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I stayed at the hotel in 2001, knowing that it had formerly this huge movie palace. The facade doesn’t look anymore like a former theater. I’d love to see vintage photos of exterior and especially interior!
here’s the link to the page on the former Embassy theater, mentioned above:
The April 3, 2000 Washington Post report that this theater reopened in 2000 as the Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge, under an independent operator, after being renovated into one auditorium of 210 seats plus a 32 seat balcony, and a second screening room with 115 seats.
Closed as JodarMovieFan reported above.
In its original configuration as the Embassy, it was never one of DC’s grand moviehouses, but in the age of dwindling single screen movie theaters, I liked it!
The photo linked above on May 14 is of the premiere auditorium mentioned in the intro.
Here’s today’s Weekly Update:(1) After last week’s update, we were asked why the Boyd owner ceased renovation. The Boyd and other theaters nationwide are for sale because the new company Live Nation chose to focus on Rock n'Roll rather than the mix of entertainment uses that Clear Channel intended for the Boyd when they purchased it. Friends of the Boyd have asked Live Nation to sell the Boyd to another company that wishes to program it broadly. We will help obtain sufficient funding for the renovation.
(2) Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer discusses the $1.3 billion dollar impact, and 40,000 jobs that arts and culture has on the Philadelphia area. View link
Arts and culture will have an even bigger impact on Philadelphia when the BOYD reopens as a major showplace theater! We have told you that the Econsult report summarized here http://www.econsult.com/files/boyd.pdf shows that a reopened Boyd Theatre would generate $120 million a year including related expenditures, and when including those related expenses, a total of 520 jobs.
As the Inquirer states, the arts do not receive enough public funding in Philadelphia. The Boyd will not need annual support as the shows will run in the black, but may need onetime public support to assist with the physical rehabilitation so it can reopen. Most movie palaces nationwide received funding from cities and states, for restoration and updating, so they could again serve their communities.
(3) This Weekly Update has frequently mentioned the Philadelphia region’s historic cinemas, most of which now show arthouse films. Since the Boyd then named the Sameric closed in 2002, Philadelphia residents see mainstream movies in multiplexes. http://cinematreasures.org/ encourages moviegoers to comment on those theaters, and record the history of those theaters. Philadelphia multiplexes showing mainstream movies include the BRIDGE /theaters/10911/ the PEARL /theaters/17993/ and the RIVERVIEW /theaters/20973/
http://cinematreasures.org/ also profiles historic movie palaces. All the movie palaces featured in downtown Philadelphia are history, except one -the Boyd. We must not allow the Boyd to be enjoyed only on cyberspace! The Boyd must be restored and reopened. Thanks to Patrick Crawley and Ross Melnick for inventing cinematreasures in 2000, as volunteers, and thanks to them and to YOU for your continued support of the Boyd.
Howard B. Haas
Bill, thanks most kindly, I am aware of that overpriced ticket. But, catching that train depends upon the movie starting exactly on time, and Penn Station is a little hike to walk or depend upon the frequency at that time of subway or cab. “Conceivably” isn’t good enough when I could miss the last transport home. Fortunately, most new movies and classics at the Ziegfeld do have weekend showings.
I understand why they wouldn’t allow for more than a few shows, but I wish there was a Saturday afternoon show. There are no trains back from New York to Philadelphia on weekday evenings, so I can’t attend.
Perhaps a moviegoer well versed on traditional Roadshow presentation can ask the Ziegfeld staff to keep the curtain closed, …..for the music until the picture starts.
Thanks. Years ago, before I received the photocopy with the lounge photos, I took the tour. Now, I need to take the tour again.
I saw another movie today. Film projection and digital surround sound are excellent. There was no pre-show.
Yes, that is sad. This theater seems to have had its 9 lives, but finally ran out.
