• December 12, 2016

    Bellingham, WA - Saving Historic Movie Palaces Like Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre


    From E ach generation has the responsibility to balance embracing the new while preserving the old. But how do we decide what is worthy of saving, restoring and renovating, and what is to be replaced? The historic movie palaces built around the world between the 1910s and the 1940s are an important example of this dilemma. Bellingham’s Mount Baker Theatre (MBT), opened on April 29, 1927, is a stunning example of how history can be preserved while serving the demands of modern, continuously changing society. But it is also the only survivor of five movie palaces built in Whatcom County.

    Over the years, MBT has evolved into the civic historic home to a premiere Pacific Northwest cultural tourism destination that also sustains the regional community through its arts education programs and substantial economic impact. Around the world, citizens and municipalities continue to work hard to save the remaining historic movie palaces born of that time.

    The Historic Movie Palace

    Around 1900, silent motion pictures became a small part of the live entertainment offered in vaudeville theatres. Bellingham enjoyed an ideal location on the well-worn Pacific Coast vaudeville circuit. Small storefront theaters and Nickelodeons developed across the country in the 1900s and 1910s, catering affordably to the lower and middle-classes. But there were real concerns over the physical safety of the Nickelodeon theaters as they were often cramped with little ventilation and the nitrate film stock used at the time was extremely flammable. The upper-class was used to more refined viewing typical of the opera. But as more sophisticated, complex and longer films featuring prominent stage actors were developed, the upper-class wanted to attend the movies and that desire paved the way for the opulent movie palace.

  • December 8, 2016

    New York, NY - Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema: Why New York Cinephiles Could Lose a ‘Crown Jewel’


    From The clock may be ticking for New York City’s Landmark Sunshine Cinema. The building that houses the arthouse theater on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has been up for sale for more than a year, and while no buyer has materialized yet, some feel it’s only a matter of time before real estate developers turn the beloved cinema into a high rise apartment building.

    Though a number of media outlets have reported that the Sunshine’s lease will be up for renegotiation at the end of 2018, the existential threat facing the theater has less to do with its lease than the possibility that a new buyer will demolish the building and replace it with a towering apartment complex. Built in 1898, the property has a reported price tag of more than $35 million.

    Ted Mundorff, president and CEO of Landmark Theaters, told IndieWire that turning the theater into a high rise is easier said than done. “It would take years for anyone who’s going to pay the kind of money they’re looking for to demolish [the building] and construct something,” he said. “At this point I don’t see any imminent danger of us leaving the property.”

    Though Mundorff said Landmark “loves” the Sunshine, calling it one of the “best properties in Manhattan,” he acknowledged that the company has expressed concern over the theater’s sustainability before. In 2012, the local Community Board denied Landmark a liquor license for the Sunshine that representatives of the company said was critical to keep the theater open in the long term, given its steep annual rent of around $200,000. Landmark was planning to invest $1 million to renovate its theaters and provide dine-in food and beverage table service, a move that would have brought in crucial new revenue, but local residents feared that the addition of alcoholic beverages would have a negative impact on the theater, and the plans were scrapped.

  • Sidney, OH - Theatre’s marquee comes down


    From the Sidney Daily News: A desire to help with the restoration of the Historic Sidney Theatre has led four friends to donate funds to help bring brilliance back to the theatre’s marquee.

    Jan and Murray Elsass and Tom and Sandy Shoemaker, all of Sidney, will be able to look at the new marquee and know its bright shining lights are the result of their donation.

    The marquee is being removed by Wagner Electric Sign Co., Elyria, for renovation. The process will take six to eight months.

    “We were neighbors over the years,” said Sandy Shoemaker. “They’ve (the Elsasses) been big supporters of events in Sidney and so have we.

    “The history (of the theatre) is important,” she said.

    “We believe in this community,” said Jan Elsass. “I said I wanted ‘to see this done in our lifetime.’”

    Tom Shoemaker was originally approached by Tom Milligan about helping restore the marquee. He said he and his wife would be interested in taking on half of the costs to restore and reconstruct it.

    Sometime later, Jan Elsass asked Sarah Barr, executive director, what she and her husband could do to help with the theatre project. Once Jan found out the Shoemakers were interested in the marquee, she and her husband jumped on board to help with the project.

    “This is what our community is all about,” said Barr. “Everybody loves the theatre and they all have a piece of it through their donations.”

    Wagner Electric Sign Co. employees began taking down the marquee and its signage Tuesday.

