I’m happy to announce that I’ll be at the 10th annual Millbrook Literary Festival in Millbrook, New York on May 19th, 2018. I’ll be signing copies of my books in the main tent from 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM. I grew up a few towns over from Millbrook, and might have snuck into the abandoned Bennett School a time or two.
One of the questions I’m asked pretty often is “How do you light these theaters?” When I first started photographing theaters the answer was pretty simple. I didn’t. I relied on whatever was already in the building. I’d use construction lights, open fire escape doors, or in some rare cases use the original theater lights.
A few years ago I picked up some small LED lights from Amazon. They worked pretty well, but had a battery life of around 45 minutes, which wasn’t ideal. Earlier this year I noticed that they were taking longer to charge and not lasting as long. I began to search for replacements. If you’ve ever looked at how many LED lights there are on Amazon and B&H you’d know that finding a good one is a pretty daunting task. After weeding through the duds I bought two Yongnuo YN300 III LED lights, and they’re pretty fantastic. I’m able to light an entire auditorium with the two lights running at 50%, and the batteries last for around two hours. I’ve only tested them at the Everett Square Theatre and the Victory Theatre, but I think they’re a welcome addition to my camera bag.
I had a fantastic time in England with the Cinema Theatre Association and wanted to share a few of the theaters I visited while I was over there. First, the Royalty Cinema in Birmingham. It opened on October 20, 1930 and closed in 1963. The cinema was then converted into a bingo hall, which closed in 2012.
The Granada originally opened on September 7, 1931. It was converted into a bingo hall in 1967, and remains one today. This is one of the more impressive theaters I’ve ever visited.
Finally, we have the ABC Stoke Newington. It opened as the Savoy Cinema on October 26, 1936. It closed in 1984, and the orchestra level was converted into a snooker hall. The snooker hall closed in 2014. Current plans call for the theater to undergo an estimated £3 million restoration and reopen as the Hackney Arts Centre in 2018.
I’ll be posting in-depth write ups of these cinemas (and more) very soon.
Originally billed in opening advertisements as “Springfield’s newest playground of pleasure,” the Paramount Theatre in Springfield, Massachusetts opened on September 29, 1929. In 1926, the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, later known as Paramount Pictures Corp, signed a 14-year contract at $100,000 per year for the space at the former Massasoit Hotel and hired architect Ernest Carlson to design the theater. Carlson designed the Paramount for talking motion pictures, which were quickly replacing silent films. The 3,200-seat theater took three years to build, and cost $1,118,000 ($16 million when adjusted for inflation). A Wurlitzer 3/11 Opus 2011, Style 230 theater organ was installed prior to opening.
The opening week program at the Paramount consisted of the 1812 Overture performed by the New York Symphony Orchestra, Joe Alexander playing the Wurlitzer organ, a Paramount newsreel, and “Dance of Life,” a talking film starring Nancy Carroll and Hal Skelly. Like many other theaters of the time, entertainers often made appearances at the Paramount. At first it was as part of a vaudeville act, and later on to promote their films. Some of the stars that appeared at the theater included Ethel Barrymore, Jack Benny,Eric Von Stroheim, and Lillian Gish. The theater was operated by Western Massachusetts Theatres, Inc. (WMT), which was a division of Paramount Pictures. WMT also operated the nearby Victory Theatre in Holyoke, Massachusetts. The Paramount Theatre was WMT’s flagship theater until 1952 when the movie studios were forced to give up ownership of theaters by the verdict of the United States vs. Paramount Pictures Supreme Court case.
Movies were the main attraction at the Paramount until 1966, when musical performances and other live entertainment began to be regularly shown at the theater. In 1969, the Paramount closed for the first time. It reopened In 1975 and was renamed the Julia Sanderson Theater, after a Broadway actress from Springfield. Live shows continued at the theater until 1979, when it became a revival movie house, and its name was changed back to the Paramount. A new screen, and a speaker system taken from the recently closed Victory Theatre, were installed. It closed for a second time in 1986, but was used occasionally until 1999.
It was purchased by Paramount Realty Investment LLC/Creative Theater Concepts, who spent $1.3 million turning the theater into a nightclub/live performance space. It reopened as the Hippodrome Theatre in December 2000. The Hippodrome was a popular nighttime downtown destination for most of the 2000s. In 2011, it was purchased by the New England Farm Workers Council (NEFWC) for $1.7 million. They operated the theater sporadically until closing for good after a shooting in April 2015. NEFWC intend to remove the nightclub alterations and reopen the theater as a live performance space, as well as restore the Massasoit Hotel into an 81-room boutique hotel. The estimated costs for the restoration are between $32 and $41 million.
