• December 27, 2016

    Pittsburgh, PA - 8 Impressive Facts about Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center


    From Pittsburgh Magazine: On Feb. 27, 1928, the Stanley Theater — later renamed the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts — opened in Downtown Pittsburgh. The massive movie house was dubbed “Pittsburgh’s Palace of Amusement,” where guests could stay all day for 65 cents (reduced to a quarter for those arriving before noon). After decades as a mixed-use performance space and a stretch as the city’s most storied venue for rock concerts, the facility reopened in 1987, painstakingly brought back to its original grandeur; the restoration of the theater was the first major project of the then-new Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.

  • Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, NY - Remembering 18th Avenue’s Walker Theater


    From the Bensonhurst Bean: We learned yesterday that longtime retail branches Mandee’s and Annie Sez will be vacating their shops at 6401 18th Avenue at the end of January. As many of you know or remember, and as many of you have likely inferred based on the building’s large awning, long before 6401 18th Avenue hosted either women’s clothing chain the building was home to a theater called. It was called The Walker.

    According to the website Cinema Treasures, The Walker Theater opened in the January of 1926 and was turned into a multiscreen when it was taken over by United Artist’s Theatres in 1986 before closing in 1988 after 62 years.

    Some may recall the Walker’s Wurlitzer, one of the last theater organs remaining in the city at the time of the Walker’s closure. The theater was immediately converted to retail following the end of its life as a moviehouse, the New York Times reported at the time.

    The theater was named for former New York City Mayor James J. Walker.

  • Riverview, FL - Venerable Ruskin Drive-In uses family focus to survive new indoor competition


    From the Tampa Bay Times: There’s a brand new Publix across the street, a McDonald’s next door and two movie theaters about 15 minutes north in Riverview.

    While the area around it bustles with development, the Ruskin Family Drive-In on Highway 41 has remained a constant in south Hillsborough County since it opened in 1952.

    Owner Karen Freiwald said the new movie theaters — Goodrich Quality Theaters and Xscape Riverview 14 — aren’t hurting her business in the least.

    “Our customers come from Bradenton, Sarasota, Port Charlotte, Venice,” Freiwald said. “If they’re going to drive by all those other theaters, they’re not going to stop for those.”

    No, her biggest concern isn’t competition. Her customers are loyal. They like to sit outside in an atmosphere so family focused that her husband has been known to stop the movie if he catches someone sneaking a beer.

    Rowdiness of any kind is forbidden. And at a time when tickets to an indoor theater with popcorn and drinks can set a family of four back $100, Freiwald works to keep prices low. For $24.99, one family of four ordered a large coke, two 12-inch pizzas, and two nachos. Movie tickets run $6 each for adults. Cash only.

    “If you spent $40 here at the snack bar you wouldn’t even be able to eat it all,” Freiwald said. “Customers appreciate you looking out for their best interest and they come back for more.”

    The biggest issue facing the Ruskin Family Drive-In is supply: The lineup of kids movies available has been running thin for the last several years.

    “They don’t even make G-rated movies any more,” Freiwald said. “Everything is PG or PG-13.”

    Her customers just don’t turn out when the movies are too violent, too complicated or sexual and that hurts business.

    “Some people don’t even have kids, they just like the kids movies,” Freiwald said. “Customers will tell me they want to see more action movies but when I play them no one shows up.”

    This year, the hottest kids movie of the holiday season is Sing, an animated, musical film starring a koala. But that’s about it. The second showing will be Almost Christmas, a live-action PG-13 movie about a family struggling to get along during the holidays.

    A couple of years ago, Freiwald and all other theater operators had to come up with about $100,000 to upgrade to new digital projectors. She was able to make up the difference, but many drive-in operators weren’t. The Ruskin theater is now one of only about seven drive-ins in the state, Freiwald said. But the business is still going strong.

    With space for 220 vehicles, there’s no more room to expand on the property. During peak season, like over the summer or during spring break, she has to turn people away because the lot fills up.

    The Internet has made it easier for people to find the theater. And as it grows into more of a novelty, Freiwald said, she has seen an increase in European tourists seeking the old-time American experience.

    But it’s the locals who have kept the business alive so long.

    “I’ve been coming here my whole life,” said Chris Jordan, 47, of Ruskin, who had a front-row spot last week to see the new Jack Reacher movie with his 17 year-old son, 14-year-old daughter and his wife. “It’s kind of like you step back in time.”

