Looking For My Dream Theater

posted by RichardTerusso on September 17, 2004 at 6:58 am

I currently live in Florida but it has been my dream since I was a little boy always dragging my grandma off to every movie to one day own my own. I am looking for some thing that is really special a piece from the past a real movie palace type theater.

If any one knows of any with a great price tag that may be easy to fix up and start running, please reply here. Email me at or call me at any time at 352.257.9308.

Also if any one has info on grants and government funds that I can easily get for this venture, please let me know. Thank you, fellow movie lovers.

Comments (11)

JimRankin on September 17, 2004 at 8:04 am

My dear naive, but good-intentioned Mr. Terusso:

Your wish for your own movie palace is a wish that others also have for themselves (myself among them!) but I don’t know if you really know what you are asking for. Firstly, you state that you want one “with a great price tag, easy to fix up and start running” but that is a very difficult set of conditions to meet! Of the perhaps two hundred true movie palaces still operating to some degree in this country, perhaps one or two of them can be had for a ‘song,’ as the old saying goes. These are usually BIG buildings often with other attachments such as stores, apartments, etc. and are in prime property tax areas, so the price will higher than even a large multiplex in the suburbs. ALL of them will be over 50 years old and in need of serious repairs (just re-tarring and patching a roof can easily go $50,000!), and all of them will require much more upkeep than would a simple, no-stage cinema of today. The wonderful, very opulent former WARNER here in Milwaukee, for example, has some 800 light bulbs in three colors hidden behind its ornate ceiling grilles which at nearly a dollar apiece plus labor would alone be a challenge to meet, not to mention the repairs needed after being dark for ten years. To start running a movie house demands that you have a credible audience, and movie theatre patronage is declining nationwide in view of videos, the Net, and other entertainments. Plus, these days, people will NOT take public transportation to a movie, since the major group that pays for films, teenagers, want a parking area for their cars and a place to walk to within a short distance of the screen to feed and stuff themselves with junk foods; a cinema-cum-cafeteria is what is wanted these days. And if you open it to kids as the only dependable paying audience, you will find a group that for the most part does NOT share your appreciation for the lavish —but easily damaged— palace that you so adore and have paid to restore. Their parents and grandparents may not have willingly damaged a theatre, but kids today regard anything within their reach as THEIRS to play with or destroy as the whim moves them. You say you will employ a corps of ushers to patrol the place and stop vandalism? Don’t hold your breath about that; if there are ushers these days, they are from the same group that the vandals are from and will do little or nothing to stop them, and do you really want a uniquely zealous usher to be knifed and bleeding on your fancy carpeting simply because he dared to criticize one of the ‘in’ kids who was urinating on your tapestries? The old days of a rapturous, courteous audience are long, long gone. Today you herd the miscreants into the tilt back seats (and hope they don’t slash them), then herd the ‘cattle’ to the ‘trough’ (the refreshments stand that pays for the venue), and then herd them out with strident, raucous music that even they can’t stand (or maybe sweet, oldies that they even more can’t stand), and hope that they don’t trash the place as they leave.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore a movie palace fully as much as you do, and dearly wish I could afford to buy and MAINTAIN one, but it would never work for real movie exhibition as open to the general public these days for the reasons given above. BUT, if somehow I could create a By-Invitation-Only audience that perhaps belonged to a sort of club for cinephiles who would gladly pay an annual membership fee to see vintage movies as they were intended, THEN possibly it would work to make it an operating theatre. Some palaces such as the ORIENTAL here are making it by a slim margin by offering only non-teen features and events that draw the art house crowd, but that crowd is so limited that it caused Landmark films to pay to carve out 2 additional screening rooms under the balcony to meet the bills, and with costs for such as heating so large an uninsulated building rising steeply every year, one wonders how long they will be able to keep the doors open as the 75-year-old boilers teeter closer to failure every year, as witnessed by the carbon-monoxide leak last December. Every old theatre is prone to such problems. If you are wealthy and merely want your own ‘toy’ of a palace where the bottom line doesn’t matter and you have scads of cash to invest, then I can direct you to dozens of once beautiful palaces that the owners would be only too willing to sell, for somewhat more than a ‘song.’

