Showing 301 - 325 of 353 comments
Just a quick comment on the out of sync problem. This 70MM DTS print does not have an optical backup like the mag prints did. Therefore, if the DTS reader should go out there is no back up sound source. To guard against this, 70MM DTS is usually run with two DTS readers, mounted one on top of the other. The primary reader would be the top one and the back up reader the bottom one. The delay between reader and film gate would be synchronized for the top reader. If the top reader should suffer a momentary fault the back up bottom reader should engage. If the delay for the bottom reader is set the same as the top one, the distance between the two “exciter” lamps in the readers might be enough to throw off the sync enough to notice. The condition of the discs, and any splices using opaque tape, might have been enough to cause a fault in the reader. Or it could be a faulty reader or any one of a number of other things.
As far as the film break, all I can say is that it is only one screen, one projector, and one platter. What else does the projectionist (sorry Vito) have to do except watch it? If it was a brain wrap, he did not even have to be watching the platter. The change in the sound if the feed platter stops and causes a pull wrap or if it takes off and causes a speed wrap is something that is impossible to miss if you are within hearing distance and paying attention.
As someone who has been so stupid as to have actually stepped on a 70MM print and caused it to break, I will be the first to say that something like this can happen to anyone. At least when I did it it was because I was so paranoid that I kept walking between the viewport, the projector and the platter looking for something to go wrong that I forgot to look where I was walking. I keep the melted frame that jammed in the gate mounted on my desk. (It is Omar at the oasis.) In fact, I am looking at it now. A constant reminder to try to avoid doing anything dumb by being so obsessed over detail that I forget what is going on elsewhere. Such as keeping track of where the film path between the projector and platter is.
As I said in my post on my CE3K viewing, I think the management of the Ziegfeld does a good job. The manager does not “run” the booth the same way they do the “floor.” Having once been a manager, I realize that allowing someone from the audience into the booth was a big judgement call that those of you present should be glad they had the nerve to make. Many managers would have just played it safe, refused the offer, and refunded the house secure in the knowledge that fixing a film problem was outside of their job description. The theatre management textbook can not do it all. Sometimes common sense and the ability to think on your feet can make up for a lot, as it evidently did in this case.
35 years after deciding that it would be an entertaining thing to do, I can finally check “seeing a movie at the Ziegfeld” off of life’s to do list. Specifically, the 1 PM showing of CE3K yesterday. I was not disappointed. The experience was just what I expected after reading all of the posts here. Namely, a friendly, professional staff which greeted each person individually, a clean facility, big screen, booming sound, lax effort from the projection booth, and a professional manager (Nicki, I believe she said her name was) who did not mind taking a few moments to talk with an out of owner.
While never one of my all time favorites, CE3K is a big, class, production. Yesterday took me back to a time you could go to a movie and even if the movie was not exceptional, enjoy a theatre with some class and individuality, a big screen, and a good presentation (well, can’t have everything). In short going to a movie was “an event.” Appearance wise, the auditorium looked just as it does in the fine two page layout devoted to it in the Cinema Treasures book. I see what people are talking about when the size of the screen is the subject. To their credit, most megaplexes built today do try to pack as large a screen as possible into their small auditoriums, but projection wise, you do not get the same look as you do when using a screen that is large in its own right, and not just in relation to its auditorium size. While in relation to the house the Ziegfeld screen may look small, especially on a flat movie, but I am sure it beats anything in a multiplex. I sat on row “O” and enjoyed the nearly forgotten experience of having to track the action back and forth across the screen. This is something I can not do in a megaplex because when I sit close enough to do that the focus is way off.
Another thing that I noticed was the small size of the lobby. Back in the old days of exclusive runs and roadshows and sellouts, I do not know what they did with the crowd waiting for the next show. I assume that they used the plaza between the theatre and the back of the building facing 6th Avenue, but it was cold and windy yesterday, and this is Spring. I would hate to be the manager who had to tell hundreds of patrons for Cabaret or Barry Lyndon, or Star Is Born, that they would have to wait outside in the New York winter. Layout wise, the lobby and auditorium are almost an exact copy of the old Rialto here in Atlanta, although the seating area is larger and the lobby smaller. I did enjoy seeing the seating chart with the Ziegfeld logo at the bottom posted on the wall leading to the auditorium. Specifically, the very distinctive and in my opinion, attractive trademark Walter Reade Organization logo script.
Although not technically part of this site, I would also like to say what a great place New York is to visit. From the four MTA bus drivers, to the Ziegfeld staff, the Times Square Visitor Center staff, the NYPD officers, and the floor staff of the AMC Empire, everyone I met was not only helpful, but polite and friendly while being so. Even the concierge at the condos now occupying part of the old Taft Hotel building was more than happy to spare me a few minutes to talk about the old hotel and Roxy Theatre. The Delta employees at LGA were good natured, even when dealing with some grumpy passengers when our flight back to Atlanta was cancelled. I have visited New York about a dozen times since my first visit in 1984, and have always thought that it did not deserve its “in your face” reputation especially when putting up with tourists. Since Rudy’s quality of life campaign took hold, I have never had even the slightest unpleasant experience in the Big Apple, and I always use the MTA to get around which means I have at least casual contact with many people.
In fact, the only unpleasant experience of the day was dealing with the usual panhandling on the train from the Atlanta airport back home. I guess the reason New York, or at least the Manhattan part of it, is so nice is that all of the undesirables have been shipped to Atlanta where they inhabit the transit system and downtown, and are a protected species.
As for Clearview, I wish you good business at the Ziegfeld, but should you hit another bump in the booking road I hope you will consider putting something like this festival on the schedule again.
Speaking of sharing old stories, I could crash this site with entries about uncaring or inept managers and or projectionists that I have worked for and with over the years, and I am sure Vito could do the same. I could also submit many examples of people who took pride in their profession and gave the extra effort to put on a good show or provide a clean and well maintained venue to see it in. Fortunately, I learned my lobby, managing, and later on my projectionist trades from people who fall into the latter category. I think anyone who works at a special place like the Ziegfeld do too.
These days, when anything less than 12 screens is considered too small to bother with, it is not much different than working at the ball park or the local fast food eatery. Projection wise, it is sometimes all you can do to get all of the films built up on Thursday night. As for presentation, forget it. In these days of push button, or even worse, timer starts, no curtains, and light and sound cues handled by automation, all people expect is to see and hear the movie. (Remember when we used to fade out the non sync music before starting the show?) I think the downhill slide started in the mid 70’s when theatre companies started carving up these once fine theatres into shoeboxes with their postage stamp screens. If the public had complained then things might have been different. Instead, with their complete lack of taste, they continued coming, and in record numbers. Why should a theatre company worry about being a class act when they were too busy counting their take?