  • Russell, KS - Keeping the dream alive at historic theater


    From The Hays Daily News: Like a scene out of the 1950s, bikes and scooters leaned against the front of the Dream Theater in Russell, 629 N. Main, as children raced inside with friends to spend their afternoon eating popcorn and enjoying a picture show earlier this month.

    With the holidays in mind, the Russell Knights of Columbus Council No. 3034 was sponsoring a free Christmas movie that afternoon — “The Polar Express.”

    The theater originally opened in 1923 as Main Street Theater. In 1947, the theater burned down and was reopened in 1949 as Dream Theater. It was owned by the same family, the Danielsons, from prior to the fire to approximately 1982 or ’83.

    After that, the theater was sold to a chain in Missouri, and changed hands a few more times.

    The Russell Arts Council, which is a non-profit, 501©(3), took ownership of the theater in 2000.

    “It was reopened in 1949 after the fire, pretty much as you see it today,” said Steve Wells, president of the theater board and former board member of the Russell Arts Council for many years.

    The theater was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March 2006.

    “It is operated totally by volunteers, 100 percent,” Wells said. “The only people that get paid are those that do the cleaning.”

    The volunteers include eight board members who commit to working — two members each Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday night — as well as community volunteers and civic organizations.

    Revenue comes mainly from the box office and concession sales.

    “You don’t make a lot of money on ticket sales,” Wells said. “Mainly from concessions and pre-show advertising. But we’re not trying to make money; we’re just trying to cover our costs.”

    The theater does take donations and has received memorials in the past.

    Recently, the Russell County Area Community Foundation provided funds to put in closed-captioning equipment and new handrails. It also helped pay for a portion of the new carpet.

    The new carpet that was installed in November is an exact recreation of the original 1949 carpet.

    “We went to Myers Furniture down the street and looked at some new options, and they just weren’t right for this art deco building,” Wells said.

    They sent a sample of the original carpet from the basement to a mill in Dalton, Ga., and they recreated the original style and color.

    All of the woodwork, light fixtures and ironwork are original. Even the original box office is used to sell tickets.

    Since 2000, other improvements include all new seats — 254 of them — including five luxury seats, new carpet, handrails, renovations to the marquee, new sound cloth on the walls of the theater and the theater upgraded to digital projection and 3D capabilities.

    “In fact, we went digital before Hays, Salina and Great Bend,” Wells said.

    They also built a stage so the theater could be used for other community events. The Russell Arts Council recently hosted a “Russell’s Got Talent” community talent show Dec. 1 at the theater.

    A non-denominational church, Olive Branch Chapel, is using the theater Wednesday nights and Sundays until they raise the funds to build their own worship space.

    The space even has been rented out for weddings.

    Scott and Jamie Schneider were married at the theater in May 2003.

    “There were a couple reasons we chose the theater,” Scott Schneider said. “We thought it would be a unique location, and we used the screen to play a slideshow of our children.”

    Schneider said the concession stand was open during the wedding, and guests were eating popcorn and slurping sodas as the Schneiders said their vows.

    A new movie usually comes in once a week that plays from Friday through Monday night, with additional special showings on some Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

    Wells said they look at what is showing well nationally when deciding which movies to get, and they also invite people to suggest movies through their website.

    Mondays are Senior Night, and seniors get a discounted admission price, while every Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. from Thanksgiving to the end of the year features a free children’s movie courtesy of About You Realty, Russell. One Sunday a month features a classic film.

    “I’ve always grown up knowing the theater, as has Traci (Wieger), the other co-owner,” said Kendra Trueblood, About You Realty. “It’s just a passion of the community to continue the theater and those efforts so the kids can enjoy it. People just really love it.”

    In fact, the motto of the theater is “Keep the Dream Alive.”

    “It’s very well-supported,” Wells said. “I think that has to do with our prices, but also community pride. We couldn’t do all the upgrades we’ve done without community support.”

    Wells stated the theater also belongs to the Kansas Historical Theater Association, which allows them to attend different venues every quarter to learn from and share information with other historic theaters.

    Dream Theater is not only well-supported by the local community, but it draws crowds from other towns as well.

    “Before Hays and Great Bend went digital, we were getting those people,” Wells said. “And we still do get those people just because no one can touch our concession prices.”