    According to Larry Ester, production manager for Wagner Electric Sign Co., their goal is make a replication of the current marquee. The new marquee will have the same face and appearance as the one that has been on the theatre. The sign was placed on the theatre in the 1930s and the tower was added in the 1950s.

    “We’ll have a crane here and a trailer to take the pieces back to our shop,” said Ester. “We’ll be running a trailer back and forth to Elyria with the pieces. It’ll take us Tuesday and Wednesday to take it down.

    “The ceiling is very large,” he said. “It’s integrated together with bolts. We’ll be bringing it down in sections.”

    Once the pieces are all in Elyria, drawings will be made of the sign and ceiling. Measurements of each item will be recorded. They’ll look at how it was built and then use present day engineering standards to bring it up to today’s codes.

    The drawing of the project will be completed by Darryl Wagner, vice president of the company.

    “He will put on paper something for us to follow,” said Ester. “We’ll submit it to an engineer to make sure everything is up to standards. Once the drawing is acceptable, then we’ll begin to rebuild it.”

    A rod will be threaded through the final project so the sign and marquee can’t move up and down.

    “It should last you another 100 years,” said Ester. “The manufacture and design process will make things last.”

    Ester said the company has been restoring and recreating theater signs since the 1980’s. The Sidney Historic Theatre’s project is the 50th one the company has worked on. Some of their projects include the Valentine Theatre in Toledo, the Fort Wayne, Ind., Embassy, the Princeton Theatre in Princeton, Indiana, and the Palace Theatre in Marion.

    “It will be a new sign,” said Ester. “It will look just the same as it does now. We may be able to use part of the old sign in the new one.”

    Colors for the sign and what type of light bulbs will be used are yet to be determined. Barr said they are working with DP&L to make sure the marquee is as energy efficient as possible.

    Once the sign is complete, he said, it will take about a week to reinstall it at the theatre.

    Work on the marquee is the latest project for the Raise the Roof for the Arts Committee. The infrastructure of the building is complete. The roof has been repaired. Masonry and downspouts have been installed. There’s a new heating and air conditioning system in the building.

    The stage rigging system has been installed, which will enable full stage performances to be held. There’s new electrical service in the building.

    Work also completed includes updating the outer lobby area, exterior painting and renovating the east store front into an office.

    Barr said the group is working on plans for the inner lobby and concession area renovation, updating the restrooms, the auditorium, stage lighting and sound and finishing the interior.

  • December 7, 2016

    Sandpoint, ID - Panida Theater recognized as key building


    From the Daily Bee: The Panida Theater was recently recognized nationwide by the Society of Architectural Historians as an architecturally significant building in Idaho.

    “We have a wonderful historic building, and it’s exciting to have professionals in the field of architectural history recognize that,” said Nancy Renk, board chair for the Panida. “And it’s being recognized nationwide, not just statewide — this is quite an honor.”

    The SAH Archipedia is an online encyclopedia where the editors are putting together a list of the top 100 classic structures for each state. So far, 63 buildings have been listed in Idaho and the Panida is one of four theaters listed in the state. The other theaters listed are in Boise, Rupert and Moscow. The website currently contains the history, photographs and maps of more than 17,000 structures and places in the United States.

    Three other Bonner County buildings are listed on the website as well. The Cedar Street Bridge, which originated as a crude footbridge in 1893, is listed, as well as the old Sandpoint Federal Building, now First American Title, which was constructed in the late 1920s. Priest River’s Beardmore Block, developed in 1922, is also listed as an architecturally significant building on the SAH website.

    According to a statement released by the Panida this week, Edward A. Miller, a well-respected Portland architect, designed the Panida Theater for owner F.C. Weskil in 1927 as a vaudeville theater and motion picture house. The Spanish Colonial Revival style, popular in Hollywood, was unusual for North Idaho. When the Panida opened in November 1927, people marveled at the lavish interior and special features such as the “cry room,” a small room with large glass window that allowed parents to watch a movie without having their fussy children bother others in the theater.

    Renk said Panida board members and staff are discussing ways to celebrate the Panida’s 90th anniversary throughout the 2017 year, such as events and possibly some Panida trivia. She said suggestions are welcome and anyone with photos or stories of the theater are encouraged to share.

    “I think there are a lot of people out there who have stories,” Renk said. “There are people who grew up with the Panida and they may have some wonderful stories to tell.”

    Anyone with memories or ideas to share can email the Panida at .

