Theater reuse project

posted by Tampopo on April 27, 2010 at 7:58 am


I’m a student in Savannah College of Art and Design’s Historic Preservation program and for our Economics project we have to choose a historic building needing reuse, offer ideas, and do a feasibility study.

I chose a former church, but I feel it’d lend itself to reuse as a theater—it was built like an auditorium. (In fact, it had theater seats but both they and the church have seen better days). It’s big, 8000+ sq. ft. built to seat 900 just in the sanctuary and also has a basement w/a stage. From what I’ve seen on NATO’s site, that’s maybe too big by today’s standards? I’m thinking of dividing the sanctuary (it’ll be interesting; it’s an octagon) but I know there’d be a lot of work to be done after stabilizing and cleanup—equipment, blackout/sound drapes, new seats, etc.

Any advice on how many seats/dividing space? Soundproofing? How to slope the floor? ADA requirements? Anything special with the electrical system? bout how large a space would have to be set aside for equipment? Digital? Traditional (formats of?)? Both? Anything else I’ve missed?

Thanks for any advice you can give me!

Comments (6)

muviebuf on April 27, 2010 at 8:10 am

You might want to look at and perhaps contact the Lakeview Cinema in Galeton Pennsylvania which is a multi function facility and movie theatre converted from a Baptist Church

RayKaufman on April 27, 2010 at 8:30 am

Converting churches to theatres is not all that uncommon. I recall one in Santa Barbara, Calif. a number of years ago. I think it was called the Victoria Street Theatre and was an art house in the late 80’s, since closed and again used as a church. Basically, your talking about the same ‘type’ of structure, one used for public assembly and not needing much work or alteration, particularly if it was built prior to the 1950’s.

By the way, is your instructor Jim Abraham? Not only is he most knowledgeable, but one taught by experience. Please keep us informed of your progress. Good Luck.

Tampopo on April 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Thanks for replying! No, Charlotte Bonini’s my instructor. I’ll call the gent in Galeton but see the description of the Lakeview here has it at 150+ seats and “my” church was meant for around 900 in just the sanctuary. From what I’ve seen, many aren’t happy about space in old theaters being subdivided—it seems to be an itchy topic. And from the preservation POV can’t say I blame them—I think it’s hard to divide many spaces in a sympathetic way. This wasn’t a theater but it’s tough to divide, it has a dome and while the ceiling’s not half as WOW factor as a similar former church on the east side of town with sky/clouds painted in the dome View link , I’m trying to figure out a way of dividing that respects the shape/layout/ceiling. FWIW, here’s the outside, in better days: View link and a more recent shot of the interior (No, not quite Kosher, and no 2, I didn’t take it): View link
Is NATO right about 450 seats as a good large size? Go smaller?

TLSLOEWS on April 27, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Where are you located,and good luck!

DonSolosan on April 27, 2010 at 8:15 pm

“From what I’ve seen, many aren’t happy about space in old theaters being subdivided—it seems to be an itchy topic.”

If the changes are reversible, that seems to go a long way in soothing people.

Tampopo on April 28, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Thanks, I need it. I’m in N. E. Ohio/Cleveland area. And you’re right about reversible changes; this being in the interior might make things easier.

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