Here’s my December 2006 photo of the large ticket booth:
from Washington Post:
Although it’s basically like a multiplex in a mall, the AMC Union Station is not your cookie-cutter theater. The place has character. Built inside catacombs that were once used for storage, its ceilings are two-stories high. Each house has a different name taken from a long-gone Washington movie palace, which is displayed on an old-fashioned facade. This theater on Capitol Hill is the prime movie stop for most people in Northeast, Southeast and even Southwest Washington. And with shops, restaurants, a parking garage, the Metro and MARC trains right here, it’s easy to see why. The largest theater is the Avenue Grand with 364 seats, a large screen and DTS sound, which led to THX certification. All nine are equipped with SDDS. Two other theaters have big screens, two more have medium-size screens, and the rest have small ones. The capacity of the smallest house is 148.
— Matt Slovick
Theater Office: 202-842-3757
Modified for Hearing Impaired: Yes
Disabled Access: All theaters and restrooms are wheelchair-accessible.
Above is the Washington DC Post article itself, not the comments to the article. Here’s another review:
AOL City Guide:
It’s a shame that the theaters that show the most interesting movies in the DC area are also generally the shabbiest and most uncomfortable. The Dupont 5 always has fascinating foreign and independent movies, but it’s cramped and dingy. Its largest theater holds just 139 people; its smallest has 59 seats. The seats are uncomfortable and not especially clean. The screens are small and the sound is sometimes scratchy. The lobby and restrooms are too small to accommodate even a moderate crowd. But Dupont 5 is often the only place in town to see certain movies, and with such small theaters, a popular movie can sell out quickly. You have to wait in line outside not only to buy the tickets, but also to enter the theater if you’re too early. Of course, since it’s in Dupont Circle, there are plenty of places to go if you’re really, really early. This theater has the standard concessions, plus some gourmet fare and coffee. Ticket prices are $7.75, $5.00 for children 12 and younger and seniors 62 and older, and $5.25 for shows before 6:00 p.m. Parking in the Dupont Circle area is a nightmare, and the garage across the street from the theater closes at 10:00 p.m. and is pretty expensive besides. You’re better off with the metro. The South exit of the Dupont Circle station on the Red Line lets you out a few yards from the theater — just go straight when you get off the escalator. The last train for Glenmont leaves at midnight; for Shady Grove at 12:10 a.m. -MS
The Last Show In Dupont Circle
Mulitplexes Rise; Small Cinemas Go Dark
By Alejandro Lazo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 21, 2007; Page D01
The last movie theater standing in Dupont Circle, a neighborhood once known for its small, funky, foreign and art-house film offerings, will close in January after struggling to compete with the area’s bigger and newer multiplexes.
AMC Loews Dupont 5 will screen its last shows Jan. 13 and leave at the end of that month when its 20-year lease expires, spokeswoman Melanie Bell said. A retail store, whose name was not disclosed by the building’s owner, is expected to take the theater’s place once the interior is gutted and remodeled.
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Dupont 5, the last of the small, foreign and art-house cinemas in a neighborhood once filled with them, is closing in January. (By Bill O'leary — The Washington Post)
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The demise of the Dupont 5 reflects the increased difficulty for smaller, neighborhood theaters competing with megaplex venues. Those behemoths, after conquering the suburbs with their stadium seating and surround-sound offerings, have steadily gained a foothold in urban markets. It is also a sign of the continuing change underway in one of the most distinctive neighborhoods in Washington, one brought on by increasing rents for commercial real estate.
“It was a small theater that played small movies,” Rob Halligan, president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association, said. “The point is we are losing the funkiness of Dupont.”
Opened in June 1987 by Dupont Circle Theatres, the movie house changed ownership several times as the industry consolidated. In its heyday in the 1990s and 2000s, it often showed the same films as the venerable Key Theatre in Georgetown and what is now the AMC Loews Shirlington 7 in Arlington.
The cramped, five-auditorium, 725-seat theater occupies the ground floor of a 12-story building at 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW built in 1927. Its neighbors include a Krispy Kreme Donuts, the restaurant Cosi and a Ben & Jerry’s as well as the clothing stores Green and Blue and Proper Topper.
“I used to go there for art films all the time, though I am not a great fan of the screens,” said Aviva Kempner, a District-based independent filmmaker who has watched the number of small theaters dwindle in the District over the past decade. “And what’s great about the Dupont theater was its specialization in gay cinema and its specialization in art movies. It knew what its constituency was, and now I am worried that some of those art movies will not even play anymore.”