  • Loveland, CO - Exploring history of the Rialto Theater


    From the Reporter-Herald: The Great Depression of the 1930s cost William C. Vorreiter his personal fortune and with it, the Rialto Theater. It was sold to Joseph Goodstein then to Gibraltar Enterprises.

    Gibraltar did the theater’s first renovation in 1935-36 and changed the seating on the main floor to 700 upholstered chairs, added chandeliers and also an evaporative cooler.

    Gibraltar Enterprises brought one of its best managers to Loveland, Ted Thompson. Ted and his wife Mabel arrived in 1935 and kept the Rialto open through clever promotions.

    Loveland’s boarded-up storefronts were plastered with colorful movie posters. Whenever the “Thin Man” film series came to town, the Thompson’s painted downtown fire hydrants white with black lettering that spelled “reserved for Asta,” the dog in the series.

    In 1941, Gibraltar Enterprises redecorated the Rialto with new carpeting and an art deco look covering the old murals.

    The remodeling backfired, however. The farm boys arrived in their overalls for a western and they quit coming because the theater was just too fancy.

    Thompson responded by bringing in bales of hay into the lobby and having the usherettes in gingham dresses. The male employees wore blue jeans, and business picked up.

    The Thompsons stayed with the traditional format for theaters of that era with a newsreel first followed by cartoons and coming attractions. Finally, the feature was shown. Fridays and Saturdays were reserved for westerns.

    Ted and Mabel Thompson retired from the theater business in 1947 to open the Dude Corral Restaurant on the south side of Lake Loveland, and they are also responsible for starting the Valentine card re-mailing program that continues today.

    The Rialto’s business fell as the larger multiplex theaters made inroads.

    In October 1977, the Rialto featured “Star Wars,” and it ran for six weeks. This was the longest engagement in the theater’s history, but this was the Rialto’s last regularly scheduled movie prior to the building’s conversion into a shopping mall.

  • December 5, 2016

    Bridgeport, CT - Next stage for city’s theaters


    From the Connecticut Post: How difficult is it to revive the long-shuttered movie houses — the Poli Palace and Majestic Theater — and vacant Savoy Hotel on the edge of downtown?

    Consider: The once grand buildings at Main and Congress streets languished when Tom Gill, who returned this summer to his old job of running the city’s economic development office, originally occupied that position. The year was 1976.

    “There was no interest in them at all,” Gill recalled recently. “There were moves to tear them down. I’m glad that never happened.”

    Gill now has a second chance to help bring new life to the theaters. After being approached over the last four months by a handful of investors interested in the city-owned sites, Gill and his staff are preparing to issue a formal solicitation.

    “We are getting a Request for Proposals together which we hope will draw in more interest,” Gill said. He expected it will be released by early 2017 at the latest.

    He said the city will be looking for mixed uses — a hotel, housing, retail — for the buildings and the revival of at least one of the theaters, probably for some type of live performing arts.

    “I don’t think anybody believes it could go back to two theaters,” Gill added.

    The intent would be to preserve the historic facades and as much of the ornate interiors as possible.

    Opened in 1922, the Palace has 3,200 seats, the Majestic 2,200 seats. They provided live, then movie entertainment for decades before going dark in the early 1970s.

    The theaters were among Mayor Joe Ganim’s campaign stops when he waged his successful comeback campaign last year. Like Gill, whom he re-hired, Ganim is not new to City Hall. He ran Bridgeport from 1991 to 2003.

    “There are a lot of players in Bridgeport, and we want to expose this to people doing business here and let them see how it adds a benefit to their investment,” Ganim said.

    Gill did not reveal the identities of those that have been eyeing the theaters, but said they are new entities who are not now doing business in town.

    Gill attributed the renewed interest in the buildings to the progress in the nearby Downtown North neighborhood, where developers are in different stages of rehabbing other historic buildings into apartments and stores.

    A major challenge for the investor or investors who take on the Palace and Majestic is how to make even one rehabilitated theater profitable considering there is plenty of competition in the immediate area.

    The 1,400-seat Klein Memorial Auditorium hosts musical events; the cozy Downtown Cabaret Theater offers musical performances, tribute bands and children’s productions; the closed Playhouse on the Green is supposed to reopen as a comedy club; a new luxury movie theater has been proposed for the East End neighborhood; and the Webster Bank Arena is the spot for big name concerts.

    Then there is the Bijou Theatre on Fairfield Avenue. Like the Palace and Majestic, the Bijou, which opened in 1909, originally offered live shows and movies. It was re-opened in 2011, but its future has been unclear.

