The latest movie theater news and updates
January 4, 2017
From the Houston Press: In July 1999, the River Oaks Theatre had the honor of exclusively hosting The Blair Witch Project for two weeks. Lines snaked around the building for an endless stream of sold-out shows. People began trying to sneak their friends in through the exit. With too many people and not enough seats, a minor riot ensued.
Then-general manager Rob Arcos and the rest of the staff ended up barricaded in the office while the cops escorted people out. Artisan Entertainment eventually sent the various Landmark Theatres staff T-shirts saying “I survived The Blair Witch Project,” as thanks for handling the two weeks of insanity.
Ah, those heady days when going to the movies was still a must-do experience. Nowadays, confronted with streaming entertainment and digital piracy, Houston theaters are finding new best strategies as they try to hold onto their share of the market and remain relevant.
For instance, he really isn’t a ghoul, but when Robert Saucedo of Alamo Drafthouse finds out a celebrity actor has died, he springs into action, operating on the premise that when someone you love dies, you go to that person’s funeral. When an actor you love dies, you go to the movies.
From the Daily Bulletin: The olden days of moviegoing in Pomona is an occasional topic here. My column last fall on the Sunkist Theater, the most obscure of the four major theaters in town, had as its genesis a reader query about the city’s classic movie houses.
Don Russell, a retired general manager of this fine publication, had emailed to say he’d find it interesting “to read about the other walk-in theaters that once were in the city of Pomona and what happened to them.”
In my attempt to oblige him, my research turned up the startling fact that Howard Hughes had built and operated the Sunkist, an association that had been brief and long-forgotten.
So the Sunkist became the story. But as I still have all my notes on the other theaters, let me round up those stories for you now before we get caught up in the mad whirl of 2017. Posterity demands it.
The facts are gleaned from Progress-Bulletin files, the website Cinema Treasures, the Facebook group Growing Up in Pomona in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s and, last but not least, the Pomona Public Library.
• In the silent era, when theaters were fairly easily set up, Pomona had several, among them La Pictoria (478 W. Second St.), the American (470 W. Second St.), the Lyric (366 W. Second St.) and the Fraternal Aid Opera House (Gordon and Third), all of which appear to have closed by the mid-1920s; none of the buildings is still standing.
• The Belvedere (255 S. Garey Ave.) opened in 1911. Howard Hughes’ Hughes-Franklin Co. bought the theater in 1931, early in the sound era. The company announced a major remodeling that would include a name change to the Mirror and an exterior that would be covered in “thousands of little mirrors.” Neither occurred. (Imagine having the job of gluing them onto the building.) Still named the Belvedere, the theater burned down Nov. 20, 1933.
• The California/United Artists (235 W. Third St.) opened in 1923 as the California with Buster Keaton’s still-delightful comedy “Our Hospitality.” The theater, at 1,212 seats, later became the Fox California and, in 1949, the United Artists Theater, closing in 1972. In the 1980s it became the Pomona Valley Auditorium, which hosted rock concerts, some of them promoted by a young Paul Tollett, who now puts on the Coachella festival. The former theater these days is a Spanish church.
• The Fox Pomona (301 S. Garey Ave.) opened in 1931 with Laurel and Hardy’s “Laughing Gravy.” The city’s grandest theater with 1,751 seats, it often hosted sneak previews of movies, for which stars and studio heads would be in attendance, the better to gauge the reaction of a typical audience so that changes could be made before release. The Fox closed as a first-run movie house in 1976. It showed Spanish-language movies until the late 1980s, was used as a church and later for rave concerts. In 2009, the Fox reopened as a concert venue after a $10 million renovation. The theater has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981.
Anchorage, AK – Anchorage’s 4th Avenue Theatre gets its demolition permit, but owners say they won’t raze it
From ADN.com: A demolition permit was issued for the historic downtown 4th Avenue Theatre last month after Anchorage’s building board ruled that city officials, citing historic preservation questions, erred in delaying the permit.
In a 2-1 vote at a December hearing, the Board of Building Regulation Examiners and Appeals agreed last month with the theater’s owners, Peach Investments LLC, which said the city didn’t have grounds to deny the permit.
Described by the theater’s owners as needed for routine maintenance, the demolition permit immediately became tangled up in a city effort to preserve historic buildings.
City officials argued that Peach was never actually denied a permit, but that both parties agreed on Oct. 17 to research whether the building carried a conservation easement that would block any future owner from tearing it down. City attorneys later said it appeared the $300,000 the city paid for a conservation easement in 1985 was eliminated by a 1991 foreclosure — a point raised in the written appeal by Peach Investments to say the permit should have been issued.
Kristine Bunnell, the city’s historic building officer, said she never believed Peach Investments intended to demolish the building. But she said that all historic properties listed on official registers have now been flagged in the city’s permit management computer system so a consultation would be triggered whenever an owner applied to demolish or change it.
