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Nonprofit plays role in Dormont movie theater's reopening

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Friday, May 6, 2011

Dormont's beloved art deco Hollywood Theater will raise the curtain on its latest incarnation this weekend with a mix of silent films and cult classics -- all free.

In its new life in the hands of the nonprofit group Friends of the Hollywood Theater, the movie house is being run in an approach used by many arts organizations and a growing number of historic single-screen movie theaters.

The Strand in Zelienople, the Valley Players in Ligonier and the three city movie theaters operated by Pittsburgh Filmmakers are all being operated by nonprofits. The nonprofit Denis Theatre Foundation is raising $4.5 million to reopen The Denis, a 1930s Mt. Lebanon theater that closed seven years ago.

"There's nothing like community move theaters. They are good for other Main Street businesses. It's good for kids who are not old enough to drive. It's good for anyone when gas is $4 per gallon," said Elaine Evosovic-Lozada, a resident of Mt. Lebanon who attended a reception and screening at the Hollywood earlier this week.

This weekend marks the first time the theater has been open in a year and the third time in five years that the 1933 showplace has reopened. This weekend, it will screen several 1920s silent movies and "Night of the Living Dead," which will feature visits from some cast members of the locally made cult favorite.

Members of Friends of the Hollywood Theater say the theater is here to stay this time. In addition to charging admission for most shows, it will seek foundation grants and individual donations to remain viable.

"Nonprofit status and community involvement are what has saved some of these historic single-screen theaters from the wrecking ball," said John Maggio, a Dormont council member who is chairman of the Hollywood's nonprofit board.

Some independent theaters, such as the Valley Players of Ligonier, have survived by offering a mix of film, comedy, musical theater and tribute concerts for musical acts such as Johnny Cash and The Rat Pack. The theater also stages Christmas shows.

"We try to get as many events in here as possible. That's how we get people to keep coming back for more visits," said Cathleen Rhodes, executive director of Valley Players of Ligonier, which operates in a 1920 theater.

In Butler County, years of effort saved and helped revamp Zelienople's 1914 Strand Theater, which reopened in 2009.

"This theater is designed as a performing-arts center," said Ron Carter, executive director and president of the board of Strand Theater, where upcoming shows include a performance by John Oates and a revue featuring the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Strand also has offered a variety of films.

The Hollywood still needs the public's support, said Gary Koboly, director of exhibition for Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

"If patrons don't show up, it will not work," he said. "Nonprofit theaters will not be able to continue if they are not supported by the community."

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