    The nonprofit running the Bijou closed it in early August citing financial pressures. But property owner Phil Kuchma has said he has found a new tenant.

    Bridgeport native Maura O’Donnell was the Bijou’s general manager for the past three years. Asked if there was room for another revived theater, O’Donnell said, “I don’t know. I’d like to think yes. I’d like to think there’s no such thing as too many arts projects.”

    O’Donnell recalled being a patron at the Majestic in the 1960s.

    “They were beautiful (theaters),” she said. “I’d love to see them restored, but I think it would cost a fortune.”

    Gill said developers could take advantage of state and federal incentives set aside for historic properties.

    O’Donnell said, “The problem I saw at the Bijou is it takes a while to find your niche.” The calendar included live theater and music, as well as some film showings.

    And while there is a market for showing classic films on the big screen, O’Donnell did not think that alone could sustain a reopened Palace or Majestic.

    “For survival, in my opinion, you’d have to work that in with something else,” she said. “Movie theaters in general are hurting.”

    Robert Halstead, a preservationist and former City Councilman, suggested the city and developers think about renovating the non-performance spaces in the Palace/Majestic/Savoy complex.

    Halstead said there is not currently room for yet another theater downtown. But, he said, with new housing being built and other redevelopment moving forward, that will change.

    “As the tide rises, so do all the ships in the harbor,” Halstead said. “I’m optimistic. I think downtown’s going to come back and be a vibrant arts community. And as the tide rises, so do all the ships in the harbor.”

  • Dallas, TX - Historic & Hip: Texas Theatre combines old and new for a unique moviegoing experience


    From Film Journal International: For the Texas Theatre, the m.o. is simple: “Innovating and keeping up, as well as preserving the heritage of the space and its legacy.” The innovating part, as related by Texas Theatre operator Barak Epstein, comes down to the same basics that most theatres are concerned with: continually providing a high-quality experience for their audience in terms of tech, amenities and top-notch concessions offerings.

    The “heritage” aspect…well, that’s where this single-screen theatre nestled in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood is unique. Originally opened in 1931, the theatre rocketed to national prominence on Nov. 22, 1963, when police officers converged on the theatre to arrest a man suspected of murdering a local police officer. The man’s name: Lee Harvey Oswald, later to be arraigned for that day’s assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

    Epstein calls the theatre “an infamous place, for better or worse” due to its role in that historic tragedy. That infamy isn’t what drew Epstein and independent film production/distribution outfit Aviation Cinemas, which he founded, to the theatre; he was “more interested in the fact that it was an almost-functioning space that just needed some work, to finish it out.”

    But the theatre’s somewhat macabre history is impossible to escape, even if one wants to. “People come to Dallas, the first thing they want to do is go to the grassy knoll, right? So often the third or the fourth place they want to go is the Texas Theatre. We get people every day”—individuals and tour groups alike—“who just want to come in and see where Lee Harvey Oswald might have sat.” (Incidentally, Oswald sat in two seats, and they’ve both long been replaced, but a Texas Theatre employee will be happy to explain where in relation to the theatre’s current layout they used to be.) Those tours are more than welcome; though Epstein half-jokingly admits that it would be great if everyone who came in bought a movie ticket or a drink at the bar, he’s “not going to charge if you pop your head in and look around. As long as the doors are open and we’re open for business, people are welcome to come in.”

    Sightseers and moviegoers alike will enter through a façade that’s a replica of what the theatre looked like when Oswald was caught there in 1963—though not the same one. You can thank Oliver Stone. In 1965, in an effort to shy away from the spotlight that resulted from the JFK assassination, then-owner United Artists gave the Texas Theatre’s exterior a complete overhaul. A subsequent exterior renovation followed, and then, in 1989, the theatre closed. In swooped Stone, who restored the exterior to what it looked like in 1963 so he could shoot parts of JFK there.

    “Another box office from another theatre that was getting torn down was moved to the Texas Theatre so they could recreate what the box office mostly looked like in ’63,” explains Epstein. “That box office is still there, the one they moved in for the movie. The marquee had to be worked on again years later, but essentially we were able to keep it up to be what the ’63 marquee looked like.”

    Moving on, we come to the ’90s, which weren’t kind to the Texas Theatre. It passed back and forth between multiple owners and remained vacant for years, at one point almost burning down. In 2001, the property was purchased by the Oak Cliff Foundation, which did a lot of structural work in anticipation of one day having a tenant. In 2010, that tenant became Aviation Cinemas.

