More on vintage theatres and the switch to digital

Red Sky, Redland Theatre marquee arrows, Clinton, OklahomaRecently I wrote about the plight faced by vintage movie theatres regarding the fast-approaching total switchover from film to digital projectors. Catching up on my reading this week, I found another article about this very topic that you may find interesting.

The historic Tivoli Theater in Downers Grove might appear to hark back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. But its heart now boasts of the future — a digital age that is shaking up movie theaters across the suburbs.

Tivoli’s parent company, Tivoli Enterprises, invested about $7 million to install digital projectors and other modern equipment at all 13 of its Tivoli and Classic Cinema theaters with a total of 100 screens.

…Others, like owners of the 85-year-old Catlow Theater in Barrington, are still deciding their next steps.

“We only charge $5 per ticket and our concession prices are low, so it’s not like we have extra money pouring in,” said Tim O’Connor, co-owner of The Catlow with his partner and fiancée, Roberta Rapata. Such a conversion could cost them about $100,000 for the necessary equipment, he said.

Having weathered the transition from silent films to talkies or from stereo to Dolby sound, some old-time movie theaters could find themselves becoming a thing of the past.
Projectionist Steve Kraus, interviewed for the article, also noted that the new digital projectors are unlikely to have the lifespan of the 35mm film projectors now being phased out. However, the new projectors do allow for the broadcasting of things like sporting events (the Super Bowl at your local multiplex, anyone?) while also offering anti-piracy controls.
The owners of Downers Grove’s Tivoli Theatre decided digital projectors were the only way to stay in business. In Barrington, however, the operators of the Catlow find things remain up in the air.

At the Catlow, O’Connor is exploring a few different options “that might allow us to convert over to digital,” but he said single-screen theaters like his are at a disadvantage—but it certainly sounds like he intends to do his best to keep the theatre open!

“Since we run very few shows per week, there’s probably little interest with the distributors whether we convert or not,” he said. O’Connor and Rapata have owned the 706-seat Catlow since May 1988.

The Catlow showed a silent film when it opened in 1927 and then survived the switch to talkies in 1929. The theater later switched to stereo sound and then to Dolby surround sound. A larger CinemaScope screen was permanently attached over the stage to accommodate the new formats. Then, the old reel projection system was replaced by a platter system.

There were other transitions — the emergence of TV in the 1950s, video in the 1980s, the onslaught of area multiplexes since the 1990s, and, more recently, DVD/Blu-Ray movies, video games, the Internet and widescreen TVs at home. Competition clearly has hit from all angles.

“So, this theater has had its share of bumpy rides over the years,” said O’Connor. “But, so far, we’ve been lucky enough to have a loyal group of moviegoers that love this theater.”


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