Comments from Homeboy

Showing 1 - 25 of 56 comments

Homeboy commented about Alameda Theatre on Jan 13, 2019 at 8:01 pm

The theater was designed by architect Timothy Pflueger who also designed the Alhambra and the Castro in San Francisco; and the Paramount in Oakland. The Alameda was built in 14 months at a cost of $500,000.

Homeboy commented about Webster Theater on Sep 16, 2018 at 5:50 pm

The September 16, 2018 issue of the Los Angeles Times ran an article on Webster along with changing demographics of the area. Read entire article here.

Homeboy commented about Parkway Theatre on Aug 18, 2018 at 9:40 pm

There is an eight-page article on the Parkway and it’s restoration in the Summer 2018 issue of Preservation magazine. Too many details to add in this message except that the original architect was Oliver Wight [sic].

Homeboy commented about Music Box Theatre on Jul 2, 2018 at 4:15 am

The new marquee was created by Landmark Sign Group of Chesterton, Indiana. Art director was Jerry Lefere. Senior Technical Engineer was Terry Ambrosini. Many of the zinc castings were supplied by W. F. Norman Corp. of Nevada, Missouri and were identical to the originals. The center urn and scrolls were salvaged from the original marquee and reinstalled on the new structure.

Homeboy commented about Music Hall Theatre on May 15, 2018 at 12:05 am

I go often and have yet to see the theater full. They can’t be making any money. To save this theater, that sits on desirable Beverly Hills land, formulate a plan now before it becomes actively threatened. By that time, it’s often hard to turn things around.

Homeboy commented about Temple Theatre on May 5, 2018 at 8:35 pm

The April 2018 issue of “Sign of the Times” includes an article on the restoration of the marquee and sign of the Temple.

According to the article, “The building resembles an early Gothic cathedral and was commissioned nearly a century ago by the Elf Khurafeh Shriners – a fraternal organization like other Shriners, based on fun, fellowship, and the Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief, and truth. Osgood & Osgood Architects of Grand Rapids, MI had produced the original blueprints. As Freemasons, Osgood put more than their usual care into this building design.”

The article goes on to say, “The original marquee from 1927 carried out the “trolley car” design of that era, a rectangle with three sides of advertisement and decorative spires at each corner. The blade had been carefully hand carved and assembled from wood pieces. Over the years and decades, woodpeckers slowly ravaged it and the blade was taken down along with the rest of the marquee in 1961.” But doesn’t say anything about the transition from Masonic Hall to movie theater.

Homeboy commented about Bay Theatre on Sep 20, 2016 at 10:19 pm

From LA Times, Sept. 13, 2016:

The iconic Bay Theatre in Seal Beach has sat dark for the past four years, but a Fullerton-based developer with a penchant for historic buildings has recently made it his mission to purchase the venue and rehabilitate it for films, music and the arts.

With the Seal Beach City Council’s vote Monday officially designating the structure as a historic landmark, Paul Dunlap of the Dunlap Property Group is one step closer to breathing life back into the abandoned building.

Located on Main Street and Pacific Coast Highway, the single-screen theater has been a significant gathering spot for locals since it opened in 1947. It featured independent, foreign and classic movies on 35mm film for $8 admission until it closed in 2012. The noticeably large structure stands out among the boutiques and other shops on Main Street.

If all goes according to Dunlap’s timeline, he will close escrow on the $2.25-million purchase by December, and then he’ll apply for a conditional use permit and spend all of 2017 in reconstruction and redevelopment.

The building, including the interior, will be returned to its original aesthetic, sans the Wurlitzer Opus 1960 pipe organ, which was removed in 2007, Dunlap said. Once strictly a movie house, he said the theater will continue to show films but will also showcase performing arts.

Homeboy commented about Miracle Theatre on Apr 30, 2016 at 8:23 pm

The theater is listed for sale by NAI Capital. Listing says 8120 sq. ft. building on 7379 sq. ft. land. 24-26 ft. ceilings throughout theater space. 5 gated parking spaces.

Homeboy commented about Hollywood Theatre on Oct 27, 2015 at 4:30 am

Excerpt from “Security Signs Revives Historic Theater With New Marquee” which appeared in the October 2015 issue of Signs of the Times.

Hollywood Theatre is an historic theater that was built in downtown Portland’s southeastern section, known as the Hollywood District. This ornate, beautiful theater, located at 4122 NE Sandy Blvd., opened in 1926. There are no known photos of the original marquee; to our knowledge, only a drawing of it exists.