    But Aviation Cinemas had some renovations of its own to do. Thanks to the work done by Oak Cliff, the theatre’s infrastructure was sound, but “the lobby had been gutted several years ago, so it was kind of an empty space,” Epstein recalls. Renovations included a new lobby area, a concession stand and a full bar, the latter of which serves craft cocktails and craft beer, as well as themed cocktails tied to specific films or directors. There’s also a record player, with guests encouraged to BYOV (Bring Your Own Vinyl.) In terms of food, typical concessions fare is on offer, as are pizzas from Campisi’s, a Dallas staple since 1946.

    But the main draw, as with any theatre, is the movies—and guests at the Texas get to see them in a gorgeous, 645-seat theatre that doubles as an event space for concerts, podcast recordings, spoken-word events and comedy acts. “We can do changeover in 35mm, which we installed in 2011. And we got DCP in 2014—we have a 4K Christie 4220. And then this year we upgraded the auditorium for surround sound, so now we run a 5.1 Dolby system,” Epstein explains.

    High-quality tech dovetails with the legacy of one of the Texas Theatre’s early owners, eccentric entrepreneur Howard Hughes. The connection was a brief one: Hughes and his business partner Harold B. Franklin purchased the Robb & Rowley Theatres chain, which the Texas Theatre was a part of, right around the time the venue opened. “The story goes that he sold it right back right after the Depression,” Epstein says. “But it was actually [Hughes’] capital and his cash flow that potentially carried Robb & Rowley through the Depression, while a lot of theatres were not able to stay in during those rough years. So even though he was only around for a little while, his company probably really helped keep the building going.”

    With only one screen, programming at the Texas Theatre can be tricky—it’s not like you can offset potential risks by always having one or two “sure thing” options on deck at any given time. That said, over the six years the Texas Theatre has been in operation, its management team has gotten to know its audience—and its audience has gotten to know them.

    “We’ve had to cultivate a crowd. A lot of it is trial and error,” Epstein notes. For example, “in the beginning, not everybody was coming to a lot of repertory. And I think that DCP, industry-wide, has increased the viability of repertory programming. Everybody is doing repertory now, which is fine, because it’s telling us that people want to see these movies in a theatre. Even the mainstream theatres will do it—but I don’t think that hurts us at all. It actually calls attention to some of the more difficult stuff we can do.”

    Specifically, the Texas Theatre has a soft spot for directors’ series—a Sidney Lumet series runs through November, and past series have been devoted to figures as diverse as David Cronenberg and Mike Judge. Epstein highlights a recent Jean-Luc Godard series as something that did unexpectedly well; he expected returns to be “modest,” but the screenings were “all very well-attended!”

    Emboldened by the success of the Godard series, the Texas Theatre took a stab at German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, but that one didn’tquite pay off. “Dallas might be ready for Godard, but not necessary Fassbinder,” Epstein chuckles. “That’s where we have to rein it back in a notch.”

    Still, even when audiences don’t respond to certain programming decisions, the Texas Theatre is a nimble enough operation that it’s not locked into any one thing. Taken as a whole, the Texas Theatre’s lineup is surprisingly diverse, spanning from directors’ series to new independent films to special-interest docs to an occasional mainstream movie.

    For example, last year the Texas Theatre took a break from smaller releases to screen Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The decision wasn’t just motivated by money—“we have a large space and good projection and sound, so we want to give people the experience of seeing a new, big film that everybody wants to see in a classic theatre,” says Epstein. He has fond memories of the NorthPark 1 & 2, a two-screen Dallas institution that closed its doors in the 1990s. “It was a massive experience—people made it a thing to go see movies there. They opened a really big repertory program that I was a massive fan of when I was in high school. Part of me has always been in awe of that, of a space where you would go seeJurassic Park, and you could also go there at midnight to see 2001.”

    It’s the Texas Theatre’s eclectic mix of programming that is helping to bring moviegoers back to the Oak Cliff neighborhood, which Epstein describes as a “transitional part of town” that “was an older, hip neighborhood that went away and then came back.” Over the last few years, Oak Cliff has seen some measure of revitalization, which Epstein hopes is at least in part due to the draw of its newest/oldest cinema: “We like to think we helped get more businesses interested in being close to us.”

