Old movie theaters find new life

1:33 PM, Feb 17, 2012   |    comments
The Joy Theater reopens after a $5 million renovation in New Orleans on Dec. 29.
  • Share
  • Print
  • - A A A +

(USA TODAY) -- If you go to a movie this weekend, there's an increasing chance you might make your way to a classic old theater instead of a modern multi-screen complex.

Elegant old theaters from New York to Indiana to California are getting a new lease because they still strike a chord in anyone who loves the classic movie experience, says John Bell, head of the 1920s-era Tampa Theatre in Tampa.

"These theaters are imbued with a sense of history and collective memory that you just don't get at a cineplex," Bell says. "The romance and nostalgia captures people's imagination."

Numbers aren't kept on how many theaters are getting a second life across the USA, but examples are plentiful:

  • In Fowler Ind., interior renovations of the downtown Fowler Theatre are underway. The theater closed Jan. 25 after weekend showings of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and will reopen this summer. The Fowler is run by an all-volunteer staff. No one involved with operations - from the projection booth to the concession counter - earns a salary.
  • The Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Ore., remains open during its renovations, which include the replacement of 70-year-old seats in three auditoriums. Built in 1926, the art deco theater recently hosted a combined film and live music production of a film known as Turkish Star Wars.
  • The Joy Theater in New Orleans reopened in December as a largely performing arts venue. During Hurricane Katrina, the theater's roof was ripped off, and the basement filled with water. When the building was surveyed for renovation, there was so much water, a boat was needed to measure the back wall.

While studying at Keene State College in New Hampshire, Morgan Little works part-time at the Colonial Theatre and says college students appreciate seeing familiar faces when they visit the venue.

"When they go to the Colonial," Little says, "they get a sense of community."

Some theaters are still waiting for a second chance.

Howard Haas, president of Friends of the Boyd, says the historic Boyd Theatre in Philadelphia is for sale and in need of investors and money to bring it back to life.

"We need an angel of some sort," Haas says.

Adam Sylvain, USA TODAY

Most Watched Videos