COLUMBUS, Ohio — Andy Wuelfing is part owner of the 94-year-old Grandview Theater and helped restore it along with the 40-tap, full-service bar in 2016.
He said it’s hard not to think about the struggles of independent theaters—not only to survive in the Netflix age but having to also recover financially from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Grandview Theater and Studio 35 are rare animals at the moment. In Columbus, there typically is a neighborhood of 220 screens, and at the moment there are far fewer than 10,” Wuelfing said.
Grandview Theater is owned by the same group that operates Studio 35 in Clintonville.
And in this new normal age, tickets are only sold online, and some rows have been eliminated to ensure 6 feet of proper social distancing.
You are allowed to take off your mask during the movie, but you need to wear it when you leave your seat—same goes for the bar.
One of the theaters’ biggest challenges, besides safety, is the lack of new movie titles in stock which makes planning and scheduling difficult.
“Lot of fear there because Universal pulled that Pete Davidson (and) Judd Apatow movie extraordinarily late in the game—almost unforgivably late in the game,” Wuelfing said. “I don’t know how difficult this might become, but it always has been a challenge. But with a single screen, you just try and kind of do your best, and the rule of thumb is don’t be wrong.”
Wuelfing is concerned about the future. He said breaking even at both the Grandview Theater and Studio 35 is not sustainable long term.
So far, their biggest crowd was 30 people in a theatre that holds 150.
But despite these uncertain times, management continues to take the challenge in stride.
They will continue to host beer tasting events throughout the summer, and they hope loyal patrons and new faces return.
“We’re ready to have fun with you. We just need you to know that masks are important here and everywhere. This is an incredible obstacle, but we’re going to make this work,” Wuelfing said.
For more information on Grandview Theater or Studio 35, click here: https://www.grandviewtheater.com/
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The Oriental Theatre during the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Dave Reid.
Milwaukee’s most iconic movie theater will remain closed until at least the fall.
The Oriental Theatre, operated by Milwaukee Film, has been closed since March as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic, and planned renovation work, will keep it closed through the summer.
“Our operations have been highly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, which has created significant uncertainty over when we’ll be able to safely open our doors again to large crowds,” said Milwaukee Film CEO Jonathan Jackson in a statement. “We are, however, able to safely embark on several long-planned restoration projects that, if not done now, would require future shutdown of the cinema.”
Last summer the organization overhauled the 220-seat west theater, replacing the seats and carpeting and making other sight-line and acoustical improvements. This summer it will tackle the 1,080-seat main theater and 220-seat east theater.
“The Oriental Theatre has long been a gathering space for Milwaukee to participate in the arts, and Milwaukee Film is helping to ensure it will be part of our community for generations,” said Patti Keating Kahn, board chair for Milwaukee Film. “Going forward with this work now is an important decision, and as we’ve reached out to our major donors, they’ve been extremely supportive that this is the perfect time for restoration to ensure we’re ready when it’s safe to bring film back to a packed house.”
The organization has yet to announce final plans for the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival, scheduled for October, but confirmed last month that it would be held, possibly virtually.
The announcement to keep the theater closed comes as other theater operators have struggled with how, and when, to safely reopen. AMC Theatres, the largest theater operator in the country, originally announced it would reopen 450 of its 600 cinemas on July 15th at 30 percent capacity and would not impose a mask requirement. Following public backlash the company changed course and announced it would require masks.
Marcus Theatres, the Milwaukee-based chain, is encouraging, but not requiring customers to wear masks as it gradually reopens its theaters. It will reopen most of its theaters by July 15th.
Those looking to capture some of the big-screen magic, and support Milwaukee Film, can watch movies via the organization’s Sofa Cinema program.
2019 Restoration Photos
The Kubala Washatko Architects is handling the design of the facility’s upgrades. The new seats come from the Michigan-based company, Irwin.
Jackson said more than 900 donors contributed to the capital campaign to restore the theater, including $2 million from festival co-founder Chris Abele. Donald Baumgartner and Donna Baumgartner, the Herzfeld Foundation, the Sheldon and Marianne Lubar Charitable Fund, Allan H. (Bud) and Suzanne L. Selig and The Yabuki Family Foundation provided additional lead donations.
A 1925 Wurlitzer pipe organ is being prepared to be installed in the theater. The theater lost its prior organ, a 1931 Kimball, because the non-profit group that owned it had it removed prior to Milwaukee Film taking over the theater. It was originally from the Warner Grand Theatre that is now being redeveloped by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and was installed in the Oriental Theatre in 1991. The theater’s original organ was removed in 1959.
Lobby improvements, including a phased upgrade of the concession stand, were first implemented last year.
Milwaukee Film acquired a 31-year-lease for the theater at 2230 N. Farwell Ave. from building owner New Land Enterprises in 2017 and took possession of the theater in July 2018. As part of the first phase of upgrades, the non-profit replaced the projection equipment and rebuilt and expanded the first-floor restrooms.
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Oriental Theatre Closed for Summer, Plans Renovations
The Dunbar Theatre is one of Wichita’s oldest pastimes in the city. The building, built in 1941 was the only theater African Americans could go to until 1963.
Recently, efforts have been pushed to renovate and restore the building.
“It was a theatre in a bustling community. This was the hub of the African American community in those days, the 40s and the 50s,” Lavonta Williams, former City Council member and member of the historic Dunbar Theatre advisory board.
Williams has been a part of restoring the Dunbar Theatre for years. She even recalls her time spent there as a child.
“I’m one of those, my mother would drop us off here every Saturday. It cost about 25 cents to 50 cents to get in. We would stay here most of the day watching movie after movie,” Williams said.