    As for the future of the Texas Theatre, an overhaul of the currently unused balcony is in the cards. And the addition of another theatre to the Aviation Cinemas roster at some point in the future is certainly a possibility, as well. “We’re definitely open to opportunities,” Epstein confirms. “The opportunities we think would make sense are other buildings like ours, where we could create a new model for movies, live events and a bar in other underutilized and unutilized historic buildings.”

  • December 2, 2016

    North Tonawanda, NY - Riviera Theatre’s history remains ‘the big picture’ after 90 years


    From the Ken-Ton Bee: In 1926, the Wurlitzer organ was the heartbeat of sound as a silent film played at the downtown theatre in North Tonawanda.

    The theatre, which was first called — and spelled — the Twin Cities Rivera, held its opening night on Dec. 30 of that year.

    “And with that opening came the installation of the Wurlitzer,” said Neil Lange, who has been on the board of directors since 1985. “In 1926, there were only silent films; there was no sound that came along with movies. “That didn’t happen ’til the following year. [In] 1927, “The Jazz Singer” was released, which had some talking in it.”

  • November 30, 2016

    Newport, RI - $3.1M tax credit OK’d for renovation of Opera House Theater in Newport


    From The Providence Journal: The Rhode Island Division of Taxation has approved a $3.1 million in state historic preservation tax credits for the renovation of the Opera House Theater and Performing Arts Center at 19 Touro St. in Newport.

    According to the agreement, the renovation is expected to cost $14.5 million and is scheduled for completion in 2018. The tax credits are awarded after work is completed.

    The theater was built in 1867 and was originally a four-story building with a mansard roof, according to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission. The fourth floor was removed in 1957 after a fire at the building next door.

  • November 29, 2016

    Sonoma, CA - Sebastiani Theatre has new ‘lease’ on life


    From the Sonoma News: Sonoma filmgoers can look forward to sequels, spinoffs and retro classics for years to come at the Sebastiani Theatre on the Plaza. At the Sonoma City Council meeting on Nov. 21, the City of Sonoma and the foundation that operates the theater entered into a 25-year lease with the owners of the building, with an option for an additional 25 years.

    The five-member Council approved the lease agreement unanimously.

    “We’ve worked for five years on this,” said Darryl Bellach, president of the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation, adding the 50-year commitment “will allow the efforts of the Foundation, and the City, and all of those involved to shepherd the theater into the foreseeable future.”

    Since 2011, the City has been renting the 84-year-old movie palace from Oakland-based Sebastiani Building Investors, then subleasing it at a lower price to the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation, which operates the facility.

    Under that model the rent for the theater increased against the Consumer Price Index, a sometimes volatile measure that sent rental rates up to its current $5,426 per month. In 1986 when the City started leasing the building, the rate was $3,000 monthly. The new lease holds annual rent increases to a predictable 2 percent.

    Longtime theater manager Roger Rhoten spoke at the Monday meeting about his 25 years at the Sebastiani. “We want to keep and maintain the theater for future generations,” said Rhoten, who described the lease as the start of a “new era.”

    “We want to improve the theater top to bottom and bring new and exciting programming to the theater.”

    The City was also granted the right of first refusal in the event of the theater being sold, an added assurance that Sonoma will maintain some degree of control over the fate and use of the historic building. The Art Deco structure dominates the Plaza on First Street East, and was the last theater designed by noted Bay Area architect James W. Reid, who with his brother, designed many of Northern California’s most luxurious movie theaters as well as hotels and other large buildings.

    Key to the new agreement is the condition that the theater must be upgraded to Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance, which pleased Jeanne Allen. “For 16 years I’ve been going to the Sebastiani for movies and events – and for 16 years I haven’t been able to use the bathroom,” said Allen, creator of the regional Incredible Accessible guides.

    Allen added that it would take more than providing bathroom access to bring the theater into ADA compliance: a ramp or lift is needed to provide access to the stage, 1 percent of the seating must have companion seating, and another 1 percent must be aisle seats with no arm rests or, at least, folding armrests.

    “It’s important that an active wheelchair user be involved in the design,” urged Allen, who volunteered to be that person.

    Attaining ADA compliance has been a major stumbling block en route to getting a food and beverage license, as the model of serving wine or beer with movies has become increasingly popular in recent years. Such an upgrade is planned for the Sonoma Cinemas, at the recently-sold Fiesta Plaza on Sonoma Highway.

    “It’s a big thing in movie theaters these days,” Rhoten has said. “If I could, I’d have done it a long time ago.”