The theater’s management updated the Hollywood’s marquee during the 1970s in an effort to “modernize” the theater and help it compete with mushrooming, multi-screen “cineplex” chains. The marquee remained operational, but deteriorated to the point of ugliness. And, according to Doug Whyte, the Hollywood Theatre Foundation’s executive director, the revised marquee didn’t mesh well with the building. Consequently, they sought a design inspired by the original 1926 marquee. Several streets converge at this location, so the theater enjoys high visibility. However, from a project-management perspective, this presented problems. Also, a new building had been constructed next to the theater, which further complicated matters.

Kevin Hallwyler, Security’s project manager for the job, learned of the marquee revitalization during its early planning stages, and established a relationship with Whyte. Hallwyler’s frequent communication, plus Security’s longstanding local stature, helped our bid be successful.

Fernando Duarte Design (Sacramento, CA), known for crafting marquee-restoration plans, designed the reimagined Hollywood Theatre façade. Other high-profile Duarte jobs include the legendary Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, CA. The Hollywood received several renovations, but anticipation was high for the marquee’s rejuvenation.

Complete article with pictures here.

Homeboy commented about Laguna South Coast Cinemas on Sep 1, 2015 at 3:29 am

The Laguna South Coast Cinemas closed Sunday, August 30, 2015 after its operator, Regency Theatres, was unable to secure a longtime lease to make necessary renovations and upgrades.

Regency, which operates 28 other neighborhood theaters in Southern California and in Yuma, Ariz., said showing movies there was costly and less efficient because of outdated technology in the two-auditorium, 550-seat theater. Films had to be ordered in advance and selection was limited.

Lyndon Golin, president of Calabasas-based Regency, said that distributors no longer provides movies on 35mm film. Everything is digital, he said, and we can’t get a lease with terms to make the investment there. He said he’s been given no reason why his lease won’t be extended.

Closing the Laguna Beach theater not only leaves the town without a place for the public to see movies but also shuts one of the last beach movie theaters along the Southern California coast.

(Based on a story that appeared in the August 30, 2015 Orange County Register.)

Homeboy commented about Palace Theatre on Nov 20, 2014 at 5:38 pm

The following is an excerpt from an article in the June 27, 2011 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

“When the [Palace] theater opened, the upper "gallery” level was earmarked for non-white theatergoers. Reportedly designated “Negroes Only,” it featured bench seating, had separate restrooms and could be reached only through an outside entrance. Historians have noted that such an arrangement was unusual in a city that, in those days, was more tolerant than other places.

Homeboy commented about BLVD Cinemas on Sep 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Apparently BLVD does stand for boulevard as in “The Boulevard.” The caps thing is just a marketing ploy. For more info, go here:

Homeboy commented about Boulevard Theatre on Jun 8, 2014 at 6:16 pm

My memory is fuzzy so this could be substantially wrong. But what I think I remember — I was a kid at the time — is that there were several theaters within a two block radius of Washington and Vermont — at least three — and the area seemed to be a wholesale film booking area with more company in the film distribution business or affiliated businesses. Of course, what seemed to be “more than one company” could have been various Fox West Coast offices in different buildings. In particular wasn’t there a theater in a huge building on the southeast corner of Washington and Vermont with the entrance on Washington? And wasn’t there a smaller theater on Vermont in the several blocks south of Washington?

Homeboy commented about Zaryadia Cinema on Nov 18, 2013 at 11:55 pm

The Zaryadia Cinema was located inside the Rossiya Hotel along with — among other things — a 2500-seat concert hall, go-cart track, post office, barber shop, police station (with jail) and a Nissan dealership. The hotel, which was designed by Dmitri Chechulin, was the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1967, a title it held until it was eclipsed by the Excalibur in Las Vegas. The Rossiya closed January 1, 2006 and was demolished later that year. Current plans are for the former hotel site to become a public park.

Homeboy commented about Saban Theatre on Oct 12, 2013 at 4:54 pm

The October 2013 issue of “Signs of the Times” magazine tells you more than you could ever want to know about the restoration of the Saban Theatre marquee. The lead contractors were Duarte Design and Alpha Architectural Signs.

Homeboy commented about AMC Criterion 6 on Apr 9, 2013 at 4:14 pm

Another article on its closing:

Homeboy commented about Florence Mills Theatre on Mar 11, 2013 at 1:11 am

The Florence Mills is in the midst of being demolished. Here is a picture of the Florence Mills, in decline, but before the wrecking ball.