In recent years, it’s been in need of renovations.
“The Dunbar Theatre is a physical building that sits in an under-served neighborhood and it’s got a ton of history behind it and it’s a beautiful space on the exterior,” Andrew Gough, owner of Reverie Coffeehouse said. “It just needs to be brought to life on the inside and for that to happen, they need donations.”
On Friday and Saturday, in honor of Juneteenth, Reverie Coffee Roasters donated a certain percentage of sales to the ‘Friends of the Historic Dunbar Theatre’ group.
“I am so appreciative that others notice an area that we’re working so hard to bring back,” Williams said.
The coffee shop raised about $400 for the theatre, according to Gough. But he’s unsure of how many people donated directly to the cause as well.
“So we’d love to see that space be up and running and really serve as kind of the center of a redeveloping community,” Gough said.
The building hasn’t been used in years and is now owned by Power Community Development Corporation, which is headed by James Arbertha. Both Williams and Arbertha said they would love to see this building restored into a successful fine arts theatre.
“Right now it’s just an empty shell. It will be a performing arts theatre. We have much, much talent right here in this community,” Arbertha said.
Williams said it’s very difficult to find construction money to help rebuild this former hub for area youth.
Jersey City is seeking developers to restore its nearly 100-year-old Loews Theater and create a world class arts an entertainment venue that could anchor a revitalized town center.
Mayor Steven M. Fulop and the Friends of Loew’s (FOL) announced a new joint with a request for proposals (RFP) to restore the theatre, listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.
“The pandemic is not going to slow the city down, and after six years of stalled progress and litigation we are excited to finally have a positive plan in conjunction with FOL. We will now restore the theatre and find a partner that can bring world class talent on a regular basis to Jersey City,” Mayor Fulop said. “This is a significant step for Journal Square and the entire city.”
The city is accepting proposals for the redevelopment, operation and management of the Loew’s, in fusion with FOL, that not only satisfy the objectives of the theatre’s Redevelopment Plan, but also align with the Administration’s overall commitment to stimulating responsible reinvestment in the city and enhance quality of life.
The historic Loew’s will be an integral part of the revival and rehabilitation of the Journal Square area – Jersey City’s historic city center and one of the busiest transportation hubs in the region. The renovation is projected to cost nearly $40 million, with the city incorporating alternative financing such as historic tax credits, contributions from local developers, and other financing sources.
While the Loew’s Jersey is in operable condition and is currently open in limited capacity, it does require additional restoration and renovation to allow for full occupancy, improvement and modernization of production capabilities to expand the number and scale of productions, and increased patron comfort.
Ultimately, the city’s vision is to expand the operation of the Loew’s as a cultural and entertainment venue in which major commercial programming is presented while maintaining and growing the diverse additional affordable programming — such as local arts, theatrical, dance, multi-cultural, educational, film, and community-related shows, events, and activities.
The RFP seeks to find a commercial promoter and venue operator to partner in programming the Loew’s and bring a regular schedule of major national and international acts that will add to the diverse arts, community, and film shows already presented by FOL.
Colin Egan is a founder of Friends of the Loew’s established to preserve and reopen the Loew’s, and as its director he has been in charge of FOL’s programming since.
The Loew’s Jersey Theatre was called “The Most Lavish Temple of Entertainment In New Jersey” when it opened at Jersey City’s Journal Square nearly 91 years ago for its soaring ceilings, coffered gold ceilings, plush red drapes, more than 3,000 seats, large stage for live shows, and large screen for movies.
It stopped presenting a regular schedule of live shows in the mid-1930s in the wake of the advent of talking pictures and the need to cut costs during the Great Depression. But the Loew’s continued as a first run movie house, remaining an iconic local venue for decades, well past the time that many of its contemporaries were closed.
In 1973, the Loew’s Jersey was converted into a triplex to reflect the changed business model of motion picture presentation.
In 1986, the Loew’s Jersey was closed, sold and slated for demolition, but FOL was formed and called for the Theatre to be reopened and restored as a multi-discipline arts and entertainment center. Jersey City joined in this vision, and in 1993 bought the Loew’s Jersey. It has since remained underutilized.
“There have been many roadblocks over the past several decades which is why the theatre has remained underutilized, but we’ve come to the point where we will make the turn to revive the Journal Square gem that has unparalleled history and untapped potential… until now,” said Mayor Fulop.
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Jersey City looks for developer to restore historic theater
A historic theater that was under renovation in uptown Marysville collapsed late Thursday. The Avalon had been closed for more than a decade, and restoration work had recently gotten under way after a nonprofit group, over years, had raised the $3 million necessary to turn it into a cultural and performing arts space.
MARYSVILLE — An uptown building that a nonprofit group has raised about $3 million to restore collapsed late Thursday, leaving only a brick shell and a pile of rubble.
Sarah Barr, the executive director of the nonprofit organization that hoped to turn the long-neglected former theater into a cultural and performing arts center, said in a Facebook post that an already damaged structural support truss gave way.
She called the collapse devastating, and pledged to rebuild at the site.
The former Avalon Movie Theatre opened on Main Street in Marysville in August 1936 but closed more than a decade ago and the building sat idle. Funding for restoration was a years-long process.
Renovations began in earnest this year, and fencing had been installed around the building’s front exterior as a sign of the work taking place.
Barr said online Friday that structural engineers were at the site examining the damage, which included a gaping hole in the wall of the adjoining building, which houses a Scott’s Miracle-Gro company retail store.
At noon, crews were digging out the debris at the theater site, which has an alley running behind it.
The collapse also destroyed a vehicle parked next to the building that belonged to a tenant in a next-door apartment.
No one was injured.