    Two large drinks and a large popcorn is only $8.

    Ticket prices are $6 for adults and $4 for children. It is only a dollar more for a 3D movie, where many theaters charge $3 more.

    For more information about Dream Theater and upcoming movies, find it on Facebook or visit

    On Dec. 4, as families snuggled up in the historic theater enjoying “The Polar Express,” the magic of Christmas and the cinema came to life.

    The characters in the movie watched Santa’s sleigh, pulled by his reindeer, fly off into the starry sky to deliver presents to the children of the world.

    One of the children, her eyes full of wonder, whispered, “It’s everything I ever dreamed of.”

  • December 19, 2016

    Meeker, CO - Personal recollections of a small-town movie theater


    From the Rio Blanco Herald Times: Meeker’s first movie theater, the “Princess,” came to Meeker with the building of the Rio Theatre by Harlan Coulter in 1920. When Glen B. and Dixie Wittstruck purchased the theater in 1936, it was renamed the Rio Theatre, possibly reflecting the Spanish name for river, since the White River was an icon of the town and county.

  • December 16, 2016

    Schuyler, NE - Volunteers working to keep theater open


    From The Columbus Telegram: The Colfax Theatre is celebrating 10 years of hot, buttered popcorn, cold soda and movie magic.

    This month’s celebration also recognizes all the work dedicated volunteers have done to keep a piece of the community’s history alive.

    “To be still in operation after 10 years is a pretty good milestone,” said John Sayer, president of Schuyler Enrichment Foundation. “Because it takes a lot.”

    In 2001, a group of community members decided they wanted revitalize the shuttered movie theater at 314 E. 11th St., which was built in the late 19th century and operated for decades before closing. When the group purchased the building it was being used for storage.

    Sayer was one of the foundation’s founding members and part of the team that spent five years raising money to renovate the space and purchase a projector. While funding was coming in, volunteers cleaned and restored the building.

    The renovated theater screened its first film in 2006. For a few years the theater could be rented for parties, but trademark laws now stipulate that if they screen a DVD a $200 fee must be paid to the copyright owner, so that business has diminished.

    “Our hands are tied,” Sayer said.

    The foundation had other plans for the space, as well.

    Sayer said he hoped schools would use the small stage behind the screen for theater productions and community organizations might rent the space for meetings and events. Other ideas included hosting traveling events and shows.

    But none of that took off.

    “It all fizzled out,” Sayer said. “Probably from a lack of interest, it fizzled out.”

    Sayer says the size of the stage is an issue.

    “The stage is kind of small,” he said. “The big groups for school, it’s too small for them.”

    Many people who work in Schuyler live outside the city, which also hurts the theater.

    “They drive in, then when they’re off work, they drive out of town,” Sayer said. “So we don’t have anyone around to work on this stuff.”

    The theater’s only employees are managers who work during show times. All the other positions, from concessions workers and ticket-takers to maintenance staff, are volunteers.

    Colfax Theatre loses money each year, according to Sayer, and the foundation is kept afloat by donations.

    Low attendance doesn’t help that problem.

  • December 14, 2016

    Richmond, San Francisco, CA - After Decade-Plus Wait, Richmond’s Historic Alexandria Theater May See New Life


    From The historic Alexandria Theater, which has sat unoccupied at Geary and 18th Avenue for the past 12 years, may finally regain its place as a neighborhood fixture—albeit with an entirely different function.

    In a Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) submitted to the Planning Department earlier this month, the 93-year-old theater’s owners have proposed turning its first floor into a swimming center, complete with locker rooms, a viewing gallery, and two indoor pools in place of the theater’s auditorium seating.

    As proposed, the second floor would be expanded to make room for a learning center, including 12 classrooms and a large gathering area. It’s unclear who would use the learning center, but the PPA makes mention of an afterschool program, as well as meeting space for non-profit and community groups.

    The third floor would be dedicated entirely to office space, uniquely positioned below the theater’s historic domed ceiling and chandelier.

    “One of the guiding principles in the renovation of the Alexandria Theater is to retain its rich historical character,” the proposal states. To that end, the plans call for maintaining the theater’s historic exterior columns and box office, as well as restoring its marquee and neon sign.

  • Milwaukee, WI - Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra hopes to acquire Grand Theatre for its future home


    From the Milwaukee Business Journal: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is hoping to restore the historic Warner Grand Theatre on West Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee and start performing in the venue in fall 2019.

