Soon several thousand movie theaters will close nationwide.
January 14, 2001 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Soon several thousand movie theaters will close nationwide. Short of tearing it down and building something else, what would you do with a multi-screen theater if you could pick up one for a few cents on the dollar at a bankrupcy auction? Can anyone think of any use for these monsters?
posted by Steven Den Beste (26 comments total)
Well, I always dreamed about this. I would convert it to a place where I would live. I don't think the building codes would allow, but, screw them. Ofcourse since it's already a theater I'd setup a home theater. A large home. Heh. btw, would anyone at all leave the equiptment?
posted by tiaka at 8:42 AM on January 14, 2001

I've always had a idea about turning a huge, old, one screen theater into a club. A huge DJ box hanging off of the balcony. A multi screen theater could serve well for this too, i think. There is a club in Detroit that is like this. I can't remember the name though. I went there a few years back.
posted by jbelshaw at 8:48 AM on January 14, 2001

A year or so ago, the Red Rock Theater in Las Vegas shut down, prompting me to give some thought to this very question. It had 18 theaters, but had been added on to several times and spread across a lot of ground, unlike most modern theaters. I thought it would make a great club, with different "sections" themed differently. For example, the seats could be pulled out of a lot of the theaters, and each could become a little club of its own--one with a piano bar, one playing jazz, one playing alternative, etc. Dance floors could be installed in the appropriate theaters, some could dispense coffee and pastries, others alcohol. In some, the screens could show videos or montages selected by the DJ to accompany the music. Each section would have a different mood and attract a different clientele, although part of the fun would be flowing from one to another through the night. Tired of dancing and being shaken by the music? Want to actually chat with the cute girl you've been dancing with? Retire to a quieter venue for a bit.

The front section could even be "under-18," with a guy checking handstamps for access to the alcohol-serving areas in the back. Lots of cool stuff could be built into the place to differentiate it. Being Vegas, I even entertained the notion of cage dancers in the halls of the over-18 area (to help create a sort of crazy, over-the-top, post-modern feel in certain areas). The possibilities are limitless.

In Portland, OR, there are McMenamin theaters that serve beer and food, pub-style. This idea would build dramatically on that concept.
posted by rushmc at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2001

I am an old guy and I would like to see Burlesque shows brought back! That was art, entertainment. If this is too mild, why not try bear-baiting or tossing Christians to the lions?
posted by Postroad at 9:38 AM on January 14, 2001

The latest New Yorker has a piece by James Surowiecki (sp?) on how the theaters are doing this to themselves. He argues (convincingly) that theaters should offer variable pricing--it's bizarre that a ticket to PROOF OF LIFE and CAST AWAY go for the same price, considering the demand is so different. If PROOF OF LIFE cost half, it'd probably get more people in the theaters, buying concessions. And CAST AWAY could cost more, increasing the margins.

posted by peterme at 10:54 AM on January 14, 2001

Network a group of multiplexes and hold the Intergalactic / Transdimentional [insert favourite first-person shooter game here] Tournament.
posted by chrish at 11:52 AM on January 14, 2001

surely the closing of these theatres has to do in part to the complete garbage masquerading as motion pictures that came out last year.

what would i do with the theatres? keep them theatres and play independent, foreign or avant-garde films. there is a HUGE market for such a place in non-metropolitan areas.
posted by brittney at 11:55 AM on January 14, 2001

One thing is to turn them into a Sports Bar. One lady, while watching the previews for Cast Away, suggested hosting a Super Bowl Party in the theatre. Have a food line, keg, and what ever else you need for football on the movie screen. A popular steak house, Damons, has 4 big screen TVs and has triva where players can ring in. What would you pay to have them host a game and then catch a movie?
posted by brent at 12:10 PM on January 14, 2001


that's EXACTLY what I was thinking about doing to an old theater that closed down near my former home. If any of you live/lived in Orange County, CA and remember the Centry friend worked there until the day they shut the place down and it was basically a building with 11 theaters with domes on you see probably 6 or 7 big domes from the freeway...and it's where all the major freeways intersect providing a great location...