Dupont 5 has shown more blockbusters in recent years and has struggled to define itself and compete with the art houses opened by Landmark Theatres at Bethesda Row in 2002 and E Street in 2004, said Andrew Mencher, director of programming at the Avalon Theatre on Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington.
With the addition of megaplexes at AMC Loews Georgetown 14 and Regal Cinema’s Gallery Place Stadium 14, the demand for mainstream movies has been diverted as well, leaving the Dupont 5 in a sort of theatrical twilight zone.
“No doubt a movie theater could be highly successful in Dupont Circle,” Mencher said. But, “these days people want a nice facility, good projection and stadium seating.”
Nationally, AMC Loews has been making the shift from small movie houses and consolidating into megaplexes when and where it can. The average theater operated by AMC Loews in the United States and Canada has about 14 screens.
“What they want to do is get out of those leases and put all those movies in one theater,” said Bradford Brown, president of Brown Entertainment Group, based in Los Angeles. “There is a lot of efficiency in a multiplex.”
Smaller theaters of two and four screens were extremely profitable before the rise of the big theaters saw customers traveling farther to see films, said Dennis McAlpine, an independent researcher and movie industry analyst based in Pawleys Island, S.C.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, several movie theater companies went out of business, consolidated or purged their portfolios of smaller, less profitable theaters. The box office in general is still hurting from the rise of other forms of entertainment such as video games, the Internet and the DVD, but overall the industry has recovered, McAlpine said.
“Until probably about two years ago, you went through a period of consolidation,” McAlpine said. “You are back to a golden area, to an extent, because the portfolio trimming has taken place, you got all the losses out of the way and started making money on the new stuff.”
In Washington, while there are numerous examples of small theaters closing, the number of screens has increased in the past decade, according to the National Association of Theatre Owners.
Nevertheless, the closing of those theaters has often been met with expressions of loss — of character, time and place.
In June 1996, the Biograph in Georgetown closed after a nearly 30-year run as an independently owned, single-screen art house that was “the closest thing to a true underground cinema the D.C. area has ever seen,” according to an article in The Post.
The next year, Palisades residents protested the closing of a theater by the predecessor to AMC Loews, Cineplex Odeon. It became a CVS Pharmacy.
In June 2002, the Janus 3 in Dupont Circle, which once had its own film club and midnight showings of experimental films, closed.
In May 2000, the Embassy was resurrected as Visions Bar Noir, a two-screen venue at the crossroads of the Dupont Circle, Kalorama and Adams Morgan neighborhoods, in an attempt to reclaim the small art-house style. Encumbered by debt, it closed in 2004.
“The corporate movie industry has completely changed how we in Washington go to the movies,” Kempner said. “We can no longer just go to dinner and go to the movies,” in a neighborhood.
Staff researcher Richard Drezen contributed to this report.
Washington Post’s Editorial Review:
The Loews Dupont Circle 5 is a stronghold for small, independent films, some of which you won’t see anywhere else in in the Washington area. Unfortunately, the quarter here are somewhat cramped. The lobby is extremely small; patrons are encouraged to buy their ticket and wait outside. Luckily, there’s plenty to keep you busy in the hip and bustling Dupont Circle neighborhood. All the theaters and screens are small. The seating capacity ranges from 59 in the smallest theater to 139 in the largest. Two others seat 120 and 130. If you go, take Metro. The theater is only a few steps from the Dupont Circle stop and street parking is hard to find.
— Matt Slovick
Theater Office: 202-872-9556
Modified for Hearing Impaired: Yes
Disabled Access: All theaters and restrooms are wheelchair-accessible.
As the old KB Janus 3 is also gone, thus ends decades of moviegoing at Dupont Circle. Not far away were the Cirlce West End 1-4 and 5-7, the Embassy, and the KB Fine Arts, all gone. Of course, movies returned downtown with the Regal Gallery megaplex and the Landmark arthouse. Dupont Circle’s movies trended arthouse.
I saw movies at Dupone Circle 5, but the auditoriums and screens were small. I liked much better the single screen theater that was in the same building previously. Also known as the Dupont Circle, it has its own page on this website.