As to grants or other financial aid, again don’t hold your breath. The federal government was the only real source of such money for many years, but the ‘Great Society’ programs of decades past are now largely gone, and if you do manage to find a grant or two, don’t expect it to do more than pay for a very little. Local funds are usually even more scarce, as a local millionaire here found out when he rescued our formerly city-owned PABST THEATER (www.pabsttheater.org) by buying if for a single dollar from the city. He thought he could easily make it pay its way (after the city had contributed some $10 million to its restoration and upkeep since 1974) but is finding the going for a classy, opulent, live-action road house a greater challenge than imagined. No, there are no funds that you can “easily” get, but if you are well off financially such that you would not have to live off of the income of a theatre (if any), then the small grants might be available, especially if the theatre you buy is already, or capable of becoming, a local, state and national landmark (as is the PABST) since what little such money exists these days for such, is earmarked almost exclusively for designated landmarks. If, even after all this, you are serious and have a goodly financial backing, reply so here, and I will E-mail you details on how to locate SMALL sources of POSSIBLE (not necessarily probable) funding, as well as names of possibly available palaces. Yes, we are all fellow “movie lovers,” but more especially lovers of theatres, and appreciate only too painfully the impracticality of our gorgeous by expensive movie palaces of long ago.

Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on September 17, 2004 at 10:10 am

There are afew theaters for sale in florida now some small houses that still make money. See theaters for sale stories on this web site . Theaters for sale .com also does a lot of work in Florida .Dont give up the dream i am also looking for a theater (SMALL ) but i also dont need it to be a money maker.

FoxFan on September 18, 2004 at 10:31 am

Feel free to contact me anytime regarding possible movie theaters that might be available for lease or sale throughout the United States. I know of some right now in Pennsylvania.

PeterApruzzese on September 20, 2004 at 8:25 am

Jim Rankin wrote:
“…but it would never work for real movie exhibition as open to the general public these days for the reasons given above.”

You should make the trip to see the Lafayette Theatre in Suffern, New York, some day. First-run movies seven-days-a-week, cinema classics on Saturday, Wurlitzer Pipe Organ, silent films and special film weekends throughout the year. Well-maintained, staffed, and with a respectful audience, including the teenagers. And it’s profitable. So it can work, given the right location and the right attitude of the operator.

Pete Apruzzese
Director of Film Programming
Big Screen Classics at the Lafayette Theatre

JimRankin on September 20, 2004 at 9:00 am

Mr. Apruzzese brings out a good exception, and a good point. I am glad that there are palaces somewhere that can still be as they were so many years ago, but I was mostly reflecting on the bigger cities where quiet community standards of years ago no longer exist. Places like Suffern may be the locations to find. Who was it who said that it was all “location, location, location!”?

Divinity on October 18, 2004 at 1:25 am

Dear Richard,
The Loews Paradise is a Landmark 4000 seat oppulent movie palace in NYC that is for lease but may be put on the market. It is an atmospheric theater with an open sky and twinkling stars designed to emulate an ornate Italian Garden.This is one of the most decadent theaters in NYC. It is landmarked, but from what I hear, extensive restoration work has been done to restore it. Please feel free to contact me for more info.

Adam on October 27, 2004 at 5:28 am

I am working on the same for last few months. Can any one of you give me an idea on where can I get a sample business plan (template)on Movie theaters. I have looked on the net, but difficult to decide which one would be the right one. Of course, heaps of work will be required to do on the sample business plan. But its good to start with a good sample plan…any recommendations?
cheers, Adam, New Zealand

JimRankin on October 27, 2004 at 9:13 am

Hello, Adam, I am not sure that you will find any source of an exact cinema/theatre business plan, but I am told that there are commercial computer programs designed to help you formulate one. This was the result of several inquiries to the site: www.BigScreenBiz.com where there are several FORUMS that discuss the operational aspects of the business. You might go there and first read through the topics of the posts in the LOBBY forum, and if the string of comments there does not help, try the BACK OFFICE forum as well as the FAQs forum. The discussion by the experienced operators there, answering several people wanting to know how to make up a business plan, basically boiled down to the conclusion that one must have apprenticed or worked in a theatre to know the odd nature of the business which they felt was not really well represented in traditional business plans. Such computer programs as might exist may well be oriented to the situation and regulations in the USA, and so you would have to be aware of the differences to you in New Zealand. I would imagine that going to such as www.Google.com and typing in the search term ‘business plan’ would bring a number of vendors, and the various computer magazines might have reviews of the quality and critical compatibility of such. Best Wishes. Jim

IVYFOUNDATION on December 20, 2004 at 10:45 pm


Michael Furlinger
Michael Furlinger on October 9, 2007 at 9:25 pm

It took me till 2007 but i got my theater……..never give up

NativeForestHiller on March 22, 2008 at 10:44 am

I am a preservationist who is seeking parties of interest that may “save the day” for an endangered early 20th century theater by the prolific Thomas Lamb in Queens, NY. It is available for lease and possibly for purchase. Please e-mail at your earliest convenience, and I will share more information. Thanks!

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