Dennis, MA - Best seat in the house: Dennis theater upgrades

posted by ThrHistoricalSociety on March 20, 2017 at 8:43 pm


From Wicked Local Yarmouth: The Cape Cinema in Dennis Village has a big, loyal following of patrons who come often to the movies, the live showings of the Metropolitan Opera, the National theater, and Bolshoi Ballet, as well as concerts and community events. They also love the nostalgic ambience of the historical 1930 building, the old movie posters, the popcorn popping in the lobby, and the dancing figures on the Rockwell Kent ceiling mural, but when it comes to sitting down for the show – oh, those chairs.

The faded red armchairs with starched white covers may look appealing at first, but underneath, the original upholstered seats from 1930 are splitting and held together with big strips of duct tape. The wood in the chair backs is splitting as well, making them uncomfortable for many patrons.

“The biggest complaints from new people are the seats,” said Hugh Hart, theater general manager. His father, Eric Hart, has owned the business since 1985. They recognized that movie patrons today want comfort, but the Harts didn’t want to give up the Art Deco bentwood chairs that are part of what makes the cinema unique. Thus, the search began to provide comfort as well as keep the nostalgia.

The two-year search for a company to reconstruct 311 existing chairs took them as far as Ohio, where a company built a prototype at a cost of $1,400. Since that price was too high, the search continued, but concluded when a patron suggested Synthomas Upholsterers in Hyannis. Once they had a price of $600 a chair, they sent a letter to their large member mailing list through the Cape Cod Center for the Arts, the nonprofit that owns the cinema building along with the Cape Playhouse and surrounding campus. They then met with patrons to explain the donation process, which goes through the nonprofit entity allowing a tax deduction. The donor’s name also is placed on a chair arm.

The response from patrons was immediate. All the money needed to remake all the chairs was committed in just two months, Hugh Hart said. The longtime patrons also wanted the original chairs to be rebuilt, he added.

The new, completely rebuilt, chairs have begun arriving, at least 10 a week, and more if the small family company can handle it. In a slightly brighter red covering than the original with shiny black wood arms and legs, they stand out in the front rows of the theater where they are being carefully placed in their original positions. Hugh explained why that is important. The chairs' back legs are different lengths to conform to the slant of the theater floor, something not apparent to the amateur eye.

Some people may ask: Why rebuild those old broken chairs? Why not just buy new modern seating like in the multiplexes?

“It’s a historical building. We don’t want to put commercial seating,” Hugh said, pointing to the chairs. “These are unique. Everyone gets their own arm rest.”

A history of design

The chairs were designed by Paul Frankl, who was known for his “skyscraper furniture.” They were purchased at his New York gallery, Hugh said, but the Johnson Furniture Co. mass produced them.

Story link with more photos:

ABOUT THEATRE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA: Founded by Ben Hall in 1969, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) celebrates, documents and promotes the architectural, cultural and social relevance of America’s historic theatres. Through its preservation of the collections in the American Theatre Architecture Archive, its signature publication Marquee™ and Conclave Theatre Tour, THS increases awareness, appreciation and scholarly study of America’s theatres.

Learn more about historic theatres in the THS American Theatre Architecture Archives and on our website at

Visit our site also to learn about our Los Angeles Conclave this June!



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