a friend of mine had quite a bit of money and we actually thought about doing it...but alas it was swept by the wayside and nothing came of it...there were 11 theaters and we were going to call it "eleven"...
posted by physics at 12:40 PM on January 14, 2001

brent, in Seattle, there's The Big Picture. They took over a smallish theater that was forced to close (due to high rent), installed digital stuff, and started showing TV shows there. To get around legal issues, they charged a cover charge for the premises and not the theater itself.

But I guess they couldn't draw loads of people to things like the last episode of Seinfeld and stuff. So now their focus has changed ("the nation's first luxury Internet theatre and venue!") and you can pay them $450/hour to do Powerpoint on a big screen.
posted by gluechunk at 1:05 PM on January 14, 2001

I think the "future use" of these would be determined, at least in part, by their location - not necessarily "what part of the country," but more "downtown" vs. "in the mall" vs. "out on the highway in the middle of nowhere." Here in the Chicago area, the megaplex-crash has resulted in a mostly teardowns, but that's because the ones that are failing are out in the boonies where nobody who'll pay $9 a seat for a movie actually lives. On the other hand, I know of at least two former theatres in or next to shopping malls that have been turned into gargantuan theme restaurants and two in more urban, foot traffic kinds of areas that have been converted to successful boutique shopping centers.
posted by m.polo at 1:21 PM on January 14, 2001

Oooh! You could cover them in blood and play a sort of live Quake! Admitedly you could also get arrested for shooting people while you were doing it, but you could. Maybe your quake arena could declare itself an autonamous zone or something.

posted by davidgentle at 2:02 PM on January 14, 2001

They have that in my city too! It's called Brew and View. A movie for $5 along two full service bars. Tons of fun!
posted by Bag Man at 3:41 PM on January 14, 2001

Folks, all of these ideas sound great...

We (in the U.S.) already have millions of square feet of vacant retail space in abandoned bix boxes, drugstores, and shopping centers. These are all more versatile spaces, yet instead of reusing them, developers continue to build from scratch. More than likely, provided that the theatres are located in prime retail locations (though most of the new multi-plexes here in Cleveland are found at the rear of shopping centers), the theatres will simply be torn down.
posted by Avogadro at 4:28 PM on January 14, 2001

The stupid part of this is that the grand old movie houses, some of which have managed to survive, are often the ones being closed -- and as this thread demonstrates, there are few alternative uses for them.
posted by dhartung at 5:35 PM on January 14, 2001

From what I've noticed, nearly all of the grand old movie houses have already been closed or converted to other uses. The ones in trouble now are the eight or ten screen theaters which have difficulty competing with the new twenty screen theaters with "stadium style" seating. The old one or two screen theaters are actually much easier to reuse than these newer ones, because the newer ones are carved up into lots of small spaces.
posted by Aaaugh! at 6:02 PM on January 14, 2001

I know of at least one such story. The Paramount theater in Portland OR was one of the old-style theaters from the 20's, but by the 1960's it was no longer able to compete because most of the population didn't want to go to downtown Portland to watch a movie when there were theaters nearer their homes. So they closed it. And sold it to what was known as "Paramount NorthWest, which used it for live theater performances, but far more for rock concerts. I attended several there. In the late 1970's, even that wasn't really viable, and the city acquired the property. It was getting pretty beaten up because Paramount Northwest had done minimal maintenance on it over the 20-30 years they'd owned it.

Through bonds and contributions the city raised enough money to completely remodel it. One rich benefactor, Arlene Schnitzer, gave a really huge amount of money, so they named it after her, and at least at the time I left Portland forever it was known informally as the "Schnitz". I never got a chance to see inside after the remodeling, but I did look through the windows and see what they'd done to the lobby, and it was a complete transformation -- and a welcome one. If the rest of the work was of equal quality, then the city got its money's worth.