This goes for the film companies too. Just one example. Hardly a week goes by that I do not get a print with at least one reel beginning or ending in a fade in or out. You would think someone in the industry would see the value in printing easy to see frame lines in such a spot, but they rarely do. (Just as I mentioned in the post about the train tunnel sequence.) Do they really think some “projectionist” with 10 prints to build up is going to go to the trouble to use a meter to find the frame line? Fat chance. Most of them just run down to the first image where they can make out the line and make the cut there, or go the other way and cut it after the 2 in the leader thus adding 2 seconds of black, silent film to the show. As for the way the Ziegfeld handled the Zhivago intermission, I am sure that it was due to the tight show schedule. Given that situation, I think that was OK. At least they did not cut off the intermission tag and entr'acte and go straight from the train fade out to the tunnel sequence.
As for the Ziegfeld itself, if anyone from Clearview reads this I want to thank you for running this series instead of just letting the house sit dark until Ice Age 2. In the early 70’s I worked for Walter Reade in Atlanta, and one of my managers was a company man from New Jersey. He told me that the first two things the home office checked each morning was first, how did the Ziegfeld do?, and second, how did the rest of the circuit do? I wish there was a theatre like it still standing in Atlanta so I could work there. I have always wanted to see some of the old classics at The Ziegfeld and you have given me the chance. I was going to come up for West Side Story, but was snowed out. Hopefully I will have better luck this Wednesday when I come up for CE3K and Alien.
Regarding the intermission: Just be happy you got that much. Over the years I have run Zhivago as either a manager or projectionist several times, and seen it in theatres numerous others. Most of the time the prints were missing the intermission tag as well as the entr'acte. To make matters worse, the second half starts with that train tunnel sequence which begins with almost a minute of black film with only the sound of the train. Foolishly, no thought to put frame lines on this part (or the overture or entr'acte for that matter) which meant that to be sure that it was in frame you had to run several hundred feet through a counter. That is more feet of film than there are projectionists who will take the trouble to do such a thing these days. Most projectionists, and I don’t only mean “doorman projectionists” just ran the film down to the first pin prick of light and made their cut there.
Other than the roadshow engagement in 1965, I have only seen Zhivago run completely and correctly twice, both 70MM presentations at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. The one time I ran it there, the opening tunnel footage was missing. During my reel to reel days I remember two occasions where the famous “Astro Dater” intermission strip was used in place of the missing intermission tag. Also, one manager hated to run intermissions because they made him stay later, so he only had them when there was a crowd. On the other shows he would instruct the operator to make the changeover just before the intermission tag hit the screen. One manager even had the black tunnel footage cut off because he did not like people coming out complaining about the light being out. It is not only the Burger Kings of the world who have trouble getting good help.
This location opened on 10/22/71. The attractions were “Anderson Tapes,” “Klute,” and “Hellstrom Chronicle.” I never saw a movie here, but I did know someone who worked during the expansion, and he said it was pure misery. As you can see from the picture, they added two auditoriums upstairs, over the lobby. The first thing they had to do was cut holes in the roof for the support columns and from then until the project was finished it was a constant battle to mop up the water that poured in every time it rained. I was under the impression that this ended up as a 7, and in addition to the two new upstairs theatres, they also split two of the existing theatres although there were only six marquees out front.
For its first six years the Old National ran intermediate break and occasional wide break first runs. After 1977 when almost all movies opened wide, it was mostly first run. The only real competition came from the Greenbriar, Westgate and Ben Hill which were in another zone several miles to the north.
While bigger is certainly better when talking about the screen size, assuming the proper light and focus are there of course, it is the ratio of the dimensions that are the key. Anyone who was lucky enough to make it to the Neon Movies in Dayton during their Cinerama days can attest to this. I doubt if the place held 300 seats, and the screen was no bigger than one you would see at some megaplex throwaway house. However, it was a ribbon screen, the curve was perfect, and the relation of height to width was exactly right. And, the projection booths, which were located in the back corners of the auditorium and in the lobby, were level with the center of the screen. I always sat on the fourth or fifth row and had as great a movie going experience as if I had sat at the equivalent seat at the Dome or Seattle, which I hope to do some day.
I never saw the Greenbriar as a single screen. I occasionally worked there as a projectionist starting in 1983 until about 1987. Even as a twin I could see how magnificent it must have been. As for the possibility of twinning by enclosing the mezzanine, it was probably too wide and shallow to be used as an auditorium. I have seen the balcony theatre Lefont put in the Plaza, and while much narrower it is still a pretty pathetic venue. Then there is the problem of the booth. Lefont used the original booth for the balcony theatre and had to add another one at the rear of the downstairs auditorium underneath the balcony. Since the balcony at the Greenbriar did not have an overhang, this would have meant sticking out into the seating area.
The old DeMille theatre in Times Square was tripled in a way that would have worked at the Greenbriar. They divided the balcony into a twin and left a gap between them for the booth to shoot the picture onto the downstairs screen. The balcony would have been large enough for a couple of 100 – 140 seat houses, but the booth would have had to have been expanded somehow. With the exception of the North Springs, it was the smallest one I ever worked in. It was probably OK when all they had was two reel to reel projectors, but when they put two platters in between them there was no possibility of putting anything else in there.
Given the right picture the Greenbriar was still doing well into the mid 80’s. I remember Friday the 13th 3D, (where the crowd literally broke down, or was pushed through, the front doors) Purple Rain, and one of the Star Trek movies doing heavy business there. I think that if the old Georgia Theatre Company had remained independent, instead of pimping themselves out to UA, they would probably have quaded the Greenbriar sideways just as they had done with the Cobb Center. I don’t think UA had any interest in any of the GTC locations except Lenox, and the 8’s at Shannon and Southlake, so Greenbriar was gone by the early 90’s. At least UA had the sense to move the boxoffice from the kiosk which was upstairs in the mall, down to the theatre entrance.
About 10 years ago I ran “Singing In The Rain” and if my memory is correct, it was one of those windowboxed prints mentioned above. That is, it was a 1:85 frame with the 1:33 image in the middle and black bars on each side. At this particular theatre the masking was moved manually by stagehands so we were able to bring it in to the 1:33 setting. Even if a theatre has only a flat / scope masking set up, the black bars were hardly noticable unless you were looking for them. Not the best solution perhaps, but when you remember that 99% of theatres have no 1:33 lenses, plates, or masking, or have anyone on staff that knows the difference, it is probably the best way to handle this situation.
All of this talk about the proper way to present a movie reminds me of a time (1973) years before my projectionist days. I was working as an usher at the ATLANTA, which was Walter Reade’s only theatre in Atlanta Ga. Two Reade bigshots, the directors of advertising / promotions and public relations were at the theatre preparing for the Atlanta premiere of “Man of La Mancha.” They were interrupted by a call from HQ in New Jersey because during the afternoon showing of “Sleuth” at the Ziegfeld, the picture had slipped out of focus. This had also happened the night before and both times a call had to be made to the booth to alert the projectionists to the problem.
At the time, the Reade organization was involved in a dispute with the projectionist local regarding the terms of the contract involving the Ziegfeld’s very expensive and cutting edge (for the time) automated equipment. Since “Sleuth” was a roadshow it seems that two projectionists had to be on duty at all times. Reade’s position was that since the booth was completely automated, one should suffice. And since it seemed obvious that even with two on duty no one was actually paying attention to the screen there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the office that day. (Of course I only got the management side of this story.)