    The acquisition and rehab of the building at 214 W. Wisconsin Ave. is part of a $120 million fundraising effort by the MSO that also will increase its endowment and raise bridge funding, said Mark Niehaus, the group’s president and executive director. The MSO currently plays in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on North Water Street, where it is not master of its own scheduling.

    Rehabbing the 1930s-era Grand movie theater will let the MSO generate more revenue and become less dependent on donations, Niehaus said. It also will bring thousands of people to West Wisconsin Avenue for weekend performances and contribute to the revitalization of that area of downtown Milwaukee.

    “We see ourselves not only fitting into it, we see ourselves as an instigator, as the prime reason people come to West Wisconsin Avenue,” Niehaus said.

    The theater is across Wisconsin Avenue from The Shops of Grand Avenue. The owners of that mall are looking to redevelop it into upper-floor office space, a grocery story and a ground-floor marketplace. Bringing more bodies to West Wisconsin Avenue would support that vision.

    The MSO tallied $17 million in revenue in its 2015-’16 season, achieving a sales and attendance record, and a balanced budget for three years running. But owning and controlling its own theater space would open more opportunities, Niehaus said.

    For starters, the MSO had to stop playing shows in the Marcus Center Dec. 3 to make way for the Milwaukee Ballet’s The Nutcracker 2016. Holiday shows are a big stream of revenue for other symphonies, Niehaus said, citing the $2.2 million earned in December by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

    Also, the MSO can only schedule performances in the Marcus Center 12 to 18 months out, which makes it difficult to book national conductors to come to Milwaukee, Niehaus said.

  • Visalia, CA - Burst pipe floods historic Visalia Fox Theatre


    From Employees of the historic Visalia Fox Theatre are moving forward after suffering a major setback last week.

    Thousands of gallons of water flooded the basement and the old orchestra pit last week after a pipe burst. On Monday, theatre officials are still not sure about the extent of the damage.

    This isn’t the first time the Fox Theatre has had a flooding issue. About a year ago, an abandoned water line in an exit hallway started leaking into the same basement.

    Theatre employees said they’d like to replace their whole plumbing system but that takes a lot of time and money.

    Films, concerts, special events – the Visalia Fox Theatre is home to all of the above. But below the stage floor, a very different and unexpected performance was in the works last Wednesday.

    A piece of the theatre’s original water pipe burst and caused 15,000 gallons of water to flood the basement. The wave of water worked its way into the old orchestra pit, threatening both their prized organ and hydraulic lift system.

    “About an inch from the organ itself,” Erin Olm-Shipman with the theatre said.

    Olm-Shipman said they were fortunate that their operations supervisor spotted the problem, but the source of it was not so easy to find. The short-term solution involved using buckets to remove water from the pit and a sump pump to keep the water level from rising in the basement.

    “The section of pipe they removed was about right here,” she said, pointing to the location.

    Workers had to cut through several layers of wood and concrete to find the affected area and underneath the original stage. And workers had to move quickly because there were events scheduled through the weekend, including a double Tulare County Symphony Holiday performance.

    “So, we definitely needed to take care of the flooding, clean up the mess, locate the broken pipe, repair that, repair our stage and get our heating system up as soon as possible, and get running water back in the auditorium as soon as possible,” Olm-Shipman said.

    However, the shows went on and were a success. Fox Theatre employees are still waiting to see what insurance can cover but know for a fact the cost of cleaning up and repairing the stage floor will be thousands of dollars. Perhaps, though, it’s simply the price to pay to keep the history of the Fox alive.

    “The old girl you never know what she’s going to throw at you,” Olm-Shipman said. “But I think everyone that has been here for a significant amount of time knows that she will throw you something. She will surprise you.”

    Employees will be putting in a monitoring system in the basement, which will be connected to their alarm system. That way they’ll be able to respond quickly to any leaks or flooding. They’ll also be testing the organ and lift system for any damage soon.

  • December 12, 2016

    Logan, UT - The Utah Theatre – an alternative to the usual movie experience


    From the Utah Statesman: The Utah Theatre, Logan’s newest — but third oldest next to the Ellen Eccles and the Caine Lyric — theater is unique for many reasons.