Homeboy commented about Varsity Theater on Jan 2, 2013 at 7:32 pm

The restored blade sign was done by Ion Art of Austin Texas. It is 30 x 8 feet. There is an article about the new sign in the June 2012 issue of Signs of the Times.

Homeboy commented about KiMo Theater on Dec 26, 2012 at 7:32 pm

The December 2012 issue of “Signs of the Times” has a long article on the KiMo. Although it’s mostly about the blade sign, it gives quite a bit of historical background on the theater as well. Unfortunately the article is not available online.

Homeboy commented about Ahrya Fine Arts Cinema on Nov 15, 2012 at 6:29 pm

The following article appeared in the November 13, 2012 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

“Historic Theater in Beverly Hills an Empty Shell”

The renowned designer had a mission: to “transform this Wilshire Boulevard cracker box into a sumptuous palace.”

So Joseph J. Musil ordered up red velour seats, gold sconces, a sunburst ceiling and a lobby carpeted in crimson for the 1993 renovation of the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills. Shimmery black curtains swept back to reveal the giant screen. The place thrived as a venue for small premieres, drawing A-listers on any given night and plaudits from nearby residents.

But it wasn’t enough. Unable to stay afloat, the Fine Arts closed in 2009. An Indian company’s plan to reopen it to screen Bollywood films fell through. The theater became an empty shell.

And so it remains. Some supporters worry that the Fine Arts will never function as a theater again. Back on the market for $4 million, the Fine Arts is at the mercy of an era and economy that make a tiny, one-screen movie theater a risky investment. And while former patrons view the theater with nostalgia, and a few prospective buyers have made inquiries, no investors have stepped up. Historic as the theater is, it is not quite a landmark.

“It’s a big shame, but you know, it’s a change in the entertainment system,” said Brian Dunne of NAI Capital, who has the listing. “People are going to the big multiplexes with food courts and parking. They want it to be more of a social experience. I don’t mean to say this is a dinosaur going nowhere. This place has a lot of charms. We need somebody who wants to keep its tradition alive.”

That tradition dates to 1936, when it was built. Named the Regina Theater, it would go on to generate a wealth of lore. Actor Peter Lorre once stopped in to catch a showing of “M,” the German film that kick-started his career. He fell asleep.

In 1948 it was renamed the Fine Arts Theater and hosted the premiere of “The Red Shoes.” Invited guests included Susan Hayward, Joan Crawford, Ava Gardner and Shirley Temple.

Vittorio Cecchi Gori’s film production company bought the theater in the early 1990s and spearheaded the Musil renovation. Cecchi Gori’s 1997 production “Life Is Beautiful” went on to win several Oscars. Its director and star, Roberto Benigni, arrived one day at the Fine Arts to practice crawling over theater seats, a move he repeated the following evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion when accepting his best actor award.

Known as a low-key place that showed foreign films or indie flicks, the Fine Arts attracted cinephiles and celebrities.

Casey Rocke, who worked as the theater’s manager and film projectionist, recalled the days when Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft arrived on double dates with Carl and Estelle Reiner. An employee once jokingly carded Charlton Heston for the senior discount. Even Hollywood’s younger generation made their way to the ticket booth. Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio were both good-humored during its pre-credit card days, dashing to an ATM across the street.

“We had a solid audience and always booked something no one else had,” Rocke, 34, said. “The theater didn’t make a killing, but it didn’t lose money.”

At one point Landmark Theatres was operating the place; then Cecchi Gori rented it out as a screening room. The current owner, Bhupendra Kumar Modi, who lives in Singapore and has a home in Beverly Hills, is selling the Fine Arts after deciding its operation didn’t fit his company’s business plan.

City officials and staff have spoken in favor of keeping the site a cinema. Michele McGrath, senior planner for Beverly Hills, said city officials have been looking at how to invigorate the neighborhood and have even talked of creating a theater district.

“I think the city cares about theaters in general — they’re part of our cultural heritage,” she said.

Area residents say they have felt the loss. But most see it simply as a sign of the times.

“It seemed like it was part of our neighborhood and that we had a stake in it,” said Brenda Castiel, who has lived within walking distance of the theater for two decades. “I would love for it to remain a theater, but I imagine it’s not economically viable.”

Across from a gas station and an auto repair shop just west of La Cienega Boulevard, the theater is easy to miss on traffic-clogged Wilshire Boulevard. Display cases that once held movie posters are empty and the marquee blank.