It is a sad commentary that the “push a button and forget it” style of booth operation so common today is even in the houses of the great Times Square that I so much wished to be a part of in those days. Even sadder is that most of the movie going public would not even notice the difference in a good presentation and a bad one unless the bad one was upside down. I am afraid that by the time I became a projectionist, showmanship was mostly a thing of the past and very seldom have I been able to enjoy the privilege of presenting a movie where film, masking, curtain, and light cues were coordinated.
For the record, this is how I did it, as learned from the professionals at “The ATLANTA, A Walter Reade Theatre”: When previews were shown first, we opened the show the usual way. Just before the overture the curtain would close and the curtain floods would go to bright. As the overture ended, the floods would dim out and the curtain would open on the film company logo. No white screen! If there was no preshow, the overture would start and then the house would go to half. Near the end of the overture the house would go out and the curtain floods would dim. Curtain open on the logo. There have been a few times when I have recreated the overture, intermission, and exit music using the CD player in the booth. “West Side Story”, missing its opening footage, and “Sound of Music” were the titles. It seems that on “Ben-Hur”, the lights went out and the curtain opened and then the audience sat there in the dark while the black film of the overture showed on the screen.
Not a very satisfactory way to set the mood or open the show. But, as others have pointed out, be thankful you at least have this. My beloved ATLANTA is now a parking lot. I was planning to fly to New York for “West Side Story” but the blizzard took care of that. Maybe it will return. I wish I had the chance to work with Vito. I will bet we could have kept “Sleuth” in focus! Hopefully I will make it up for “Lawrence” where I can enjoy it with some of my fellow Cinema Treasures posters who still appreciate a good presentation and movie when they see it.
Broadview was opened by Weis Theatres in the early 70’s. It was their fourth Atlanta location following the Capri (now Buckhead Roxy) and the Fine Art (now Garden HIlls) and the Weis Cinema (the former Peachtree Art since demolished.) It was located on top of the underground bowling alley in the junction of the “L” shaped Broadview Plaza, later known as Lindberg Plaza and now a huge pile of dirt waiting to be turned into a mega shopping and residential development. The theatre held 420 seats and outdid even the Lenox Square #2 with its long thin shape, terrible sound and tiny screen. Alone among the Weis properties in Atlanta, it was built from scratch as the previous three and the later Peachtree Battle, and Sandy Springs, Doraville,
and Candler Mini Cinemas were all pickups.
It was decorated in typical Weis fashion with lots of odd colors and funny shapes and bends in the design of the lobby. The concession stand was hard to find because it was located behind you as you entered the theatre from the box-office. This was remedied by placing a large floor to ceiling mirror on the wall opposite which you had to pass by on the way to the auditorium. It was amusing to watch some customers start to walk up to the mirror before realizing that what they were looking at was actually behind them.
I do not remember what the first movie to play here was but the first hit was “Red Sky At Morning” which ran for at least six months. Later, the reserved seat engagement of “Nicholas and Alexandra” had a long run here as
well. As usual, the success of the theatre led to the addition of another screen, but since the shape of the auditorium ruled out any prospect of twinning the second screen was built on the other side of the box-office
which gave the layout of the place a “T” shape. Broadview II was smaller, only about 300 seats, but was a much better place to see a movie in that is was almost square in shape.
By the late 70’s Weis had almost blind bid its way out of business and all of their Atlanta locations were either closed or sold off. George Lefont, who had earlier purchased the Peachtree Battle and turned it into the Silver
Screen (Atlanta’s first full time retrospective theatre), and who would later take over the Fine Art, made the Broadview II his second theatre. It was renamed the Screening Room, and played what is now known as “Art” movies. Two good examples which I saw there were “Brother Sun Sister Moon” and “Breaker Morant.” The Screening Room also included the old box office area from the Broadview I but not, I believe, the concession area. That area along with the rest of the old #I theatre became the site of The Great Southeast Music Hall. In 1978, the Music Hall moved to the site of the old Cherokee Theatre, north of Lenox Square, just inside DeKalb County. The Screening Room remained open for many years. I do not remember when it closed, but it doesn’t matter now. The old theatres (along with the bowling alley, the K-Mart, Office Depot, the clock repair shop, and the Singer Sewing Machine repair shop, etc…) have all been hauled off to the land fill where they can spend the rest of their days with the remains of all of the other fine theatres that once graced Atlanta.
The South DeKalb will always be one of my favorite theatres, both in its appearance and my personal memories there.
It was opened, I believe, sometime in 1970. The South DeKalb mall was a 2 anchor setup with a Rich’s at one end and a J.C. Penny store at the other. The theatre entrance was located in the center of the mall and the auditoriums stuck out the back into the parking lot. The look of the place was unlike anything I had ever worked in, especially for the very conservative Georgia Theatre Company. Personally, I have always considered it the nicest looking and best laid out theatre I ever managed.
You could enter the theatre from two opposite doors, one from the rear of the mall, and the other from outside. Both doors led to sloping walkways which bottomed out in front of the box-office. When built, South DeKalb was a set of identical twins separated by the box office, concession stand, and a very spacious (by theatre standards) utility room. Attractive and good sized lobby entrances were located on either side of the box office.
The design of the box set the tone for the rest of the place, specifically no straight lines. Everything in the place including box office, lobby, rest rooms, offices, lounges, serving windows for the concession stand, screens, etc… were to some degree curved or outright round. Not only was the box office counter curved out into the entrance area, the glass front which started just above the counter and separated the cashier from the customers was curved as well. The curve eliminated any reflection from the glass and by the end of a rush there would be a series of smudges on the glass where people had rammed their foreheads into the unnoticed glass while trying to lean forward across the counter to talk to the cashier.
Entrance to theatre #1 was to the left and #2 to the right of the box office. The entrance lobby was divided by the concession stand. Large round openings made up for the straight line of the stand. In one of the few design flaws, the stand was pretty narrow which made it difficult for the employees to stand back to back or pass each other while serving both sides at once. From the concession stand you would go down some steps to the main lobby. This lobby was completely round and occupied by a row of round mushroom looking stools lining the wall. Rest rooms were located on either side of the lobby. From the lobby you entered a round “smoking lounge” before entering the bath room itself. Each of the four bathrooms had a storage room inside. Two were used for employee locker rooms and two for storerooms.
From the lobby you would go down more steps (remember, this was pre ADA) to a small standing area where the entrance to the utility room would be on one side and doors to the half round managers office and the projection booth stairwell on the other. From this area there were two doorways leading directly to the aisles inside the auditorium. True to GTC form, there were no doors to the auditorium. I do not know if this was the design or if GTC insisted on this, but it was a big mistake. Most GTC designs had a bending mazelike hallway entrance to their auditoriums, but not here. Not only did the light from the lobby shine on the back few rows, but there was nothing to keep the sound from the concession stand or the people waiting in the lobby from disturbing the rear part of the auditorium.As a result, the manager could not put any customers for the next show in the lobby, but had to line them up in the entrance hallway. If they wanted to come in to the restrooms or concession stand, you sent them to which ever side had the fewest people sitting in the back part of the auditorium.