In the meantime, the Anchorage Assembly is weighing whether to adopt a “demolition delay” ordinance that would provide for a community dialogue before a historic building is torn down. The ordinance was fast-tracked in response to Peach Investments seeking the demolition permit for the theater.
From myarklamiss.com: Winnsboro’s historic Princess Theatre is in need of some repairs that are estimated to cost over half a million dollars.
The theatre has been closed to the public since Septmeber due to safety concerns.
City officials say the theater was built in 1907, and after 100 years of entertainment and memories, the low sloping roof is too dangerous for community use.
The building already saw some repairs in October, on it’s air units and back rafters.
Now, the ceiling is sagging and the wood is about to give.
But the community is not willing to see their princess fall apart.
“It’s missed tremendously, and we are hoping and praying that we can come up with the funds to repair this building,” says Mayor Jackie Johnson.
“I can remember this building being here all my life. Coming here to picture shows when I was a kid, teenager, watching different shows here. It’s just memories,” says city superintendent, Phillip Robinson.
Attached are some photos of productions throughout years past.
The city council met earlier in December, deciding on the $520,000 estimate for the repairs, and hoping to get the ball rolling on roof reconstruction.
Officials say once the funds are in place, the restoration should only take about 2 months.
January 2, 2017
From The Roanoke Times:
Actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore have donated the Liberty Theatre in downtown Hailey to a local theater company.
The Idaho Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/2ir425O ) that the formalized gift gives the Company of Fools a secure, permanent space where the theatrical company has performed since 1996.
Paintsville, KY – Showing at the SIPP: Paintsville hosting movies again in ‘historic’ theater to energize downtown
From The Daily Independent: An 85-year-old movie theater dripping with nostalgia was revived by an eastern Kentucky city determined to invigorate a once-hopping downtown.
The Paintsville Main Street Association bought the old SIPP Theatre in 2010, four years after it played what most believed was likely its final film. At that time, the brick building had slipped into poor condition and become a ghost of its former self, showing mostly second-run movies as management struggled to compete with a five-screen cinema in the nearby plaza.
But 10 years after its last screening, the “Historic” SIPP is hosting movies again. In October, a line of hundreds of moviegoers wrapped around the block for a weekend showing of 1985’s “The Goonies.”
After receiving the bag of popcorn and can of soda pop included in the $5 ticket price, the crowd waltzed into the elegant, one-screen theater that used to capture many childhood imaginations.
In November, the SIPP fittingly hosted another 1985 classic, “Back to the Future.” In December, “It’s a Wonderful Life” returned to the SIPP screen for the first time in 70 years.
First-year Paintsville Tourism executive director Jeremiah Parsons said community response to the resurgence of the SIPP has been overwhelmingly positive.
“We’ve had people stop in there every day that it’s open,” he said. “Sometimes they just stick their head in. They say, ‘I used to be in here all the time,’ or ‘I got my first kiss up in the balcony.’ People have happy childhood memories of that place, that’s for sure.”
The city has invested significant money and time into renovating the SIPP to attract former patrons who now have children of their own.
In the past year, the city removed the façade installed in the 1960s, replaced windows and stripped paneling back down to the original brick. A classic three-sided marquee was added above a new wooden ticket booth.
Parsons said the facelift was vital for the downtown area.
“Any time you want to revitalize downtown, you have to have something that makes people want to come in,” he said. “We have our local downtown businesses where they’ll come and shop, but there’s no entertainment. Now they can have dinner and watch a movie before going home, all at a very affordable price, and all very local.”
Further renovations to the interior are scheduled for the winter months. The city will install a new floor and paint most of the theater. New, taller seats with head rests will replace the old, stationary seats. Once renovations are complete, the SIPP will resume showing one movie per month, Parsons said, in addition to plays and concerts.
The Main Street Players, a local theater group, began performing in the SIPP in 2012. The Johnson Central High School drama club also calls the SIPP home. An entertainment series, U.S. 23 Country Music Songwriters Night, will continue to alternate between the theater and the Country Music Highway Museum in Paintsville.
The classic theater has hosted hundreds of concerts and movies and been rejuvenated multiple times over its rich history by groups like the SIPP Theatre Foundation and now the city.
Local residents hope the newest efforts will turn the classic theater into the anchor for a lively downtown once again.
December 30, 2016
From The Pueblo Chieftain: The windows are darkened, the box office is closed and the marquee is still advertising a production from Dec. 8, 9 and 10. The curtain has officially fallen on the Damon Runyon Theater Company, prompting sadness from local performing arts advocates and questions about the fate of its historic headquarters.