Inside, boxes of Red Vines and Junior Mints still linger at the concession stand. A purple couch fringed in gold awaits a visitor. Although the entry shows some wear and tear, the auditorium, with its rows of plush seats and gold and silver decor, still exudes glamour. It is in need of a ruler but remains the sumptuous palace Musil envisioned.

Homeboy commented about Alabama Theatre on Sep 2, 2012 at 3:53 pm

According to The September 2012 issue of Signs of the Times, the Alabama Theater tower sign is being restored by Coast Graphics and Signs of Stafford, Texas.

Homeboy commented about Joy Theater on Sep 2, 2012 at 3:50 pm

According to The September 2012 issue of Signs of the Times, “the Joy Theatre sign in New Orleans, originally built by Pelican Signs in 1947, was recently restored by the Big Eay’s Brightway Signs.”

Homeboy commented about Palace Theatre on Jul 17, 2012 at 3:18 am

The following appeared in the July 15, 2012 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

“With $1-million restoration, the show goes on at Palace Theatre”

The Palace Theatre is indeed a place fit for royalty. Massive murals lord over the auditorium. Cornucopia moldings hang over the exits. And frescos cover the theater’s domed ceiling, a homage to an era when going to a show was truly a glamorous affair.

“It’s pretty incredible, isn’t it?” David Linderman said as he sat in one of its plush seats. “It’s more of a palace than a theater.”

Linderman drove in from Moorpark with his wife for a public tour Saturday by the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, which surveyed every nook of the theater, which had its first performance on June 26, 1911. (It was known as the Orpheum then, a vaudeville stage, where Joseph Hart’s “The Little Stranger” and “Musikal Girls,” were among the acts in the first show.)

The owners of the Palace Theatre, a name it adopted not long after, completed a $1-million renovation last year to restore the luster lost to time and inattention. The Palace is one of four historic theaters on Broadway in downtown purchased by the late real estate magnate and philanthropist Ezat Delijani, whose family continues to maintain and restore them. The family also owns the Los Angeles, State and Tower theaters.

The Palace had faded to a dismal state, said Ed Kelsey, who led the renovation. Leaks in the roof let water trickle in, causing severe damage throughout the building. It had become so humid inside that the paint was peeling. And coats of paint, layers of flooring and new fixtures added over the years, until the theater was closed in 1999, had lacquered over the original craftsmanship.

To reveal what had once been there, the renovation became something like detective work.

Sometimes it required incredible precision: A team had to examine an old photo with a microscope to spot the pattern on the wallpaper so they could re-create it; for the carpet, one person had to scrub off years of wear and dirt until the design was evident. Untangling a skein of electrical wiring from 1911 was certainly a tedious chore.

At other times, they had to be blunt objects, breaking through walls and floors to find the treasure underneath. “Hit it with a hammer and see what’s inside,” Kelsey said. They discovered the original tiled entryway in the lobby and wood panels in the gentlemen’s lounge. A bannister of concrete had a brass handrail inside.

“What a job! What a job! Look at the detail work,” Carole Koenig, 60, said as she examined the molding. “The kind of quality craftsmanship, they don’t make anymore.”

On the tour, the guides showed how the building had evolved in its various iterations: It originally had box seats, but those disappeared with the introduction of talking movies. It had an organ, and then it didn’t. There had once been an orchestra chamber, but now it was gone. And the instrument room didn’t originally have a functioning toilet right by the door.

Other stops included a ladies' lounge with a window overlooking the entrance so that women could spot their dates, outdoor stairs to the upper-level galleries used at a time when the theater was segregated.

“They’re not dead,” Koenig said of the theaters. “They’re living pieces of architecture for people to continue using in new ways.”

Linderman, 54, loves the old theaters. He even sat through a Spanish-language church service once just to see the State Theatre, also on Broadway.

“It gives you a reason to come down, to see things other than closed buildings, wondering what it was,” Linderman said of the renovation of the Palace Theatre, which once hosted entertainers ranging from Fred Astaire to Houdini.

A year after reopening, many hope for more: The former shine has been largely restored, but it hasn’t come back to life. The Palace is still holding out for a revival.

Homeboy commented about Rialto Theatre on May 5, 2012 at 2:15 am

From “Signs of the Times,” May 2012:

Rialto Theater’s 85-Year-Old Sign Saved: Efforts underway to preserve South Pasadena landmark

The iconic blade sign at South Pasadena, CA’s historic Rialto Theatre, which was opened in 1925 but is currently shuttered, has avoided a date with the wrecking ball. Local police expressed concern that a February windstorm that swept through the area had damaged the building and sign, and rendered it unsafe. The sidewalk in front of the building was closed as a precaution.

