming more modern. To the contrary, theater owners Clarine Beatty and husband Mike Hudzick made a significant financial investment in Palace Gardens to help preserve much of the 66-year-old drive-in’s tradition and nostalgia.

    Making its debut at dusk Friday at the drive-in along Indian Springs Road in White Township was a 2007 model Christie digital movie projector. The addition of a digital projector means Palace Gardens will be able to continue showing new-release movies. About three years ago, movie studios started phasing out 35 mm film prints and began a switch to an all-digital distribution system. Theater owners who choose not to change with the times and acquire a digital projector will eventually be forced to screen only old movies that exist on celluloid.

    The change to an all-digital distribution format left the future of Palace Gardens uncertain for the past few years. Beatty said the cost of a new digital projector approaches six figures — a hefty outlay for a business that only operates on weekends during the summer.

    Because of the unavailability of movies on 35 mm film, Palace Gardens did not open this Memorial Day weekend as it has for decades. Beatty announced then that the drive-in might open later in the summer if she and Hudzick could “find a digital projection option that works for us.”

    “This has been quite an endeavor,” Beatty said this week while preparing for opening night. She started early in 2016 — making a lot of phone calls, contacting other drive-in theater owners and her other movie business contacts — trying to locate a suitable projector.

    “We’re a two-person business. … This is not the only thing we do,” Beatty said. She is a schoolteacher and Hudzick’s day job is as a contractor.

    The search was complicated by the fact that Beatty and Hudzick not only needed a used projector, but a big one that could cast an image large enough to fill all of Palace Garden’s 92-foot-wide screen, one of the larger screens in the drive-in industry.