Messenger-Inquirer (Owensboro, Kentucky)
February 13, 2011 Sunday
STATE AND REGIONAL NEWS
Films may return downtown
By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky.
Feb. 13–In 1906, John P. Walker opened a nickelodeon on Second Street between St. Ann and Frederica.
A second theater — the Tri-State Nickel-Odeon — opened a few months later, farther west in the same block.
For the next 83 years, there was always a movie playing somewhere in downtown Owensboro.
But the Malco Theater, then the second-oldest movie house in America, closed in 1989, completing the move of theaters to the shopping centers.
Today, the Owensboro Cinema 16 on the southern edge of town is the only movie house left in town. But it has more screens than were ever in Owensboro at one time.
With the city and county spending $120 million on downtown development through 2013, Patti Acquisto, chairwoman of We Are Downtown, is hoping a movie house will become part of the private development mix.
"A small theater downtown has been on the top of my wish list from the beginning," she said last week. "One that will show vintage or foreign films would be awesome! I sincerely hope someone gets the movie bug and reels in some classics. I truly believe there is a market."
Fred Reeves, who retired Friday as Owensboro’s downtown development director, said a woman was looking for a downtown location last year for a theater with two screens and room for a "food component."
But, he said, that would have required a wider building than was available downtown and it would have needed "more adjacent parking."
"I understand they’re still pursuing other locations in town," Reeves said. "But I absolutely think there’s a possibility of a movie theater downtown. I’ve talked to a lot of people who would like to see it."
Larry Conder, who has bought a half-dozen historic downtown buildings with his wife, Rosemary, in the past few years, is one of those who think a theater is possible.
"I think downtown could support a movie theater," he said. "But it has to be done correctly. Downtown couldn’t support a 16-screen theater, but I think it could support one or two screens."
He said, "You’d want it in an area where people could walk from restaurants."
Theatre Workshop of Owensboro is in the process of buying the old Malco Theater, which most recently was Goldie’s Best Little Opryhouse in Kentucky.
And the board has discussed bringing back movies on occasion, Stephen Coppick, TWO’s executive director, said last week.
"We’ve talked about it," he said. "It’s not set up now for movies, but we’d like to have the facilities to show movies when we’re not using it for live performances."
Live performances will always be TWO’s main emphasis, Coppick said, "But we’ve talked about the need for a place to show films that are not shown in the theaters here. The projectionist booth is still there, but we would need all-new equipment, and I’m not sure how expensive that would be."
Paducah’s Maiden Alley Cinema, which shows "award-winning independent domestic films, classic films from the golden age of Hollywood, internationally renowned foreign films and a host of Academy Award winners," according to its website, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in August.
There’s no reason an independent theater in Owensboro couldn’t be successful, Acquisto said.
But single-screen theaters — especially those showing first-run movies — are quickly disappearing from the American landscape.
The Motion Picture Association of America says there were 1,748 single screens in 2007, 1,747 in 2008 and 1,677 in 2009.
Single-screen theaters represent only 4 percent of the 39,028 screens in 6,039 theaters in the country, the MPAA says.
Most movie houses being built today are megaplexes — 16 screens or more, the association says.
There are still those who believe in single-screen theaters, though.
One of them is filmmaker Michael Moore, who last year announced a plan to "refurbish or prop up downtown movie houses in his home state of Michigan — and eventually nationwide," The Associated Press reported.
The way to rescue downtown movie houses, Moore told the AP, is to run them as nonprofit ventures staffed mostly with volunteers.
The filmmaker said he plans to provide grants and training to theater operators who use those methods.
Goldie’s Opryhouse is the only survivor of Owensboro’s downtown movie palaces. The rest were razed years ago.
It opened on Oct. 29, 1912, as the Empress — the first theater in Owensboro built exclusively for movies. It was also known as the Center for a time during its long run.
When it closed in 1989, only the Palace in Los Angeles, which opened in 1911, was older, the Theater Historical Society of America, said at the time.
The Palace closed in 2000.
FORMER LOCAL MOVIE HOUSES:
Owensboro has had at least eight other downtown or near downtown theaters through the years.
–Ben "Buddy" Nunn opened his Airdome in the 300 block of Frederica in 1907.
–The People’s Theatre, which opened in 1909, advertised "three vaudeville acts plus 2,000 feet of motion pictures."
–The Orpheum, "the Showplace of Main Street," in 1909 offered vaudeville acts as well as motion pictures, free ice water and baseball scores.
–The Peep-In at Ninth and Breckenridge streets opened in January 1916.
–The Bleich, at 410 Frederica St. (just north of the Empress), began as a combination moving picture and live-action theater around 1920. It closed around 1956.
–The Seville, a combination vaudeville-movie house, opened on the southeast corner of Third and St. Ann streets (118 W. Third St.) in 1931 and closed in 1955.
–The Strand opened in 1939 on the northwest corner of Second and St. Ann. (201 W. Second St.) and closed in the mid-1960s.
–In 1972, the Capri Theater, an adult movie house showing R and X-rated films, opened in an existing building at 117 W. Second St. It closed two years later.
In 1948, movies began moving out of downtown with the opening of the Starlight Drive-in on the western end of Parrish Avenue.
Within four years, three other drive-ins opened — The Parkway (later the Twilite) on Leitchfield Road; The Owensboro on Frederica (across from today’s Towne Square Mall); and The Cardinal (where Glenn Funeral Home is today) on Old Hartford Road.
The Oasis on U.S. 60 East followed in the mid-1950s.
In 1967, the Plaza opened in Wesleyan Park Plaza. A second screen was added later, creating the Plaza Twin. It closed in 2000.
The Mall Twin Cinemas opened in Lincoln Mall (now Owensboro Christian Church) in 1971 and closed in 1997.
In 1980, the Owensboro Twin replaced the Owensboro Drive-in on the south end of Frederica.
In 1987, it became the Owensboro 6 and two years later, the Malco 8.
In 1997, that building was razed to make way for a new shopping center.
The Cinema 12 was built farther south in Owensboro Towne Center that year.
It became the Owensboro Cinema 16 in 2003.
Keith Lawrence, 691-7301, klawrence