A note on the lighting is in order here as well. The entrance hallway was lined with large black fixtures attached to the white walls. These fixtures consisted of a tube about six feet tall with a dual fixture in the center, one side pointing up the other down toward the floor. These produced a very nice looking V shaped light on the walls and a round spot on the floor and ceiling. They were, however a pain in the neck to change, especially the ones pointing up. Once you entered the lobby, the line where the ceilings met the walls were lined with exposed light sockets about one foot apart. Into these sockets were placed large clear decorative bulbs, round in shape of course. This produced an incredible sight as well as light level which caused the problem with the auditorium spillover. I never counted the number of these sockets, but they must have been in the hundreds. It was almost a daily chore to check for and replace burned out bulbs. After the energy crunch of the early 70’s we changed from the large 150 watt bulb to a clear but standard size 75 watt bulb, and left every other one unscrewed.
Although (thankfully) not round, the auditoriums were outstanding in design and appearance as well. Almost square, each held 540 rocking chair seats, dark red in color. The walls were draped completely black. The screen was curved at the prescribed 146 degrees and covered by a curtain that had a bright orange, yellow, and white pattern. Although there were no screen flood lights, the bright curtain looked lit up when surrounded by the black walls. The screens were almost wall to wall leaving just enough room for exit doors on either side. Since the curtain opened across the path to these doors and were stored beyond the path this caused a problem at the end of the show. Since the doors opened out into the parking lot, many people used these exits. When the automation closed the curtain at the end of the show, it would cut across the exit path blocking access to the doors. After the curtain was pulled out of its track by people grabbing it when it crossed in front of them we disabled the closing cue in the automation and had the projectionist close it by manual switch after everyone was out. Just another example of owners and designers not asking the opinions of the unworthy peons who do the actual work.
Each booth was automated and equipped with 35MM Century projectors and 6000 foot reels. The outstanding feature was the presence of an Optiverter which combined with the curved screen produced an outstanding picture. I have described this Academy Award winning process in detail on the Phipps Plaza Theatre site, although there I incorrectly called it Optivision. The correct name is Ultravision.
I first attended the South DeKalb in the spring of 1971. The feature was an incredible looking cinemascope presentation of “Patton.” Since I had not started working in theatres at this time I knew nothing of the technical setup, but even so noticed the quality of the picture. I saw several more movies here and started work as manager in 1974. This was still in the days of long, exclusive runs for movies in the downtown and northside first run houses such as the Fox, Roxy, Lenox, and Phipps. South DeKalb was located in the southeastern part of DeKalb County, and when we picked up a big hit on what was then called the intermediate break, it was like showing it first run. The biggest business from those days was done by “The Sting” and “Airport ‘75” both from the Georgia Cinerama, “Herbie Rides Again” and “Death Wish” from the Tara, “Blazing Saddles” from the North DeKalb, and “The Longest Yard” from Phipps. All of these produced multiple sellouts for what seemed like weeks on end. Wide break first run releases like “Trial of Billy Jack” and “Island At The Top Of The World” also attracted capacity crowds.
These were also the pre video days when theatres would bring back an old reliable as a filler when they needed something to show for a week or so until the next big booking. We had filler bookings of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Doctor Zhivago” during this period. These magnificent wide screen productions looked wonderful on our big curved screens, and came complete with intermission strips and music. I do not recall them doing much business, but they did take me back to my days as an usher at the Atlanta Theatre during its glory days and gave me the chance to at least pretend that I was running a first class roadshow house.
I left the South DeKalb in 1975 to run the Lenox Square Theatre because it was closer to my home. (One of my bigger career mistakes, but that is another story.) South DeKalb continued on in this pattern, but like so many other fine venues, its success led to its downfall. In the fall of 1977, each side was closed in turn for twinning. (The last movie I saw under the old setup was a beautiful cinemascope presentation of “A Bridge Too Far.”) Out came the curved screens, the pretty curtains, the optiverters, the nice square shape, and in came the platters, small screens, no curtains, and the oh so 70’s shoebox shape. They did, at least, use the orange curtains to drape one of the new dividing walls, alternating panels of it with black. Each house ended up with 328 seats, so the total seat count jumped from 1080 to 1312, which should give you some idea of how they crammed them in. The new seats, while the same color, were not rockers and were placed in the front rows. The two off center aisles in the old set up now became the center aisles in the new houses. Only two improvements came out of this. One was carpet for the entrance hallway, installed over the impossible to keep clean rubber matting. This had the advantage of absorbing the headache inducing din that came with the echo off of the rubber floor, especially during busy times. The other was entrance doors for the auditoriums although this was only added at the last minute at the insistence of the manager. Seems he was the only one concerned about the movie sound or screams or laughter from the crowds crossing from house to house.
The final appearance made the place look like, on paper at least, a copy of the Akers Mill. Four identical shoebox auditoriums one of which later had Dolby added. As was the case in most of these instances, the resulting business made the decision to twin look good. The attendance and concession receipts skyrocketed though the crowds for four different theatres trying to enter and exit through a lobby and entrances designed for two came close to crushing the staff at times. I worked here a number of times during these later years and can at least say that I never saw all four house full at once. At the time, I had suggested (not to imply that anyone in authority ever listened to me) that only one side be twinned but since showmanship and presentation was at the bottom of the list in those days, if indeed it ever made the list at all, that idea was a non starter.
Just like all GTC properties, the beginning of the end of this place came with the sale of GTC to United Artists Theatres. UA was not interested in anything as small as this and by the early 90’s the place was closed. UA may not have been interested but that did not mean that they wanted anyone else coming in and competing. When they left the stripped the place bare, including light fixtures and carpets. On a recent visit I could tell that the mall is using the sloping entrance hallways to store their utility equipment. I could not see into the lobby, but I am sure it as well as the auditoriums and projection booths are empty shells as well.
I have good memories of this place, and the 70’s were good times to work in the theatre business before it turned into the megaplex dominated fast food business it is today. To this day I still keep in touch with some of my former employees and co workers from the South DeKalb, and we often talk about those times, and especially Tom Pike Jr., the long time manager after I left who passed away an amazing 14 years ago now at the age of only 40. It is a shame he is not around to write this as his recollections and stories would dwarf anything I have to offer.
I passed by the Delk the other day and found it still closed. Info on the marquee stated that it is being converted to an indoor amusement, game room and paintball facility. However, there was no sign that any work had been done.
I enjoy reading EJE’s articles on the movie studio business, but before writing on the theatre end of this industry he needs to learn more or get a better researcher. Just a few random thoughts on some of his points:
The last time I changed a reel in a projection booth was 1987 when the last reel to reel house in Atlanta (the GCC Northlake Triple) was converted to platters. I doubt if there is still a grind theatre in America of more than one screen still using reels. Of course he may have been talking about platters and did not know the correct name. If so, his comment about running up to 8 screens is also off. Other than Thursdays (build up and tear down day) most multiplex projectionists usually run twice this many by themselves. Besides, even when the world was full of single screen sites using 2000 foot reels, I do not know of any projectionists, (including myself) who sat there watching the screen all day.
