When I was in high school, one of the coolest jobs was being a projectionist at a movie theater. Especially a movie theater that gave you a key because of the long hours. Not only did you get to see first run movies for free and have first dibs on all sorts of uber-cool swag like posters and film trailers, but you got to take your friends to the movies at like three in the morning to see any movie you wanted.
I never worked in a movie theater; but I was the friend of the guy who worked in a movie theater. There was a time where I was seeing every first run print of a movie at no cost and in the wee hours of the morning – oftentimes before the film premiered at the theater. That’s pretty darn neat for a kid who just got his driver’s license.
A mere two days before The SCENE Magazine went to print, Aviation Cinemas, Inc., a brand new venture I’m a part of, signed a lease to take over operations of the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff (south Dallas). Formed specifically to close this deal, Aviation Cinemas is named in honor of billionaire Howard Hughes, who financed the Texas in 1931. The solid concrete, “fireproof” structure was the largest suburban theater in the metroplex at that time and the first in Dallas to have air conditioning. In its heyday, the Texas attracted the Dallas elite with its grand design and state of the art projection and acoustics.
That all ended the day President John F. Kennedy was shot and his alleged assassin was captured at the Texas after not paying for a movie ticket. Soon after that fateful day, the Texas underwent a massive facelift – all of its glorious designs and vibrant colors were covered in plaster, sealing it away from public view. Since then, the Texas has struggled, moving from one owner to another and barely avoiding the wrecking ball. Oliver Stone remodeled the marquee and exterior facade for his 1990 film, JFK, when the theatre was under the ownership of the Texas Theatre Historical Society; and in 1995 the theatre barely survived an interior fire.
Today, the Texas Theatre is under the ownership of the Oak Cliff Foundation and, up until recently, has been a community run theater, holding special events and screening films using modest equipment. On August 30th, the Oak Cliff Foundation officially handed the keys to the historic Texas Theatre over to Aviation Cinemas. Our expressed goal is immediately renovating the theatre by installing a 35mm changeover system, tweaking the existing digital projection system to meet I-Cinema compliance, and installing a new adjustable 40 foot screen. This will allow the theatre to screen movies of various exhibition formats, utilizing state of the art equipment. The large screen will be moveable to allow for other kinds of entertainment including plays and concerts. The old school style film changeover system will allow the Texas to screen repertory film prints that would not normally be allowed to be spliced together on a platter. Additional exhibition for small format films and filmmaking will be supported by the addition of 16mm and Super 8mm projection. Plans also include constructing a concession stand and a separate full-service bar in the main lobby and soundproofing the area between the theatre and the bar.
Future goals include restoring the existing balcony, remodeling additional areas for lounge space and installing a digital cinema 2K and 3D projector. Currently, there’s actually no seats in the balcony area – in fact, it’s rather spooky up there and quite dangerous. We believe that creating a barrier between the balcony area and the lower screening area (which seats 650 people) will be an acoustically sound decision. Filling out the balcony with seats and installing additional projectors will allow us to utilize that space most effectively and provide additional outlets to entertain audiences. There’s also a great deal of space in the building that could be used as lounge areas and/or green rooms for theatre patrons and/or guests of the theatre.
Our hopes are that patrons will not only come out to the theatre because of the movies, but also to come hang out at the bar and enjoy the intriguing space of the Texas. The bar will have an assortment of bottled, canned and draught beers – including some craft beer selections. Additionally, the bar will have wine and liquor – with a variety of movie themed signature drinks. The wall between the screening area and the bar will be made of glass so that patrons can see what’s being screened from the bar area and art work will adorn the walls around them.
Long term goals for the Texas are to continue the Oak Cliff Foundation’s plan to restore the interior of the theatre back to its 1930s era design. The exterior facade and marquee will remain as is – a restoration of the 1960s era. We believe the value of the Texas Theatre is unparalleled because of its rich history. We aim to provide solid movie entertainment while promoting the values, culture and spirit of independent cinema and filmmaking. We’re independent filmmakers who now run a movie theater – what better way to foster the creative and artistic aspects of filmmaking and help cultivate a community of filmmakers?
Although theater expansion is certainly a distance off, we’ve already been discussing potential locations. The Houston area is certainly on the list, given my residence in Kemah. And with the recent closing of the Angelika downtown, there’s an even greater opportunity to succeed.
So, coming full circle, I’ll soon be able to bring my friends out to my movie theater in the wee hours of the morning and have special screenings and parties and all the other crazy events you do when you operate a movie theater. Will you be my friend?
Adam Donaghey is Vice President and CMO of Aviation Cinemas, Inc.
Originally published in The SCENE Magazine – September 2010