I telephoned the Ziegfeld. Daytime shows of Porgy and Bess cancelled. Only 8 PM on Wed & Thursday.
By Kenneth Jones
20 Sep 2007
The 1959 Hollywood movie “Porgy and Bess” will get a rare big-screen engagement Sept. 26-27, marking the first time in nearly 50 years that the “road show” print of the Gershwin musical has appeared in a movie house.
The 8 PM special screenings â€" open to the public â€" at Clearview Cinemas' Ziegfeld Theatre in Manhattan will be followed by a discussion on the film and its director, presented by film professor and author Foster Hirsch. The picture’s director, Otto Preminger, is the subject of a new Hirsch-penned book, “Otto Preminger: The Man Who Would be King,” due out from Knopf Oct. 21.
“Porgy and Bess,” drawn from the 1935 stage musical (sometimes billed as a folk opera) by George and Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, earned four rather low-profile Academy Award nominations. AndrÃ© Previn and Ken Darby won Oscars for their efforts in the category of Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture. It won a 1960 Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical.
“The screening of ‘Porgy and Bess’ at the Ziegfeld Theatre is a unique opportunity to see a great ‘lost’ film in one of New York’s great theatresâ€¦,” Hirsch said in a statement. “The film to be shown is an original road show print, with overture, intermission music and exit music. It is the only known complete print of the film in the United States.”
The picture is based on the musical by George Gershwin, from the novel “Porgy” by DuBose Heyward and the play Porgy by Dorothy and DuBose Heyward. The film was produced by Samuel Goldwyn.
The cast includes Sidney Poitier as Porgy, Dorothy Dandridge as Bess and Sammy Davis, Jr. as Sportin' Life.
First released in 1959, “Porgy and Bess” is “set among the African-American residents of a fishing village called Catfish Row in 1912 South Carolina,” according to screening notes. “Bess â€” a woman with a disreputable history â€" tries to break free from her brutish lover Crown after he becomes wanted for murder. The only person willing to overlook her past and offer her shelter is the crippled Porgy. Their relationship is threatened by the disapproval of the townspeople, the presence of her old drug supplier Sportin' Life, and the threatened return of Crown."
Tickets are on sale now at the Ziegfeld Theatre box office at 141 West 54th Street in New York City and online at www.clearviewcinemas.com
The print of “Porgy and Bess” comes courtesy of Ken Kramer’s The Clip Joint for Film in Burbank, CA.
Foster Hirsch, a film professor at Brooklyn College, is the author of 16 books on film and theatre, including “The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir,” “A Method to Their Madness: The History of the Actors Studio” and “Kurt Weill on Stage: From Berlin to Broadway.”
More information about Hirsch’s book can be found at www.aaknopf.com
More lobby photos needed!
Facade in 2006 photo:
Close up of exterior Art Deco mural on facade:
facade showing both murals:
Lobby & auditorium photos:
Berkeley Planet article:
Berkeleyâ€™s United Artists Theater Turns 75
By Steven Finacom, Special to the Planet (09-14-07)
â€œMotion picture stars bowing to admiring throngs and stopping before microphones to extend greetings. Dazzling klieg lights, brighter than a torrid desert sun. Powerful searchlights piercing the darkness above with sudden flashes. Music and flowers.â€
It would be, the Berkeley Daily Gazette said, â€œHollywood transplanted hereâ€ and â€œthe greatest theatrical event in the history of Berkeley.â€
That was 75 years ago, Sept. 16, 1932, as Berkeleyâ€™s new United Artists theater opened on Shattuck Avenue, just south of the Berkeley Public Library.
The opening was big news in Depression-era Berkeley, which preened in the assurance that a national corporation was willing to invest in the community, despite economic hardship.
Then, as now, there were several movie theaters downtown, but the new building with its fluid sculptural facade, enormous marquee with hundreds of lights, and towering sign that proclaimed â€œUnited Artistsâ€ in neon up and down Shattuck Avenue, changed the commercial and physical landscape.
Berkeleyans flocked to the spectacle.