I’ve added two more photo workshops to the fall season. The Grand Theatre in Steubenville, Ohio and the Paramount Theatre in Springfield, MA. Both theaters are full of amazing details to photograph, and I’ll be on hand to help you out with any questions you might have. All levels of photographer, from beginner to expert, are welcome.
Grand Theatre Workshop
Location: Steubenville, Ohio
October 15, 2017 (Session 1) 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM and (Session 2) 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Past workshops I co-hosted raised thousands to help the theaters with maintenance, and other expenses. However, these are solo workshops, which means that more money will be going to the owners to help the theaters. While the money from these workshops will never be enough to save a theater, but every little bit helps.
The Westlake Theatre in Los Angeles, CA opened on September 22, 1926. It was designed by architect Richard M. Bates, Jr., who designed the theater’s facade in a Spanish Baroque style known as Churrigueresque, and the interior in a mix of Renaissance and Adamesque. The 1,949 seat theater was built for the West Coast Langley Theatres for $750,000 ($10.2 million when adjusted for inflation). Anthony Heinsbergen, a nationally acclaimed muralist, painted the murals in the auditorium and lobby. A 2 manual, 10 rank Wurlitzer organ was installed prior to the opening, and the internal decorations were done by Robert Power Studios.
Odd things happened at the Westlake over the years. On April 9, 1928, F.D. McMahan, the assistant manager at the time, walked in on a burglar trying to open the theater’s safe. The burglar ordered McMahan and another employee to open the safe, but both refused and the burglar fled after tying them up.Reverend Jim Jones, founder of the People’s Temple and leader of the Jonestown Massacre, was caught masturbating by an undercover police officer in the theater on December 13, 1973. He was arrested and booked for lewd conduct. Members of the People’s Temple (including a deputy D.A.) began to pressure the LAPD to dismiss the charge. They were eventually dropped after Alex Finkle, Jones’ doctor, claimed he had a prostate issue that caused him to have to shake his penis while urinating. Judge Clarence A. Stromwall ordered the records of the case sealed and destroyed.
The Westlake Theatre changed hands a few times throughout the years. First, it was purchased by Favorite Films of California, who also operated the Lake Theatre, from Fox West Coast Theatres. Favorite Films later sold the building to Metropolitan Theatres who turned it into a Spanish language house. In 1991, Metropolitan sold the theater to Mayer Separzdeh, who closed the theater on June 26, 1991, removed the seats, flattened the main level, and turned it into a swap meet. The City of Los Angeles responded to the changes by declaring the theater a Cultural Historic Monument in September of 1991.
In 2008, the building was purchased by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) for $5.7 million. The CRA was created by the government of California with the intent of revitalizing derelict buildings, and there were a few proposals for reuse during this time. However, due to a decision by the CRA was disbanded in 2012. The City of Los Angeles assumed ownership of the building and issued a Request for Proposals in 2016. Unfortunately, even after extending the deadline, there was no interest. The building is currently for sale.
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In late 1925, Sam Warner, of Warner Brothers Pictures, convinced his brothers to spend $1.25 million ($17.1 million when adjusted for inflation) to design and build a theater to showcase their new film sound synchronization technology, Vitaphone. Vitaphone, in which the sound track of a film was printed on phonograph records that would play on a turntable attached to and in time with the projector, was the result of a partnership between Warner Brothers and Western Electric’s Bell Laboratories.
Hollywood was chosen as the location for the theater, and Warner hired San Francisco-based architect G. Albert Lansburgh to design and oversee the construction of the theater. The theater was intended to be ready in time for the premiere of “The Jazz Singer,” since the film had several scenes that used the Vitaphone process. However, Warner Bros realized in late 1927 that the theater would not be ready in time for the premiere, and it was moved to the Warners’ (Piccadilly) Theatre in New York City.
The Hollywood Pacific Theatre opened on April 26, 1928 as the Warner Brothers Theatre. It was designed in the atmospheric style with colonnades in the Italianate Beaux Arts style surrounding the orchestra level walls. However, unlike most atmospheric theaters, the Warner did not have twinkling lights in the ceiling. The 2,700 seat theater was the first theater designed specifically for “talkies” in Hollywood. Promotional articles by Warner Bros proclaimed that the theater has “the most advanced and largest Vitaphone equipment ever installed.”