This theory regarding film gate tension is just plain goofy. I guess it might depend on what make of equipment you are using, but the only time I ever had a problem with loose film gate tension, the result was not poor focus, but the film starting to jump, or “jitter.”
As for unattended projectors, I am sure that 99% of projectors running right now are not attended. Once the film hits the screen in frame and in focus it is almost certain to run for its entire length without problems. Don’t get me wrong. This is not the perfect practice. However, given the economics of exhibition these days one look and perhaps another one during the show is about all many projectionists have time for these days.
The main problem here is that many theatres do not have a projectionist at all, but instead add this duty to the managers job, who usually trains the most promising doorman or concession attendant to thread up the projectors so the manager can keep an eye on the concession stand. Many megaplexes have booth “managers” who have the job of maintaining the equipment and seeing that a cadre of “film threaders” is available to do the grind labor. And lets face it. If the job is done right on Thursday night, i.e. properly splicing the print and previews together in frame, the rest of the week should take care of itself. With the post 1995 film stock that does not break, even when you need it to, which is another story, and with the vast majority of theatres playing new prints, if a print runs through on the first showing it will probably run OK for its entire run.
I do not like this state of affairs as it has cost me more than a few jobs over the years. However, there is no denying the reality of the situation. Besides, most theatre companies are still haunted by the memory of the days when projection was considered a trade or craft. As both a manager and later as a projectionist, I knew of owners and supervisors who hated the fact that they needed a competent, dependable projectionist and thus had to pay someone (especially union, but non union as well) a decent wage to keep the picture on the screen. With the advent of automation and platters, they are determined not to let this happen again. I have seen several examples of theatres that have a film threader working the booth one day but tearing tickets or cleaning up auditoriums the next just to make sure no one gets the idea that their only job is to work the booth. Even when running the booth they were usually called downstairs to do floor work when there was no threading to be done.
As to the ownership end of theatres, I have no direct knowledge. However, even I know that the 50 / 50 take between theatres and distributors is way off. 75 / 25 is more like it, and that is over the course of the entire run. For the first week or so it is 90 / 10, and it is not the theatre that gets the 90. 30 years ago in the age of limited prints and long exclusive runs, theatres could make a nice profit showing a movie with “legs”, that is one that would still be doing good business after 6 or 8 weeks when the split might be closer to 50 /50. Now things are different. In this age of 4000 print releases playing on multiple screens in every megaplex in town, everyone who wants to see a movie before the DVD release has seen it by the time the second weekend is over. The print then moves down to the end of the hall where the 110 seat houses with mono sound and tiny screens are located to finish out the balance of their contracted for run. By that time they are usually alternating a single screen with some other washed up four week old former blockbuster or playing at night while a played out childrens movie plays in the afternoon. Or vice versa.
As for the rest of the article, I found it pretty accurate in its description of the relationship between the concession stand and the theatre and where the priority is, but nothing that common sense would not tell the average movie-goer. I am sure the same general theme would apply to the fast food or discount retail business or any other that relies on large volume, quick turnover, use of minimum wage employees, and an obsession with keeping expenses to a very bare minimum.
Presentation wise, a terrible place to see a movie. As Jack said, small shoebox shaped auditoriums and even smaller screens. In its day, 6 theatres was considered a megaplex and it did play first run movies for the most part, so business was acceptable even though it had to compete with the Lenox Square 6 and the Phipps Plaza 3. (That would be the Cineplex Odeon operated original Phipps location.)
Two things I remember best about this place. First was the aisle lighting. This was in the days before Tivoli lighting and the aisles were lit up by tiny spotlights in the ceilings which were focused so as to shine only on its own section of the aisle. Not only did this cause the carpet strip of the aisle to be lit up in an otherwise dark theatre, but when anyone was walking up the aisle during a show it seemed as if there was a spotlight on them all the way to the lobby. Second was the projector setup. Individual booths for each theatre and just as small in their own right as the auditoriums. The ceilings were low and the ports for the projector beam were located at the very top of the wall without enough overhead space for the rest of the projector. The solution was to have the projector aimed at the front booth wall and into a periscope which bounced the picture off of mirrors and up to the port where it could be shot out onto the screen.
AMC tried several times to get out of this location but they must have some kind of long term unbreakable lease. On at least two occasions the site has been run by independent operators, once as a $ house. These seemed to be borderline if well intentioned efforts, and in each case, AMC was soon back on site. After AMC contracted to run the new 12 (later 14) screen theatre in the rebuilt Phipps Plaza they converted Tower Place to the Cinema and Drafthouse style Backlot that it is today.
A couple of years ago I was at the Tower Place office tower and a very friendly staffer let me in to see all of the changes. The auditoriums have been renovated and a wet bar / serving station setup installed in the rear of each one. Part of the seating has been removed and replaced by tables. I did not get to see into the booths, but he told me that the periscopes were gone. Other than the type of upgrades you would expect from an almost 30 year old operation the entrance and lobby are almost unchanged from opening day. The theatre is located on the ground floor of the 30 odd story Tower Place office building. Boxoffice and entrance open onto the outdoor plaza in front of the building.
This website has some outstanding photos of the Cooper Cinerama in Denver CO. The Cooper was not a conversion but was built for the Cinerama process. Although the auditorium is more elegant than that of the Atlanta / Martin Cinerama, anyone who was in the Atlanta will notice the simularity. Just imagine these pictures with sloped floor instead of steps, gold carpets and seats, and plainer draped walls and you will get the picture.
The Belmont was a big money maker for GTC in the early 1970’s. In those days when Cobb County theatres could open pictures day and date with their exclusive runs at Atlanta theatres, the Belmont, Cobb Center, Miracle, Cobb Center, and Town and County could be counted on to provide first run movies. GTC usually booked its United Artist product into the Cobb Center, so Belmont played host to everything else that GTC got. I remember The Godfather, Airport 1975, Paper Moon, and especially Jaws, being big hits here.
The Belmont had a several odd features. Just like the Cobb Center, the restrooms were located upstairs. There was an overhang over the back rows which gave the impression that there was a balcony, but this was the projection booth. To access the booth, you had to leave the theatre via the upstairs fire exit and walk down the open to the general public hallway which held the professional office spaces and the studios of a radio station. The entrance to the booth was just another door along this concourse. The lobby was big, but part of it had been partitioned off to provide for the offices. These offices were just glorified wooden cubicles with no ceilings. I assume there was a secure office somewhere else on the property.
The days of the exclusive run booking patterns ended about the same time General Cinema and Plitt moved into Cobb County. GTC continued to compete first run wise with the tripled and later quaded Cobb Center, but the single screen Belmont became a strictly second run site by the late 1970’s. While in a big metropolitan area, the Belmont was similar in design and appearance to the many theatres Martin built during the 1950’s in small towns throughout the southeastern United States. Just think of the Belmont Hills Shopping Center as a small town square and you get the idea.