â€œEvery one of the 1,800 luxurious seats in the theater was filled within five minutes after the doors opened,â€ reported the Berkeley Daily Gazette the next day. â€œTwice as many filled the foyers, waiting for an opportunity to obtain seats for the second show.â€
â€œA solid mass of stargazersâ€ outside ogled the celebrities who arrived in â€œa fleet of new sedans,â€ after dining at the Berkeley Country Club. Actors and actresses â€œmingled with their local admirers, laughing and
chatting and writing autographs on anything that would take ink or lead pencil.â€
They included â€œbeautiful blond Josephine Dunnâ€ and â€œthe vivacious Spanish dancer, Senorita Conchita Montenegro,â€ both splendid in evening gowns and â€œcostly outer wraps.â€ Male stars included â€œbroad-shouldered, swaggering George Bancroft,â€ â€œyouthful Marty Kemp, suave Lou Codyâ€ and â€œcrooning, good looking, Bing Crosby,â€ who rushed over from a performance in Oakland to attend the opening.
â€œOutside as late as 10 oâ€™clock several thousand persons stood in the street.â€ Police and firemen managed the crowds, not only on Shattuck but around the corner of Bancroft where a â€œgreat throngâ€ waited to see movie stars emerge from the stage door.
Inside the theater, Bancroft recited a monologue and comic actor â€œStuttering Roscoeâ€ Ates paired with Kemp on â€œan impromptu dialogue which even had Master of Ceremonies Cody laughing.â€
Berkeley Mayor Thomas Caldecott came forward to â€œextend the Cityâ€™s greetings to the United Artists and the Fox West Coast Theaters corporations for giving Berkeley such a magnificent theater.â€
Caldecott had earlier posed with two â€œpretty usherettesâ€ to sign the â€œbiggest proclamation in the worldâ€ which had noted â€œlife in Berkeley and its surrounding communities takes on a new and bright aspectâ€ with the opening of the theater.
â€œPractically every city official and civic leader of Berkeley and the East Bay district was in the audience, including the entire City Council.â€
United Artists was founded by powerhouse stars Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith to make films and, as was typical of the time, show them in its own corporate theaters.
Berkeleyâ€™s UA Theater â€œwas an early link in the United Artists chain,â€ and â€œfairly deluxe,â€ says Gary Parks, southwest director of the Theater Historical Society of America. Southern California had several similarly designed UA theaters.
Berkeley, though, has the only one where the allegorical figure of â€œArtistryâ€ is on the left on the facade, â€œUnityâ€ on the right. â€œLetâ€™s hear it for Berkeley non-conformity,â€ Parks says.
â€œThe Berkeley UA was the work of Clifford Balch, with Walker & Eisen,â€ he notes, while the interior painted decoration were done by the Heinsbergen Decorating Company of Los Angeles.
The Berkeley theater is perhaps the only one of its type still directly connected to United Artists, which merged with Regal Cinemas and Edwards Theaters to form Regal Entertainment Group, which runs 6,368 screens in 529 locations around the country and calls itself â€œthe largest motion picture exhibitor in the world.â€
When the $300,000 UA Berkeley opened, it had a single screen and the filmgoer was offered a spectacle extending from curb to commode.
â€œThe brilliantly illumined marquee and the lobby give no idea of the beauty and space within,â€ the Gazette reported at the opening.
The theater originally had a tile-floored atrium open to the street, with a four-sided dome; itâ€™s now enclosed and carpeted.
â€œOnce through the outside doors patrons will be delighted with the artistic outer foyer with its high, richly toned ceilings, the great French plate glass mirrors on either side, the delicate warmth of color and the great black and gold illustrated panels, depicting above, on and below the earth,â€ the Gazette wrote.
There was no concession counter. â€œTheatres in the 1930s in some cases did experiment with things like candy machines, but it wasnâ€™t until the 1940s that concessions became common,â€ says Parks.