From Newsday: The father-son duo behind the plans to reopen a historic theater in Babylon Village has been awarded a $150,000 grant from New York State in support of the project. The funding will help Mark and Dylan Perlman of Seaford realize their dream of reopening the 94-year-old cinema on Main Street as a year-round professional theater for plays, musicals and other performance arts.
The state grant “allows for some significant project changes to the facility that, in our opinion, will very much enhance the experience for the patrons,” said Mark Perlman, a 63-year-old psychologist. The Perlmans are working to acquire all of the necessary permits to begin construction. They hope to open the venue under the name Argyle Theater at Babylon Village in fall 2017. Village Mayor Ralph Scordino welcomed the news of the grant.
From nwi.com: The question of whether the Town Council will say “action” on renovating the Town Theatre probably will be answered next month, the theater’s board of directors recently learned.
Invitations to bid were sent out to about 15 contractors, said Redevelopment Director Cecile Petro. “We’d like to have a lot of bids.”
The bids are due by noon Jan. 16, when they will be opened and announced in Town Hall through the help of Morris Architects and Planners of Chicago.
Although no official action will be taken that day, the public will be allowed to attend the bid openings.
“Basically, the architect will go through them and evaluate them” to make sure they follow the stipulations set by the Redevelopment Commission, said Rhett Tauber, theater board attorney, of the bids.
Contractors must include a base bid for comparison purposes, board members said.
The ultimate winner — if the project is approved — will be the lowest and most responsive qualifying bid, Petro noted.
Town officials will conduct a walk-through of the historic 70-year-old building on Jan. 5 for interested contractors.
Attendance at the function will hint at the level of interest among qualified builders, Director Michael Maloney said. Interest already has been expressed by inquiring contractors from Indianapolis, South Bend and Chicago, Petro said.
The bid amounts will determine whether the curtain will be raised again in the theater.
December 27, 2016
From The Post-Star: In 1938, Cornell Hall won a brand-new Plymouth at the Strand Theatre on Main Street. And on Friday night, his grandson, John Hall Jr., was back at the historic venue for a holiday event that breathed life into the long-dormant movie house.
“In the 1990s I did the plumbing and heating,” said Hall, referring to work he completed for the town when the theater housed town offices and the town courtroom. “My father, Jack Hall, was always here as a kid.”
Along with Hall, about 40 people came to a holiday screening of Frank Capra’s classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” on Friday night.
“Tonight is its very first presentation in over 50 years,” said Jonathan Newell, executive director of the Hudson River Music Hall and the committee to renovate the Strand.
Unsure of the exact date the last film was shown in the theater, Newell said they found a copy of a 1961 Post-Star article that was talking about demolishing the movie house.
Debbie Pollack of Hartford made a point of coming to see the film. “I wanted to come because it’s the first movie shown here in over 50 years,” she said earlier in the day. “And I watch the film every year, it never fails. It’s a fantastic film.”
The film, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, premiered on Dec. 20, 70 years ago. The famed holiday classic was released at a time the Strand Theatre was in business, although it’s not known if the film was actually shown in the theater.
First opened in the 1920s, it was initially a vaudeville house and later started showing films.
On Friday night, those arriving early for the event got to see the original animated film “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” while popcorn popped in a traditional kettle. And just after 6:30 p.m., Newell, who was wearing an original Strand Theatre usher’s cap, welcomed moviegoers.
The Strand Theatre, purchased by the Hudson River Music Hall from the town of Kingsbury in October, received a $100,000 pledge from the Sandy Hill Foundation. And according to Newell, there has been a huge volunteer effort to restore it to its former glory.
“We have retired contractors who come here every day like they are coming to work,” Newell said.
Volunteer Mary Ellen Barlow tells the story of the day they discovered the original lobby ceiling.
“The day we closed, Jonathan climbed up a ladder and pulled back a tile and the first thing he saw was that first section,” said Barlow, pointing to the richly ornate plaster flowers and swirling patterns of the historic structure.
“I love the building and what it stands for,” said Michelle Bennett, who came to see “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Hall.
But just hours before Friday’s showing, volunteers and the renovation committee wondered if they would actually be able to show the film in the lobby section of the theater. “We got our CO (certificate of occupancy) at 3 p.m. today,” Newell said, adding that they scrambled to get the temporary theater set for the night’s unveiling.
Starting in January, Newell said they plan on offering a senior film series and an art film series.
“Two Wednesdays a month we will be showing a film for seniors and they can come in and see it on the big screen,” he said.
Additionally, there are plans for an open mic night, concerts and more films while they continue construction on other parts of the building, Newell said.
Behind the lobby, where Friday night’s film was shown, are the performance stage and previous seating, now under a concrete cap. Newell said originally the seats were settled in sand and once they remove the concrete cap, they will do something with the sand, perhaps a beach party.
“Maybe we will sell buckets of sand from the Strand,” he said.