120 seats. Located just opposite of the exit door from the balcony of the Coronet. Same projectionist ran both booths. The Baronet used a Cinemeccanica V18. Center aisle with only 4 or 5 seats on each side and a screen that rivaled the one at the old Universal Screening Room (capicity about 40) in its small size. Mostly a moveover / spillover house for the Coronet.
The theatre was staffed by one person who had the job of cleaning the auditorium each morning, and then spending the day tearing tickets and operating the makeshift concession stand. On weekends there would be an extra employee to staff the concession. No handicapped access at all. In fact, I doubt that the stairwell that Jack spoke of would even pass the fire code of today. Later, a boxoffice for the Baronet was added at the bottom of the steps that opened onto the sidewalk of Peachtree Street. It was used on weekends. At other times tickets continued to be sold from the Coronet box office which was located on the other side of the entrance doors of the Coronet.
The Akers Mill Shopping Center has undergone a complete exterior renovation up to the point just before the theatre frontage starts. It is pretty clear that the theatre part of the center does not figure in the future plans of the owner and it is probably only a matter of time before that part is demolished just as the southern wing of the center was to make way for Circuit City.
This place was built by the Loews company in the Spring of 1974. There was nothing very remarkable about the theatre itself as it was about equal to the Loews 12 Oaks in its appointments. Though nicer than most of the theatres built during that era, it was still an example of bland 1970’s theatre design. An identical set of 500 seat twins with a large, spacious lobby, nice rest rooms, concession stand against the back wall of the auditorium facing the front doors, Loews “Hollywood” mural overhead, and standard Century 35MM projectors. What makes the Parkaire notable is the fact that it was built at all and the odd way it changed hands so soon after opening.
The location, while it may be the site of rush hour gridlock today, was nothing but cow pastures in 1974. The Parkaire Mall itself was odd in that it had no anchor stores and was really just a strip shopping center built in a circle with an ice skating rink in the middle and a roof overhead. The theatre did not open into the mall but had its own outside entrance and exit doors. Movie distribution wise, it was built in no mans land, just across the river into Cobb County, but well to the east of South Cobb Drive and Highway 41, which was the center of development in Cobb during those days. While actually closer to Sandy Springs and the Lenox / Phipps Theatres, it was in the same zone as the Miracle, Cobb Cinema, Cobb Center and Belmont theatres located on or near South Cobb Drive. Although Cobb County theatres could play day and date with Atlanta during those exclusive run days, it was easier for most of the movie going audience of Cobb to attend movies in Atlanta than it was to make the cross county drive to Parkaire. And, if you wanted to make dinner part of the evening then forget it. Years later, a McDonalds opened across the street, but until then it was either bring your dinner to work with you or drive the 5 miles to Sandy Springs.
Loews opened the Parkaire Twin in the early summer of 1974 with “Chinatown” and another feature whose name escapes me. In keeping with the bizarre nature of this entire episode, the showtimes, in an area where cattle outnumbered people, were 8PM and 10:30PM. Even in the most cosmopolitan areas of Atlanta in those days, you never tried to start a movie after 9:30 if at all possible. This situation was talked about among theatre managers of the time with amusement and many comments about how the New Yorkers who ran Loews must have quit listening to their local people. About 4 weeks later I was called in to work on my off day. It seemed the regular relief manager, Mr. Bill Stevens, late of the recently closed Bolton Drive In, had been pulled out and sent to manage Georgia Theatre Company’s newest theatre, the Parkaire Twin.
The story I was told was that as part of an anti trust settlement many years earlier which resulted in the splitting of Loews Theatres and MGM Studios (something to do with one company controlling distribution and exhibition), Loews was also barred from doing business in certain area, or maybe certain distances from certain areas. I heard it both ways. At any rate, Parkaire was in the forbidden zone and Loews had to get out. Georgia Theatre Company, which made a practice of buying up properties they really had no interest in just to keep the competition out, now had a new and very swank (for them) theatre. Later, when I went to work for Loews, I was told that this was not the case at all. The Loews story was that Georgia Theatre wanted the site so badly that they made an offer Loews could not refuse. Knowing the Georgia Theatre Company of that time, I tend to believe the former version of events.
Regardless, GTC now had the Parkaire. Booking wise, GTC was not about to take any exclusive run booking away from the Cobb Center or Belmont, so Parkaire, for the rest of its life, ran only second run or wide break first run movies. It even went through a period as a $ house. Although the area continued to develop, business was never great here or anywhere else around. In 1986 General Cinema opened the Merchants Walk 8 about two miles up the road, and a year later Cineplex opened the Merchants Exchange 5. While they both had their moments of good times, they were both closed by 1999. The new Georgia Theatre Company now runs Merchants Walk as a 12, and the Exchange is an independent $ house except on Tuesdays when tickets are 50 cents. As for the Parkaire, the entire mall and theatre complex was leveled in the mid 80’s and a brand new strip shopping center built on the site.
Jack’s first paragraph puts it pretty well. The only change I would make is in the demolition date. Northlake and Southlake were torn down about 1992 while the Perimeter operated until 1999 and was torn down in 2000.
Akers was the third of four GCC theatres built in the 1970’s following the Perimeter Mall 3, the Northlake 2 triple, and preceding the Southlake 2 triple. The next generation came in 1986 with Merchants Walk, 1987 with Parkside, and 1988 with Hairston, all 8’s.
While Northlake and Southlake were identical and very similar to Perimeter Mall, Akers Mill had several distinctive features. The concession stand was a complete island in the middle of the lobby. The lobby was smaller to begin with than these other locations, and it was almost impossible to hold a crowd of any size inside. The restrooms were upstairs although there was one unisex handicapped bathroom located in the back of the #4 auditorium. The four auditoriums were each 400 seats which made life easy for the projectionist as there was seldom any need to swap prints other than projector breakdowns and putting the new or busiest movie in the Dolby house. In addition to the rest rooms, the booth, concession storeroom (with popcorn popper) and offices were upstairs as well. In an odd move, the door to the offices was located directly off of the public area, a flaw which became evident after a couple of push in robberies.
The projection booth was just as bland as the rest of the theatre. Four Century 35’s with an Autowind 3 platter for each. The size and layout of the booth was almost identical to the one at Perimeter Mall after it had been quaded and converted to platters. Sadly, the Cinemation pegboard system was not used, probably because there was not as much need for it since there would be no changeovers. AM was the first GCC booth in Atlanta with platters instead of 6000 foot reels. In light of my Phipps / Close Encounters experience, I am hesitant to say this, but I think it was “Deer Hunter” which brought Dolby to this location, installed in the #1 house. This was the old push button style of Dolby rack which required the projectionist to be present to engage the Dolby sound following the previews and GCC policy. The Dolby never did amount to much here as all of the auditoriums were long narrow shoeboxes demonstrating the very worst aspects of 1970’s design without having the excuse of being the result of twinning.