From the lobby, â€œstraight ahead the artistic mezzanine looms up with its polished aluminum railings like glistening silverâ€ the Gazette wrote. â€œThen further ahead is the inner foyer with its wonderful murals depicting the drama. To the right is the main lounging room, replete with comfortable and handsome furniture, a gigantic solid mahogany table on which is mounted a beautiful silver statuette. Here there are roomy Chesterfields in Spanish and modernistic design sufficient to seat comfortably nearly 100 persons.â€
Within the theater one found, the Gazette said, â€œthe massive stage, the artistic contours and decorations of the proscenium arch, the golden console and generously large orchestra pit which extends outward so far that it makes the front row of seats desirable ones at a distance sufficient from the silver screen.â€
The stage, 25 feet deep, had a dozen adjacent dressing rooms, and was equipped â€œto present all kinds of stage attractions at any time there is demand to offer vaudeville here.â€
Patrons could also luxuriate in non-theatrical amenities.
The â€œladiesâ€™ parlorsâ€ included â€œoverstuffed furniture, lounges and individual chairs, beautiful French plate glass mirrorsâ€ and â€œinvitingâ€ lighting. The main womenâ€™s lounge has â€œsmoking standsâ€ and a â€œcosmetic roomâ€ with dressing tables.
The men got their own smoking room with walls â€œstenciled with various sportsâ€"football, baseball, track, polo, hunting and fishing, tennis and basketball.â€
Many of these features are now gone or covered up. In the 1970s the main auditorium and balcony were partitioned to provide four separate screens, although liniments of the original spaces can still be seen.
Further renovations in the early 1980s caused worries that the lobby would be compromised, and heartfelt appeals were made to the management. As a result, the original glass and wood entrance doors, set back from the street, were preserved, a matching new mural was added, and the lobby stayed intact.
â€œThe high standards of the original design are something that future generations would appreciate as theaters of this type are becoming increasingly rare,â€ wrote architectural historian Michael Crowe to the president of United Artists in 1982.
â€œThe glittering, labyrinthine Aladdinâ€™s Cave of a lobby, belying the buildingâ€™s small street facade, still conveys the feelings of surprise and splendor that were part of the great days of movie-going. This must not be lost now,â€ wrote the Berkeley Historical Society.
The theater now has now seven screens serving about 1,400 seats, according to Regal Entertainment representatives.
Outside, the original marquee is gone along with the neon tower. In the 1960s and â€™70s, Parks says, civic and architectural distaste for neon brought about the demise of numerous theater signs, including Berkeleyâ€™s.
The facade retains its original flowing Art Deco character but has been painted. Itâ€™s one of the more prominent and important architectural compositions from its era in Berkeley, complementary to the Deco-style Berkeley Public Library, just up the block.
Some original furnishings are at the Oakland Paramount, while others are scattered among private collectors. The theater organ is now privately owned and may end up, Parks says, in a theater in Astoria, Ore.
On opening night in 1932 the organ was central to the entertainment, with four virtuosos offering solos as a prelude to â€œa typical theater opening programâ€ on film.
A Will Rogers comedy, Down to Earth, was the feature film. â€œThere was one of those almost tragically funny â€˜Screen Souvenirs,â€™ a Magic Carpet Travel, a Mickey Mouse cartoon and the Metrotone news.â€
Tickets cost 30 cents for general admission and 40 cents for loge seats at matinees, 45 cents and 69 cents on evenings, Sundays and holidays, and â€œchildren 10 cents any time.â€
â€œThose who waited in the foyers were loud in their praise of the wonderful lounging rooms, the artistic decorations. Hundreds stopped to congratulate Manager Clarence L. Laws on the beauty of the theater and the wonderful service rendered by the house staff.â€
Back then, elaborately uniformed staffers ushered patrons to their seats and even posed for publicity photos. Todayâ€™s staffers are practically invisible in comparison and thereâ€™s no such thing as an usher, only an employee who slips in silently after each showing to clean up.
In 1932 Councilmember Reese Clark said the theater â€œis one of the beauty spots of the downtown district.
â€œBerkeley at one time was known as a â€˜show townâ€™ and, if the theaters continue to express their confidence in Berkeley with such luxurious structures, it again will assume that role.â€
Berkeley Police Chief Greening added â€œbright lights are a deterrent to crimeâ€"criminals fear them more than any other one thing. That is exactly what the new â€¦ theater has brought to the downtown business areaâ€"bright lights and plenty of them.â€
â€œBerkeley citizens are entitled to the best that the show world has to
offer,â€ Greening concluded.
