Historic movie theater escapes the end of an era

Credit: Mike di Donato / KTVB

Historic movie theater escapes the end of an era

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by Brian Holmes

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on February 7, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Updated Thursday, Dec 5 at 4:09 PM

CASCADE -- For many, going to a movie means detaching themselves from reality for just a little bit. But for the folks in Cascade, going to the local theater may actually bring them closer to their community.

The Roxy Theater has been this town's bright spot in the same spot since it opened in 1939 when a young Mickey Rooney was box office gold.

The names on the marquee have changed but the inside hasn't changed much. From the untouched lobby ceiling to the original star light fixtures to the 70-year-old seats. Even the platter system projector is circa 1960s technology

"This projector here has shown for 34,971 hours. You know, it's a lot of movies," says Jason Speer, owner of Cascade's Roxy Theater.

Over the years The Roxy has gone the way of the Cascade community - expanded, abandoned, revived, then almost lost again to developers...almost.

"We had been in the building, and you know, we'd seen the beauty of the building," said Speer.

Speer moved to town at the turn of this century and was quickly drawn in by the flicker of film.

"If we had extra money in our pocket, we came to the movie, you know, I mean that was fun," says Speer.

He got to know the owners of The Roxy and over dinner one night nearly seven years ago the idea was floated for the Speers to take over the theater.

"My wife and I were like 'oh yeah,' and we joked a little bit and then we left," says Speer.

That half-hearted suggestion turned into a half-hearted attempt at ownership. They put in for a loan but didn't think they would get it.

It was 2006, the economy was flush, Tamarack Resort was filling up, and banks were feeling rather magnanimous with money.

"And so it was like we own a theater, you know?," said Speer.

So the whole Speer family took over an old movie house without a clue on what to do, but Speer did know was that another change was coming.

The movie studios that were sending out boxes of 35mm reels were upgrading to digital and those theaters still threading celluloid around a projection room -- an estimated 2,500 around the country -- would close without the conversion.

A deadline was set for February 2013. The Roxy would have to adapt or die.

"I knew I had to figure out a way to make it happen," says Speer. "I couldn't fail."

Why couldn't he fail? Why not just sell?

"We learned early on when we moved here that there was things that the locals treasured and that this was one of them," says Speer.

Just ask Roxy regular Susie Hubbard, "We're very loyal to this theater because of the great people they are. They're really awesome people."

But to bring new-age technology to a community of less than 1,000 people, Speer says, would cost a minimum of $50,000. Selling popcorn wasn't going to cut it. Neither were months of advertising, asking for donations and campaigning online. Their only hope was a business partner.

Mark and Christina Pikkard jumped at the idea. The same couple that brought Kelly's Whitewater Park to Cascade was going to help keep The Roxy afloat. A deal was finalized on January 15.

"It was overwhelming," says Speer. "It was great because you knew you weren't going to fail, you know?"

Now the 73-year-old Roxy -- as resilient as the residents of her town -- has a new life.

The Speers say they will be digital by Valentine's Day. Then the rest of the upgrade will happen between then and Memorial Day -- including new neon signs and new seats in theater.

They are looking for support in that capacity. If you can help put new seats in The Roxy, you may take an old one with you.
 

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