However, structural engineer Michael Krakower, a historic-building specialist, determined the Rialto’s sign posed no imminent structural danger. Landmark Theatres, which holds a lease on the property until 2024, has decided to repair the sign and is currently seeking a contractor.

Escott O. Norton, a spokesman for Friends of the Rialto, said, “The blade sign dates to the building’s original construction, and the lower marquee was replaced in the ’30s and ’40s. There is visible rust around the blade sign, and the paint around the marquee is peeling.”

He said both signs are protected by a National Register of Historic Places designation, which requires more approvals to tear it down, but doesn’t guarantee the sign’s preservation. Dominick Jebbia acquired the Rialto in the 1930s, and placed it in a family trust in 1950, which still endures.

Homeboy commented about Rialto Community Theatre on Aug 28, 2011 at 11:38 pm

This following article appeared in the August 28, 2011 isue of the Los Angeles Times:

“Deer Lodge’s Rialto is Truly a Community Theater” by Kenneth Turan

If you live in a big city, movie theaters are places you complain about, despair of, maybe even avoid. In this small town 80 miles southeast of Missoula, however, the single-screen Rialto Theatre is so essential to residents' sense of place — often in unexpected ways — that it’s almost impossible to imagine life without it.

So when the Rialto caught fire on Nov. 4, 2006, the entire town of 3,400 had its heart in its throat. Despite 3 million gallons of water poured on the blaze by firefighters, the theater burned for three days, with 50-foot flames visible for miles.

Two weeks later, a community meeting was held, and the sentiment to rebuild, remembers Steve Owens, president of the Rialto Community Theatre Board of Directors, was “just overwhelming. One or two people said ‘don’t bother,’ but the other 200 said, ‘You just need to do it.’” A highlight of the meeting was an appearance by a group of seventh-grade girls who held an impromptu bake sale in front of the Safeway the week after the blaze, and “donated $300 before anyone got their act together. That had an impact.”

From those modest beginnings came a juggernaut of passion and commitment to rebuild. “I can’t explain it,” says board member Ron Mjelde, “but when this gets into your blood, you live it.”

Deer Lodge is a not a booming place (its per capita income is $14,883, according to the 2000 census), but when the cost estimate came in at $3.5 million due to strict building codes for theaters, the town did not flinch. “It was never that we wouldn’t get it done,” says Owens, a pharmacy technician, “it was that it would take the rest of our lives.”

But now, five years later, the impossible is close to happening. The town is only $300,000 short of its fundraising goal, and the theater is nearly rebuilt. So how did a city without great wealth or a corporate presence make something like the Rialto revitalization happen, and, equally important, why did they put in the effort?

A town treasure

Deer Lodge is a classic Western small town. Birthplace of former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, it’s best known in Montana as the home of the state prison (the high school’s sports teams are nicknamed the Wardens). Its friendly downtown invites you to eat at the Broken Arrow Steak House and Casino, shop at New to You (“Fine Used Clothing for All Ages”), appreciate the “Navy Seals 1, Bin Laden 0” sign outside an insurance office and admire the Rialto.

The theater opened on May 2, 1921 and is a Beaux-Arts reminder of the days when Deer Lodge was a booming trading center. Its pink and white neon marquee now says “Send Donations to P.O. Box 874, Deer Lodge, 59722” instead of listing films, but its cream-glazed brick and terra cotta facade still gleams in the sun the way it did when original owner Jens Hansen promised the Silver State Post he would show “the very best pictures regardless of the high royalties he has to pay.”

In recent years, movies were shown Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. “It was a place people could drop their kids off and know they’d be safe,” Owens says. “If the parents were late after the show was over, someone would wait with the kids until they showed up.” Admission was $4 for adults and $3 for children, plus “people love our popcorn,” he says. “Cars would double-park three deep to get some.”

Theater board member Gayle Mizner, whose newborn great-grandson is the seventh generation of her family to live in town, points to the theater’s balcony and says, “right up in the corner is where I had my first kiss. My heart is in Deer Lodge.”

As the largest auditorium in Powell Country, the Rialto has served as a theatrical space as well. One week in May 1929, it showed Buster Keaton’s “Spite Marriage” and welcomed the Los Angeles Philharmonic on its Northwest tour. In recent years, it has hosted plays, concerts, lectures, dance recitals, graduations, even funerals.