And thatâ€™s just what they enjoyed on that brilliant night, 75 years ago.
Photograph Courtesy Regal Entertainment
In late 1966 the theater still had its original marquee, below the neon sign tower that dominated the faÃ§ade.
from the Internet site:
Charleston IMAX Theatre Closes
With deep regret, Rivers Enterprises Real Estate, Inc. announces the closing of the Charleston IMAX Theatre Monday, September 17, 2007. After seven and a half years providing Lowcountry residents and visitors to Charleston an educational and entertaining experience, the theatre is no longer financially viable.
The loyal support of our customers, our staff, and the city has been greatly appreciated over the years. Rivers Enterprises is undertaking a complete review of its roles as part of Aquarium Wharf and looks forwards to proving enhanced services for that area in the future.
And, no, I haven’t photographed it. My notes from whatever publication are that the flagship auditorium has 65 x 26 feet wide screen. I sat in the balcony of that 900 seater. The page on this site has a link to a photo though it doesn’t do it full justice. Flickr has a few photos of lobby areas and relatively dark photos of the auditorium.
Roadshow, it is time for your “oops, typo” correction and in this instance, two of them.
Excellent article! That link will break. Here-
A Tower of music and memoriesBy JONATHAN TAKIFF
The Tower Theater today (left) is a prime venue for rock concerts – a completely different
The Tower Theater today (left) is a prime venue for rock concerts – a completely different vibe from 1971 (above), when it was a movie house showing “Klute” and “Summer of ‘42.”
Â» More images A high, steel tower has loomed above the landscape at 69th and Ludlow streets since 1927. Evocative of the old RKO Pictures logo, the structure initially was topped off with a swirling, illuminated ball that could be seen for miles, and gave the Upper Darby showplace beneath it, the Tower Theater, its name.
Today, virtually all the other ornate “photoplay” (movie) and stage-show palaces of the Tower’s size (originally 2,616 seats, now 3,119) and elegance are gone. And, sadly, that attention-grabbing light fixture no longer functions.
But thanks to the power of rock ‘n’ roll – with a little pop, comedy and R&B thrown in on the side – the Tower remains a beacon of light, luring concertgoers from far and wide to commune with their favorite entertainers.
What a history this place has wrought!
Stadium and arena superstar Bruce Springsteen once vowed he would never play any place larger than the Tower with his rock-‘em-sock-'em E-Street Band. (In 1974 at the Tower, the band earned its then-biggest paycheck – $5,000.)
The British progressive-rock band Genesis – this week playing three big shows at the Wachovia Center (with tickets priced from $77 to $227) – made its Philadelphia-area debut at the Tower on Nov. 16, 1973. It was a midnight show, for which spectators paid all of $4. The band got $750.
The Tower was the area concert hall where Stevie Wonder made his landmark transition to adult-oriented, progressive soul music, introducing material from the incredible “Talking Book” disc. Legend has it that Georgie Woods, who’d promoted Wonder’s prior shows at the Uptown Theater, didn’t think his new music was any good, and so passed on doing the show at the North Broad Street hall!
Some notable live albums, a huge number of radio broadcasts and a sprinkling of videos have been made at the Upper Darby showcase – including David Bowie’s “David Live,” Hall & Oates' “Live at the Tower Theater,” Average White Band’s “Person to Person,” Paul Simon’s “Live at the Tower Theater” and parts of Steve Miller’s huge hit “The Joker.”
Also passing through its stage doors have been: Bob Marley & the Wailers, the Rolling Stones, Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Morrissey, Radiohead, a riot-inspiring Jane’s Addiction, James
Taylor, Sheryl Crow, the Black
Crowes; and comedians George Carlin, Jon Stewart and Lewis Black.
This fall, the venue will play host to: Kings of Leon (9/21), Ben Harper (9/22), Regina Spektor (9/27), funnyman Jim Gaffigan (9/29), Gov’t Mule (10/6), Tori Amos (10/15), American Idol Kelly Clarkson (10/18), Smashing Pumpkins (10/21-22), John Fogerty (11/3) and Neil Young (12/9.)