Akers did pretty well during its early years due to the lack of competition in the area. It played most of the standard first run movies since by that time the days of exclusive run engagements were history. A year or two later, Plitt opened the Promenade Triple just up Hwy. 41, but there was still plenty of product to go around. In the early 80’s the new Galleria mall was opened next door to Akers Mill Shopping Center, and it included an AMC 8plex. A;though none of the AMC auditoriums were as large as the Akers, people preferred the shinny new theatre with its larger screens and much better sound, assuming they noticed such things. Above all they preferred the better movies which now went to the Galleria. No matter how hard you try, 4 screens just could not compete with 8 when it came to the 8 or even 12 week bookings required to get the better shows in those days. Akers still got the occasional hit such as “Aliens” and “Ghostbusters 2” and of course the great “Ishtar” (interlocked on two screens no less) but for the most part it was now left with the leftovers, and in many cases the moveovers, from the Galleria. There were several years in the mid to late 80’s when the Galleria was the #1 grossing theatre in Atlanta.
GCC did make an effort to compete by removing the island concession stand and installing the new GCC style stand against the right hand lobby wall. At the same time they remodeled the lobby and entrance and, one house at a time, removed the old two position GCC seats from the 70’s and completely refurbished and reseated the auditoriums. Still, bookings are the ultimate draw, and by the 90’s the Akers days were clearly numbered. The Plitt had already closed after trying the $ house route. When the old Eastern Air Lines Reservation Center just to the south of the Akers Shopping Center was torn down and replaced with yet another shopping center, GCC moved in there with the Parkway Point 15. The Akers was closed and stripped bare. The booth equipment was sold as a block to Kings Cinemas, the former Septum company which was running the Cobb Center 6 at the time.
As Jack said, the site is still there more than 10 years later looking just the way it did when GCC shut the doors. The marquee is still on the road, and the theatre entrance can now be seen since the row of stores that stood in front of it has been torn down and a Circuit City Store now sits on part of that area. I can not imagine this place ever being useful as a theatre again and it is only a matter of time before the land is needed for the next generation of shopping centers in this very busy and well to do area. When that day comes it will join all of the other theatres from the 60’s and 70’s in the landfills around Atlanta. Like Northlake, Southlake, and countless other sites from that era they were the ultimate in bland, featureless, movie viewing, and will be missed by no one other than those of us who enjoyed working there.
I noticed that the picture on the Photobucket site no longer shows up. It can also be seen at this location:
I had the pleasure of attending the Mesa in 1998. The manager / owner was very nice and gave me a top to bottom tour of the property before opening. He was obviously very proud of his place and rightfully so. One odd thing that I noticed was the balcony. Instead of extending forward to the back wall of the downstairs, or even out over the back rows, it stopped short. From the front row of the balcony you could look down into the last 10 feet or so of the lobby before it ended at the rear wall of the auitorium.
In the front was an old stage and very small pit for musicians, and under the screen, old dressing room areas from the days of live shows. Other than that I have nothing to add that is not covered better on the above mentioned website. Wish I had the money to buy it. While Douglas, being in the eastern part of Wyoming, is not in the beautiful Teton area, it looked like a nice place to live. Safe to I’ll bet since the Wyoming State Police Academy is located there. An old drive in theatre just north of town serves as the firing range.
Well, if it isn’t my old friend and co-worker Tommy Young, who I have not seen in at least 25 years. I first met Tommy on the football field of Grady High School in the fall of 1974 when as manager of the South DeKalb Twin, I took part in one of those Georgia Theatre / ABC Theatres employee football games. I seem to recall the manager of Phipps Plaza being carried off the field with a broken leg during one of those grudge matches. For those of you who are interested not only in theatre buildings but the operation and culture of the employees, Tommy and I (and probably Raymond Stewart from this thread although I never worked with him) were fair examples of the type of people who worked at theatres in the late 60’s to mid 80’s. In those days when pay and hours were even worse than they are today, theatres were staffed by people who either enjoyed the movie business, liked working at night, liked the slow periods during the week or the entire fall when you could study or take care of maintenance, or just liked working without the aggravation of someone always looking over your shoulder.
For the most part theatre companies would give managers a set of keys and the combination to the safe and tell them to go manage. If the money made it into the bank and not too many complaints were received at the home office they pretty much left you alone. It was like working for yourself except that all of the profits went to someone else. I found this to be true of local companies like Georgia Theatre Company and national ones like Loews. Managing challenges consisted mainly of finding a good staff that would show up for work and behave, and keeping the theatre in good shape. There was always a fine line to be walked between making the theatre a pleasant place to work (an absolute necessity in view of the low pay) and letting the help turn the lobby into a frat house. (I remember stopping by Stonemont on the way home from my theatre on Saturday nights to join some off duty employees watching Saturday Night Live on the TV in the office.) The actual running of the place in regards to customers was much easier than now because people behaved themselves better back then, and with only two to four or five screens you never had the crush of people you do these days. The concession business was much simpler as well. Fewer items, fewer employees needed, and more down time between shows. I am sure the manager of the Burger King where I worked while in high school had an easier job than that of whoever is in charge of the concession operation in one of today’s megaplexes.
All of this changed in the late 80’s with the rise in consolidation as the local and smaller regional companies started selling out to the big national chains. ABC went to Plitt then Cineplex, etc… GTC sold out to UA, and Storey to Regal which later ended up with UA as well. With every transaction there seemed to be a new batch of bosses who had as their first priority the elimination of every single existing employee and replacing them with their “own” people imported from wherever they had come from. Managers, employees, projectionists, and even janitors were swept out for no other reason than they had been hired by the previous order and thus were not part of the new team. Later we had the pleasure of seeing the new team swept out by an even newer team, and so on down the line. Since most theatre companies seemed to look on their employees as recurring expenses, like the power bill, or even outright thieves yet to be caught, instead of potential assets, micro managing from HQ became the new way. The internet and email made it much too easy for the corporate bosses to dictate every single activity of the day, and towards the end of the General Cinema days there was talk of the folks up in Chestnut Hill working on a set up where they could view the security cameras of any theatre in real time back in Boston. This may well be the case now although I am happy to say that I would not know.
Those workers are just as much a “Cinema Treasure” as the theatres we talk about on this site. As sad as it is that those times are over, at least we did not get carted off to the landfill like so many of the places of which have these good memories. I know there are some who think this subject has no place in a forum such as this, but I disagree. While it is fine to admire the physical plant of the venues themselves, the people who worked such long hours to keep them running are an equally important part of their history. I am sure that the gist of what I have written here would apply to the vast majority of sites that appear on the Cinema Treasures website.
As for the question of who my city manager was, that gentleman would be Mr. Tom Pike Sr. Although not always the easiest man to work for at the Lenox Square Theatre, overall he was a good boss and an even better friend both then and after our days of working together were over. Sadly, Mr. Pike died of cancer about 4 years ago. Even sadder, his son, Tom Jr., a long time manager of the Village, South DeKalb, and Greens Corner, and my best friend from those years died in 1990 at the age of 40.
