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Well, ironically, the viability of the Indian Hills Theatre was actually more due to the fact that it DID have those extra theatres. In this day and age, a freestanding theatre really has to have the public behind it in order to keep it alive, and the truth is that Omaha, as with other past architectural institutions of this city, just wasn’t at the table. There were a few posts in the local paper, but really nothing else. Without any support from the locals(nothing new here), there really wasn’t much ANY preservation group could gain(I know, I’ve worked with several outside of the city). The idea of using the theatre for especially Cinerama purposes was just as naive, though. This held no viability whatsoever in the modern age. The truth be known, though, businesses like the Dodge real estate and the Methodist hospital are simply that-businesses, neither seeing any economic value in a theatre(I choose not to use their reference-‘property’-due to the fact that the historically unique and important structure was not just another ‘property’, as termed by the hospital). Sadly, corporations like these two are never very forward thinking. Their myopia on the historical relevance of this one-of-a-kind ‘property’ will surely follow them into the future.
I actually felt that it may have been able to reopen as an ‘arthouse’ theater. Since Denny Moran’s local Dundee Theatre gave up this bid many eons ago, this city has been in vital need of such a local theatre. However, now, one local native Rachel Jacobsen has received help in creating a new arthouse, north of the Omaha downtown district and Qwest Center Auditorium. Although it will not even be a third of the size of the Indian Hills, Omaha will at least, again, have an arthouse theater to its name. I hear it’s to open next month. Another reasonable suggestion would have been to allow some other business to purchase the property, like a church, for example. I’ve seen several of these midcentury-modern structures receive new life in such a manner(‘new life’ seems rather fitting, actually, in this reference). It would have made a beautiful outlet for such an assembly. However, again, the NP Dodge real estate company moved very quickly on selling the property, without really looking into other buyers. The theatre was right near the hospital and that business wanted it. So, it got it, simply put. Probably a good business move on the hospital’s part. The more of Omaha’s one-time major thoroughfare, Dodge Street, that the hospital gains, the more they believe they’ll only gain more popularity. Ironically, Dodge Street is not what it was once, when it was a major shopping, restaurant, and entertainment district, now quite depressed, with a couple more major businesses nearby only just closing recently. The sale of Indian Hills was more the final nail in Dodge Street’s coffin. Good move on the hospital corporation’s part in beautifying an benefitting its local community, eh?
To answer an earlier query here on the subject of the film “Preserve Me a Seat”, a one-time Omaha resident, one Californian Frank Merwald, who was part of the theatre’s preservation group, filed suit on the film’s producer Jim Fields in 2003, primarily due to the lack of extreme anti-Methodist faire contained in the film. Fields, who was more focused on the study of the theatre and its part in the field of architectural importance in preservation, ironically took the extra time this gave him and widened the scope of the picture, by addressing a wide array of architecturally important theatres around the country, raising the budget of the film a bit, but including now several other unique styles of theatres. Mr.Merwald, an executive television producer in California, in perjuring himself on several counts @ the final hearing of the suit, where he had a ‘support team’ made up of a few of the previous Indian Hills preservationists, finally gave Mr.Fields the red light to premiere his movie. In the meantime, Fields had also produced another documentary, “416”, which had gone on to play a dozen film festivals, garnering several awards. His preservation film, “Saving Indian Hills”, was now retitled “Preserve Me a Seat”, and opened in Nebraskan native Fields' home, to a tri-city premiere in July 2006. It has since gone on to play for hundreds of viewers @ film festivals, as well as other cities, most recently in Springfield, Missouri, raising awareness of this important subject. I find the film both educational and entertaining @ the same time. This is the only real documentary-or handbook, for that matter-on architectural preservation, and vintage movie houses were a perfect example to use. If anyone enjoys these old movie palaces and/or has an interest in preservation, whatever you don’t know about the subject you will surely understand after seeing Fields' film. The DVD is available for a penance, @ $12.99, on his website, apartment101films.com.
As for the Omaha woman who mentioned how her husband was crushed to see the theatre fall that day, I empathize with you. I, too, was present the day the theatre fell-and that scene in the film is still very difficult for me to view. However, view I do. I don’t wish to forget very soon the dangers that can befall any city that offers such an important example of our history. Neither should anyone.