Deer Lodge came close to losing the Rialto in 1995, when the original owner’s family wanted to sell it and a casino operation was rumored to be interested. The asking price was $90,000, but it was offered to the community for $65,000; a nonprofit organization was formed and the funds raised in a few weeks. Headlined the Post, “Congratulations Deer Lodge. The Rialto Is Yours.”

For 10 years, some 300 volunteers ran the Rialto, and the town put $350,000 into upgrading it. (Surround sound speakers were in boxes ready to install when the fire broke out.) The sense of community ownership that had built up over that decade, plus the knowledge of how hard people had worked to maintain and improve the facility, added to the impetus to rebuild. That, and something more — a sense that having a theater is important for the community’s youth.

“People here should have the same opportunities for their children as people in other communities,” Owens says. “If we can make it happen, make a place for them to sing on a stage, do their plays, we should.”

Community spirit

As it turns out, the Rialto’s stage, complete with six original 1921 painted backdrops, was not touched by the blaze, shielded by an asbestos curtain originally installed to protect audiences from onstage fires. Also saved were the projection booth and its 35mm projectors, as well as the facade.

The fire off blew the roof, and the Rialto’s shell was left open to the sky for months while the board consulted with architects.

Re-creating the theater exactly would have been too expensive, but the new space had to be as close as possible to the way people remembered it to gain fundraising traction in town. The original estimate was $4.5 million, but volunteer work and zealous penny-pinching brought the cost down. For instance, an old satellite dish headed for the dump was repurposed as a decorative ceiling dome, saving $5,000.

Key was a contractor (Martel Construction of Bozeman got the job) who would do things the town’s way. “We wanted to use volunteers as much as possible,” Owens says. “And we never wanted to have any debt, which meant nothing started until the money was in hand. If we needed to take a break to raise more funds, if it took a little longer, that was OK with them.”

Volunteers hung drywall, , and the high school art class worked on the decorative ceiling. A Job Corps team is scheduled to take down the old fire escape and put up a new one. And, Owens says, “there is a nice lady who likes to sweep. She cleans up the whole theater after the carpenters are finished for the day.”

This spirit of cooperation was vividly visible when it came to acquiring 400 replacement seats. Owens heard from a theater owner in Miles City, at the other side of the state, that he had some seats from a Florida theater that he didn’t need. They were donated to the Rialto.

The Miles City high school choir loaded the seats onto a truck, and a contractor in Anaconda paid the shipping costs. Deer Lodge’s high school football team unloaded the seats, putting them in donated storage space. A company in Butte cleaned the fabric gratis, and an inmate fire crew from the state prison scrubbed the metal clean of gum.

Owens estimates that there have been close to 2,000 individual donors, from Deer Lodge, 60 other Montana communities and 40 other states. No donation is too small: gum ball machines in Peoples Bank and the MRC gas station say “Candy for Rialto — 25¢” Elementary students collected spare change and took it to be counted at Pioneer Federal Savings & Loan, which matched the $1,928.

The most elaborate fundraiser was a five-course dinner catered by Becky Blakely, a retired pastry chef who’d worked at Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center. Though local benefits were usually in the $30 range, the board decided to charge $100. “People said we were crazy, but it sold out in two days,” Owens reports. “We netted $50,000 in one night, unreal money for Deer Lodge,” an amount the Pioneer S&L agreed to match.

But Owens' gifts as a grant writer have been the major source of funding for the Rialto. Owens knew that raising money would be a challenge because of the economic climate and the fact that many foundations “only give locally and don’t even know Montana exists.”

Owens wrote to more than 500 foundations. “In a good economy, if you get a 5% response, you’re doing well,” he says. His response rate is 10%, including a pair of $300,000 grants. “You have to have a compelling story,” he says, modestly. “I’m persistent and patient, and I keep emotion out of my letters. I don’t fluff it up.”

Now that the Rialto has won Montana’s biennial Governor’s Award for Preservation and the reopening is starting to seem possible, talk in town is focusing on what the opening-night movie should be. Some are suggesting the film that was scheduled for the night the fire broke out, the Kevin Costner-starring “The Guardian.” And others, Owens says, not quite believing it himself, are pushing for either “Backdraft” or “The Towering Inferno.” He shakes his head, thinking about it all.

“We had a disaster, and we’re trying to make something out of it,” he says. “Albert Einstein once said there are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle.” A pause. “Some of us lean toward miracles.”