The Tower Theater was built at a cost of $1.25 million just two years before the Great Depression slowed (and then, after 1932, ended) Philadelphia’s movie-palace boom. While not quite as fancy as contemporaries like the Mastbaum, the Earle and the Uptown, the Tower had its charms – decorated with lavish marble staircases, oriental rugs, handsome lobby furniture and glamorous art deco by Erte. A tuxedo-clad pianist tinkled a grand piano’s keys in the foyer.
And the theater’s interior oozed with movie-set atmosphere.
The walls were decorated in a trellised, English garden motif, while the ceiling twinkled with 150 stars.
Typical of the times, the theater had a house orchestra, plus a huge Wurlitzer organ that magically rose into view on a motorized lift to accompany the silent films still dominating the movie industry when the theater opened.
The biggest of three theaters in Upper Darby (the others were the 69th Street and the Terminal), the Tower offered vaudeville and burlesque stars on stage, plus the latest cinema features on screen. As vaudeville waned, movies became the staple. In the late 1950s and early ‘60s some multi-act, rock and soul music revues occasionally took over the stage.
By the early 1970s, the Tower had fallen on hard times. The theater was reduced to showing second- and third-run movies at a bargain $1 admission price. “The place was a mess. There were leaks in the ceiling, the paint was peeling, the carpeting was pretty bad,” recalls Rick Green, who toured the place then with his older brother Stu. But as fans of the Fillmore East in New York – which wasn’t such great shakes either, in the decor department – the 20-something Green brothers saw similar potential at the Tower. They made a deal with the owners – the A.M. Ellis Theater Co. – to turn the Tower into Philly’s hottest rock-concert hall.
With the bucks the Greens were paying in rent – initially $800 per show night – Ellis started reinvesting in the theater, including more and nicer seats. And the Green brothers' Midnight Sun Concerts started bringing in progressive-rock acts with appeal to the coming-of-age boomer crowd (Dave Mason was their opener on June 14, 1972). They brought in: Springsteen, Electric Light Orchestra, the Bee Gees, Fleetwood Mac, Kiss, Renaissance, Jackson Browne, Procol Harum, Quincy Jones and Mr. Bowie – whose theatrically charged and amazingly rocking Fall of ‘72 “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” show shook up this kid but good.
Stu Green now allows that “R&B (rhythm and blues) music was really my thing.” But the brothers (originally from North Jersey) discovered that “rock and especially anything British, did really well in this town.”
They relied in part on guidance from DJs at then free-form WMMR, and also on “a 12-year-old kid who lived in an apartment adjoining the theater, Mike Hoffman,” recalls Rick Green. “He was a diehard Anglophile with a British pen pal who would send over all the hot new releases, and Mike would clue us to them.” (Hoffman is still turning people on to the good stuff, as proprietor of A.K.A. Music, 27 N. 2nd St.)
The Greens put on “about 100 shows a year – often two a night,” notes Stu – until the rug was abruptly pulled out from under them in 1975. A member of the Ellis clan bargained away the Tower for $350,000 to Midnight Sun’s larger competitor, Electric Factory Concerts. Midnight Sun still exists – as a Delaware County-based management and booking agency for bar bands.
As an element now of the Live Nation megaconcert operation, Electric Factory has kept the rock-hall vibe intact at the Tower, while gradually bringing the property back to respectability. The basement men’s room no longer floods regularly. Seats, curtains and walls have been freshened up, the dropped ceiling in the lobby was removed to reveal the original fancy plaster work hiding beneath. The air conditioning works better, and if it gets too hot, you can now cool off with a beer from the lobby bar.
Midsize halls are gaining favor with touring acts like Clarkson – who originally had planned to perform this year in one of our nicer, 20,000-seat hockey rinks. So the Tower’s future seems secure.
EFC chief Larry Magid even fought off the idea of his corporate parent to change the name of the theater to the Fillmore Philadelphia as part of a national branding stategy. (TLA took the hit instead.) Magid told a reporter in April that the Tower’s legend loomed too large, even before he got involved in the operation:
“I saw rock ‘n’ roll shows there when I was a kid.”
NYC’s AMC Loews Lincoln Square would also be perfect for this kind of event, with a flagship auditorium and about a dozen other auditoriums, with Hollywood style charm.