Tommy, you can contact me at
All of this back and forth about the official name for the Tara got me to thinking about a comment I posted here which did not survive the transfer to the new Cinema Treasures format. I have copied it below.
In a (hopefully) humorous aside, I will add this: As for just how the Tara should be referenced, please allow me to educate those of you who were not growing up in Atlanta during the 1960’s. In those days, it was not called “The Tara” or “Tara” but “Loews Tara.” Although not an Atlanta institution like Coca Cola, the name Loews was synonymous with movie theatres because of the history involving the world premiere of Gone ‘With The Wind at the Loews Grand. Indeed, during the 12 years that Loews owned the Tara, I do not recall ever hearing it referred to as anything other than “Loews Tara.” It was almost as if it were one word; LOEWSTARA, just like LOEWSGRAND and later LOEWS12OAKS. I am sure that this would be a source great pride to the marketing majors of today who with their “rebranding” efforts try to make the name of their company a part of the product description in order to separate it from the competition.
Along the same line, the words cinema or theatre were never used at the end. That would be redundant since the word Loews on the front meant movie theatre. It would be like going to the Varsity Junior across the street and asking for a “Coke Drink” or a “hamburger sandwich,” or a “PC Chocolate Milk,” instead of just a PC. (As in Plain Chocolate for those of you who never had the pleasure of eating at the Varsity.) After George Lefont took over site in 1980, people still would refer to it as Loews Tara although the term “Lefont Tara” could also be heard. I am sure some people were wondering why he did not call it the Lefont Loews Tara. Once Lefont sold out to Hoyt who later sold out to United Artists who later sold out to Regal, I seldom heard it referred to as anything but “the Tara.” Obviously, Hoyt, UA, and Regal did not stir the same emotion as Loews or even Lefont.
My original post:
Construction on the Loews Tara started in 1967 during the world premiere engagement of the criminally cropped 70MM version of Gone With The Wind at the Loews Grand downtown. When that engagement ended it was only natural that GWTW would move out to the burbs to open the new Loews Tara. The Tara was quite a showplace and one of the few free standing theatres around. The outside had a very impressive appearance with vertical running lights and a large marquee on the road. There were two boxoffices, one on each side of the entrance doors. The lobby was small, with an all glass wall on one side and restrooms on the other. The trademark Loews GWTW mural was over the concession stand which backed up to the rear wall of the auditorium.
The auditorium held slightly over 1000 seats with roughly 6-14-6 seating with two off center aisles and two along the walls. The screen was good sized for the dimensions of the auditorium, and was lit by floods that lined its curved track. One odd thing about the lighting was the use of fluorescent lighting which was hidden behind a decorative wooden track which ran the length of the side walls. These were dimmed all the way out during the show. When brought back up at the start of the credits, they behaved the way all such lights do. They flickered on at fractionally different intervals creating a strobe like effect in the dark auditorium. There were exit doors to the outside next to the screen and in the back corners. This allowed the staff to pack the lobby with waiting customers and route the exiting customers out these doors directly into the parking lot. Tough luck if it was raining or if some customer wanted to use the rest rooms. A flaw in this arrangement was that the left side wall faced west, and if a customer left through these doors during an afternoon show, the sunlight would either light up the back of the seating area or wash out the picture on the screen.
The booth was equipped with Century 35 / 70MM projectors and four and six track magnetic sound. It was here that I saw my first 70MM presentation, Hello Dolly, in May of 1970. The incredible size and focus of the picture as well as the 6 track sound awoke me to the fact that there were better movie going experiences to be had than the green streaked scratchy sound movies I had been attending at the second run theatres and drive ins. Even Cinemascope 4 track 35MM shows like 1776 were a real treat to see here. With their tux clad ushers, reserved seat shows and higher ticket and concession prices, the Tara did very well in its upscale area. Movies that appealed to older audiences such as Murder on the Orient Express did very well here. I recall attending a showing of “Murder…” on a Tuesday night in February of 1975 where every one of the 1000 seats was full.
Sadly, the large crowds attending the Tara did not make it immune to the twinning plague that swept Atlanta in the mid 70’s. In May of 1975 the Tara was twinned in the same manner as I have described in my comment on the 12 Oaks page of this website. The only difference was that the Tara stayed open the entire time the twinning was underway. After a two day shutdown to allow for the installation of a small screen in the front right hand side of the auditorium, the very successful run of Funny Lady resumed at night while work on the new center wall continued during the day. Once the wall and all work was completed in the left side auditorium, Funny Lady moved there while the right side was finished. The booth had two Christie Autowind platters installed, but only the right side auditorium retained 70MM ability. As opposed to the 12 Oaks, the complete center section of the original theatre was reseated (albeit with smaller seats) so that at least these pointed toward the screens in their new locations. In the end, the Tara finished with two 505 seat houses, losing only 10 seats during the twinning.
As usual in this type of project, the employees were sweeping the trash out the back doors while the customers were being let in the front when the night for both sides to reopen came. Funny Lady continued on while The Drowning Pool opened the new side. Although not too bad looking, the twins were sad sights to those of us who had worked in the original place. This was indeed a dark time in Atlanta movie theatre history. From March through June of 1975, the Phipps Plaza, Loews Tara, and Loews 12 Oaks were all split. Since the movie going masses, in their ignorance and total lack of class continued to patronize these places in record numbers, these twinnings were followed in 1977 by both South Dekalb houses, and in 1978 by the Lenox, and in 1980 by the Perimeter Mall #1. Although the 12 Oaks was never anything special except in size, all of these others were very nice venues and a great loss to anyone who cared about seeing movies in the proper setting.
In 1977, the biggest Tara hit of all, Star Wars, played for 5 months. In mono of course. The Tara was not Dolby equipped then and since people were coming anyway why spend the money? They did, however, spend the money to install a second, temporary, concession stand in the SW corner of the lobby. By 1980 Loews had made the decision to leave Atlanta and the 12 Oaks was sold to Storey and the Tara to George Lefont. (The Grand had closed in 1977 and was demolished in 1978 following a fire that destroyed the entrance but not the auditorium, thus saving the city of another “Save the Fox” type of headache.) Lefont opened in September of 1980 with The Great Santini. He later added a third auditorium to the east side of the building before selling out to Hoyt, who later sold out to United Artists Theatres, who later sold out to Regal. Sometime after the Lefont days, one of the twins was split sideways to make a total of 4. I never had any connection to the Tara after Loews left so I will leave it to someone else to tell the rest of the story. The last movie I saw there was the 70MM presentation of Brainstorm in the early 80’s.
With the closing of the Lenox Square Theatre, I believe that the Tara is the oldest theatre in Atlanta in terms of continuous operation as a movie theatre.
One added note on booth equipment: Sandy Springs (screen #5) no longer has 70MM capability. There are no 70MM DTS readers for new generation 70MM prints, and the 70MM magnetic reader was removed to make room for the Dolby Digital reader.