It now serves as a second city-owned Auditorium, for various kinds of live shows. I seriously doubt they do rock concerts in it anymore, but someone from Portland might know for sure. (I think the rock concerts are held at the Coliseum, which seats a lot more people.)

I'm really glad it was saved; it was a fine old theater and it would have been a shame to tear it down. The building was and is structurally sound. It was probably the nicest of the old-time movie-palaces in Portland. It looks like the people who designed the remodeling did it with love for what it originally had been, for they seem to have tried to recapture that old time glory.

As pointed out, the movie theaters which are in trouble now are the 8-screen shoeboxes in the suburbs. There will be few tears if they're torn down.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:37 PM on January 14, 2001

The Paramount is a nice redo of a old movie house.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:56 PM on January 14, 2001

Well there was supose to be a link in that post. Try again.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:58 PM on January 14, 2001

Silly me. I suppose the build a link is not my forte.
posted by bjgeiger at 7:59 PM on January 14, 2001

In Dallas, many older theaters which were sold by theater chains have been bought by "Studio Movie Grill" which specializes in turning movie theaters into restaurants that show first-run movies. Basically, all the seats are replaced with tables/chairs, and people are served food during the movie. Many older non-stadium seating theaters which otherwise would have closed have been saved by this company.

The thing that is frustrating about all this for me is that newer, all-stadium seating theaters do not have 70mm projectors installed in them, and the older theaters which do have 70mm are closing down. 70mm exhibition died off in the early 1990s with the introduction of digital sound, and unfortunately, the stadium-seating building boom came after that, so none of the newer, more popular theaters have 70mm. There are still quite a few 70mm installations left in the USA, but with these closings, that number will be rapidly declining. If a studio or director wanted to release a movie in 70mm after this year, it would be very hard to do.

Side note: there is supposedly a (minor) rerelease of "2001: A Space Odyssey" planned for October of this year, but I've heard that only about 10 or so new 70mm prints will be struck. That sucks. If this were still 1989 or 1990, there would be hundreds if not thousands of 70mm prints going out, much like the spectacular "Lawrence of Arabia" rerelease that took place. Now we get a limited 70mm theatrical release in a handful of cities, followed by a souped-up DVD release. That makes me sad.
posted by Potsy at 9:41 PM on January 14, 2001

In Australia there is a good club called the Metro which used to be a movie complex.

I have seen the giant subwoofers behind one cinemas screens and would love to play some music on them.
posted by Zool at 9:47 PM on January 14, 2001

Convert some of them into small venues for chamber music or acoustic rock or experimental theater. 'Cause live performance is good for the soul, y'all.
posted by shylock at 1:09 AM on January 15, 2001

The neighbourhood movie theatre (single screen) closest to my home has been converted into a Full Gospel church. It was an old style theatre with a stage, though, which means that very little by way of renovation was needed in order to make this use of the space. Good recycling.

I'd think that big screen space and seating for many would make a closed multiplex the perfect locale to hold corporate computer training classes. Screen one: Word; screen two: Excel; screen three: Lotus Notes, etc. Turn the screening room most adjacent to the former snack bar area into the cafeteria and show television on the screen for people to enjoy during downtime. . . hmm, I'm formulating a business plan now. I should find some investors and get myself some VC!
posted by Dreama at 8:57 AM on January 15, 2001

I, too, lament the decline and fall of 70mm. I just don't get it -- if good sound is a selling point, why not good video?
posted by dhartung at 12:07 PM on January 15, 2001

Dan, the issue is cost. 70 mm prints cost a lot to make and the projectors are more expensive. Would you be willing to pay twice as much to see a movie in 70 mm? Most people aren't. Most people won't go out of their way to seek out a 70mm theater.

So a 70 mm theater costs more but has the same ticket price and doesn't do any more business. It doesn't make sense from the standpoint of a theater owner.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:55 PM on January 15, 2001

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