    For starters, it houses a mighty Wurlitzer organ, one of the few in the state. It also has one of the only full-fly systems in the valley. But the Utah Theater doesn’t plan on being just another stage (it’s next door to the Caine Lyric Theater and only a block away from the Eccles), it plans on being an alternative movie theater as well.

    “We try to show a little cartoon before the show starts like they would have in the olden days,” said Jared Rounds, the theater manager.

    Rounds said what the Utah Theatre offers is an experience out of the ordinary, per request of Michael Ballam, director and founder of the Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater company, who funded the project.

    “We’ll never show first run movies,” Rounds said. “They want to keep this more of a different kind of experience. Michael said he doesn’t want to compete with the other theaters, he wants to do something different here.”

    Managing Director of UFOMT Gary Griffin said he understands the appeal of at-home movie services like Netflix and Hulu, but they don’t compare to what the Theatre offers.

    “You can see the difference in watching a movie like ‘White Christmas’ on a 36 inch screen or a 36 foot screen,” he said. “Most movies were made to shown on the huge screens.”

    Some movies lend themselves to smaller screens, he said, but when you get into spectacles like “Gone With the Wind” and “The Ten Commandments” viewers just can’t get the same feel at home that they could on a giant screen in a theater.

    “And the fact that you’re in a theater with a bunch of people sharing an experience together, I don’t know, there’s just sort of a different feel than just sitting at home alone watching a movie on a TV screen,” he said.

    Griffin said he plans on not just showing classic movies year round, but also continuing the little festivals, especially around holidays like Halloween and Christmas. He also has plans for a John Wayne festival in January, and said they’ll eventually get to all the classic stars.

    “We’ll probably show a different movie every week,” he said. “We’ll get to all the greats eventually. Jimmy Stewart, Bogey and Bacall, we’ll do all sorts of stuff.”

    Rounds said the theater won’t only be showing black and white classics however, but also films that are classics to the younger generation.

    “I think we want to show more stuff that’s not super classical, for the college kids, and maybe do an ‘Indiana Jones’ marathon or a ‘Back to the Future’ one,” he said.

    He said hopefully doing this kinds of things will also make the audience want to come more often both to movies and plays. The Theatre is unique because it aims to give a full classic movie experience.

    “We do show movie trailers of what’s upcoming so we try to give the full classic movie experience as opposed to just sitting at home and turning on Netflix,” he said.

    The theater will also have a discounted price on Wednesdays, $5 per ticket, to help bring in the younger crowd. Griffin also wanted to do a “Star Wars” festival as well, but he has been successful in getting the rights for films from almost every studio, except Disney.

    “That’s a tough nut to crack,” Griffin said. “Disney won’t license any of their movies because they keep bringing them back themselves.”

    Last month, the theater ran the “Hitchcock Film Festival” exclusively showing “Vertigo,” “Psycho,” “The Birds” and other Hitchcock classics. But the suspense and macabre gave way Dec 1 with the theater’s new series of holiday films for the Christmas season like “Elf,” “White Christmas” and “A Christmas Carol.”

    Griffin said the theater is the only one in Utah that doubles as a live stage and a movie theater, due to the adjustable curtains on the side walls, which change the acoustics depending on what kind of show is being performed. The theater opened this last summer, housing shows from the UFOMT’s season. It started with Peter Pan and “had people flying across the stage and everything,” Rounds said. This upcoming summer it will house “Seussical The Musical” and “Rex” as part of the 2017 UFOMT season.

    The remodeling of the old building began in 2008. Ballam put two and two together after receiving a Wurlitzer organ as a donation and also noticing the dilapidated state of the theater building, which is just around the corner from the Eccles theater where UFOMT holds its season. With $11.5 Million in donations over an eight year period, the space was bought and renovation began. The Wurlitzer itself has 16 foot long pipes that extend beneath the building floor, where they are protected from an underground canal by concrete.

    “The organ pipes are literally sitting in the canal,” Rounds said. “When they were putting in the organ pipes downstairs they ran into the canal so they had to find a way to divert the water.”

    The building features a Florentine art deco style interior done by italian painter Nino DeRobertis. It also has a large crest of Orpheus, the Greek God of music, who is also the muse of the building.

    Griffin also said they have plans to show a silent film once a month utilizing the Wurlitzer. The Wurlitzer will be put to use this Friday for a showing of a Laurel & Hardy silent film and a live show, the “Farley Family Mighty Wurlitzer Extravaganza.”