Communities bring old theaters back to life
Walking into the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, Brenden Clark was eager for a fun night out with friends to watch “Christmas Vacation” on the big screen.
“It's nice to have a small theater to come to. It's nice to come with friends and hang out right down the street,” said Clark, 47, of Brookline. “When I was a kid, I came here all the time.”
The Hollywood is one of a few neighborhood theaters that reopened — or is reopening — under the control of a nonprofit with a goal of rebranding to compete for movie-loving customers.
Smaller theaters such as the Hollywood, the Denis Theatre in Mt. Lebanon and the Parkway Theater in Stowe hope to draw patrons by showing movie classics and live performances.
“It's happening all over the country and it's something we support very much. We hope for faithful restorations of theaters, although we understand that's not always possible,” said Rick Fosbrink, executive director of the Chicago-based Theater Historical Society of America.
“There's a lot of interest in saving places. Theaters are integral to the community and there's a lot of nostalgia associated with them. People will say, ‘I went on my first date there.'”
Fosbrink, who grew up in Connellsville, said his organization will host an event in June to tour old theaters in Western Pennsylvania, including the Roxian Theater in McKees Rocks, which is being renovated, and the New Granada Theater in the Hill District. He expects about 150 people to tour about 30 old theaters.
In Stowe, Aaron Stubna and his wife, Jackie, are spearheading the effort to raise money for the Parkway Theater on Broadway Avenue.
They are awaiting approval of nonprofit status. In the meantime, the Parkway opens periodically to show movies and host events. It closed about 25 years ago and later was owned by a church.
Aaron Stubna opened a coffee shop in the lobby that is open daily except Thursdays and Fridays, and hopes to open a bar and restaurant there. He said he needs to raise about $600,000 to renovate the building, which he hopes could be a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization.
“It's a typical coffee shop, but we wanted to draw attention to the theater. We plan on having movies and live music,” said Stubna, 42, of Kennedy. “We want to promote local filmmakers and give them a venue, as well as classics and foreign films.”
Stubna, who purchased the theater in 2011, works as a barber in his family-owned Lincoln Barbershop in Bellevue for his “real job.”
“I've always had a passion for film. I'm a big movie buff and an amateur filmmaker myself,” Stubna said. “There's really no money in the movie theater business. It's more of a passion project.”
The Denis Theatre Foundation is in the midst of a fundraising campaign for its theater, which closed in 2004. The foundation has raised more than $2 million in cash and pledges and hopes to raise another $1 million.
The nonprofit was formed in 2007 to support the eventual reopening, and in 2010 it purchased the building. Organizers hope to have two theaters inside that can seat 200 people and 100 people.
“We will focus on independent and foreign films and documentaries. And we can have lectures, panel discussions, and small scale musical performances,” said Penny Richichi, co-director of the foundation.
“It spurs economic development in the area and people still want to go out and see a movie in a theater,” Richichi said. “Specifically with a nonprofit community theater, you're a part of the fabric of the community. It's more than just a movie theater.”
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.