“Glorious Betsy,” starring Conrad Nagel and Dolores Costello, was the feature presentation at the opening and Al Jolson, the star of “The Jazz Singer,” served as the Master of Ceremonies. A plaque remembering Sam Warner, who died six months before the theater opened, was unveiled in the theater’s lobby. The theater was owned by Warner Brothers Pictures until 1953, when due to the verdict of United States Supreme Court case United States vs. Paramount Pictures, the studio was forced to spin off its theater holdings into a separate company. To accomplish this, Stanley Warner Theatres was formed in 1953, and later merged with the RKO Theatres Corp to become RKO Stanley Warner.
After many years as a first run theater, the Warner was turned into a Cinerama house, a popular widescreen format, on April 29, 1953. The seating had to be reduced to 1,500, and sections of the proscenium were removed due to the new screen being so wide. It was renamed the Warner Cinerama Theatre, and showed “This is Cinerama,” a film designed to take advantage of the new widescreen, for 133 weeks before ending in 1955. A remodel in 1961 saw the Cinerama screen removed and much of the ornate plasterwork in auditorium covered by drapes. This only lasted a year before a new Cinerama screen was installed. RKO-Stanley Warner sold the theater to Pacific Theatres during the 80-week run of “2001, A Space Odyssey,” and the theater was renamed the Hollywood Pacific Theatre.
The theater closed on January 31, 1978 so that the auditorium could be divided into a triple screen theater. Two 550-seat screens were added by separating the balcony level from the orchestra level. It reopened in April of 1978 as the Pacific 1-2-3. Due to damage caused by an earthquake in January of 1994 and water damage in the basement from construction of the Red Line subway, the Pacific was forced to close the theater on August 15, 1994. However, in the years after the theater closed an occasional screening took place in the theater on the main level. The balcony screens remained closed due to alleged structural damage. Beginning in 2002, the Entertainment Technology Center used the theater to test new digital projection technology, ending in 2006. The theater was then taken over by the Ecclesia Hollywood Church, who held services in the downstairs auditorium until July 2013. It is currently unused, with no public plans for its revival.
The Paris Cinema in Worcester, Massachusetts originally opened as the Capitol Theatre on December 11, 1926. It was designed by architect Roger Garland for the Worcester Capitol Company. An atmospheric theater, the 2,500 seat Capitol was designed with a blue dome ceiling and side walls that looked like a Spanish villa. Clouds were projected across the ceiling to complete the illusion that the audience was sitting under the night’s sky. Lou Zoeller, a songwriter, and Janet “the World’s Smallest Prima Donna” Bodwell, two vaudeville performers, played at the theater during the opening week.
On Dec. 13, 1966, the Capitol closed for renovations, and reopened as the Paris Cinema on March 4, 1967. The Paris was divided in two the following year by separating the balcony from the orchestra level. It was billed as “Worcester’s first theater within a theater” when it opened on April 10, 1968. “Bonnie and Clyde” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway was the first film shown in the former balcony, now known as the Paris Cinema 2, and “Planet of the Apes” starring Charlton Heston was shown at the Paris Cinema 1. During the 70’s the Paris showed exploitation films downstairs, and adult films in the former balcony, now called the “Adult Penthouse” after another name change.
On June 29, 1974, Francis W. Sargent, the Governor of Massachusetts at the time, signed a obscenity legislation into law, which forced the Paris to stop showing adult films. This lead to the theater closing once again in 1977. Cinema 320, a group of cinephiles, rented the theater in the fall of 1980 to show films that weren’t normally shown at larger theater chains. This lasted until April 1, 1982, when the theater’s owner informed the group that he had found a new tenant that was willing to pay more and they had a month to vacate. The final film shown at the Paris by Cinema 320 was “Casablanca.” The Paris reopened as an adult theater in June of 1982.
During the early 2000’s the Paris closed and reopened a few times. Worcester police began to raid the theater due to allegations that sex acts were taking place during the films. The Paris closed for good in January 2006 after 29 people were arrested during one weekend raid. Robert J. Hurwitz, the owner of the Paris Cinema, sold the building in July 2006 to the Mayo Group for $1.15 million. Mayo had begun converting the buildings around the theater into a student village under the name Worcester Commons, LLC, but did not have any immediate plans for the Paris.
In 2016, the Mayo Group sought a waiver to the city’s one year demolition delay ordinance for historic buildings from the Worcester Historical Commission. According to the Mayo Group, it would cost at least $21 million to stabilize the building and bring it up to code, but only $500,000 to completely demolish it. They argued that keeping the building standing another year would pose an economic hardship for them. The Historical Commission voted 4-1 to grant the waiver. Demolition began in the summer of 2017, and they plan on turning the space into a beer garden with an outdoor performance area.