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designing a new theatre in an existing building 31 Mar 2004 13:38 #28613

  • Mike
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I received this question.....Hey Mike,
I was reading some of the posts on BigScreenBiz.com and I noticed that you mentioned that you operate a theatre in a building that you had to renovate. Was this building previously a theatre that needed an overhaul or was it a building that was not a theatre, but allowed you to turn it into one?

I am currently doing some research on opening a theatre in the restored downtown district of my city, and there is a building that has a prime location, but the downside is that it is a former furniture store--not a theatre. So my dilema would be how to design a theatre out of a space that was not built to facilitate that purpose.

If there's any help you could provide, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!
Michael Hurley
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 31 Mar 2004 13:45 #28614

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I have renovated in existing theatres. But I would not be afraid to work in any space large enough to accept a theatre. It's just a different design challenge. Many have done it.

Michael Hurley
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Michael Hurley
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 31 Mar 2004 23:56 #28615

  • Ken Layton
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I have seen many buildings turned into theaters: grocery stores, furniture stores, bowling alleys, bingo halls, warehouses, school auditoriums, lodges, and taverns. The Franklin Plaza twin theater (a.k.a. Shelton Cinemas) in Shelton, Wash. was built from a telephone company warehouse.
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 01 Apr 2004 07:08 #28616

  • John Pytlak
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Whatever space you use, try to maintain good sightlines, comfortable seating, lots of legroom, and prime seating in the range of 2 to 4 times the image height from the screen (per standard SMPTE 196M). ALWAYS maintain proper image composition, and NEVER crop the picture from the standard aspect ratios of 1.85:1 "flat" and 2.39:1 "scope":
http://www.kodak.com/US/en/motion/newsletters/pytlak/spring2001.shtml

Low ceilings and flat floors present a challenge to maintaining clear sightlines without having the audience craning their necks upward, or having standing people cast shadows on the screen.

Pay attention to the acoustics of the room, and sound isolation from the rest of the building.

John P. Pytlak, Senior Technical Specialist
Customer Technical Services
Entertainment Imaging
Research Labs, Building 69, Room 7525A
Eastman Kodak Company
Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Telephone: +1 585-477-5325 Cell: +1 585-781-4036 Fax: +1 585-722-7243
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Website: http://www.kodak.com/go/motion
John P. Pytlak, Senior Technical Specialist
Customer Technical Services
Entertainment Imaging
Research Labs, Building 69, Room 7525A
Eastman Kodak Company
Rochester, NY 14650-1922
Telephone: +1 585-477-5325 Fax: +1 585-722-7243
E-Mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Website: http://www.kodak.com/go/motion
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 01 Apr 2004 18:14 #28617

  • outaframe
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Prior to the 1920's, the MAJORITY of the movie houses (Nickleodeons, then) WERE buildings converted from other uses... Even in the 1930's and 40's, converted buildings were commonplace, due to the shortage of downtown locations... So, prior use has little effect on the finished product, as long as you keep all the priorities in mind... I have been involved in a couple of conversions, which turned out fine... There may be some challenges, and some compromise may be required, but don't make the mistake of winging it on the assumption that you can fudge on the basic stuff... It ALWAYS costs more to fix it later, than do it right in the first place!...
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 01 Apr 2004 22:05 #28618

  • muviebuf
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One of the major issues that you have converting former retail space to theatre use is the parking. Today most areas require that you to meet current zoning on the parking if you convert the space from another use. The required parking for theatres today is usually always higher than for retail. Could be a major stumbling block.
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 02 Apr 2004 07:16 #28619

  • jimor
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'Outaframe' gives the Nickelodeon as an example of a converted structure suitable for film, but I am afraid that his example is misleading. In the 'Teens, the projected image was a LOT smaller than what is expected today, and the projection was as often on a bed sheet on a wall, so patrons were less sophisticated than they are today. Read up on the nature of Nickelodeons and you will see why they were eagerly replaced with the Photoplay Parlors, and then the Movie Palaces: patrons learned that they didn't have to endure someone standing up and blocking the projection; with sloped or stepped floors, they could see over those in front without craining their necks.

Yes, it is possible to use many non-theatrical spaces, and for a group of 25 or fewer, you can even use kitchen chairs if you want, but as you go much over that number, the local ordinances declare it to be a public meeting place subject to the safety concerns that attend any sizeable gathering, and for good reason! As John, outaframe, and moviebuf make clear, it is best to do it right from the outset and comply with all ordinances, as well as have a realistic idea of just how you are going to finance the project with all its modifications, code compliances, ability to compete with nearby true cinema/theatre venues with better conditions, and still have enough money to survive the months or years needed to establish yourself in the habits of patrons. Running a successful cinema looks easy, but as the many, many posts on this forum make clear, it is not. I you have deep pockets and want to tinker with a building for your own amusement as much as any hope of making a profit, go to it. But if you think the Nickelodeon or similar can be your model today, forget it! Times have changed!
Jim R. (new E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) member: www.HistoricTheatres.org
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 02 Apr 2004 08:05 #28620

We are currently looking at a closed department store. the biggest challenges are the numerous support columns and the limited height of 20ft. Theater designers we flew in earlier this week were able to fit 6 large, (160-180 seats), and 2 small, (110-120 seats), auditoriums between the support columns and still keep a nice flow to the entrances. challange #2 the height. We are looking into digging down a couple of feet on the screen end of the auditoriums to counter the low ceilings. possible conflict is where the footings are located, (blueprints are on the way),.
We are expecting to enter into contract for the location, (with many contingencies listed), this afternoon to take it off the market.
Hopefully we will be joining your ranks of theater owners by 2005.
BTW this space is much larger than we need and is rectangle shaped, (lenght side to side). So we designed the auditoriums toward the back of the building leaving potential prime retail space in the front for subleting or just a reduction in square footage rent. In either case we will try to recruit a coffee shop to the space closest to us with an seperate entrance into our lobby.

Jay
Thanks,
Jay
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 02 Apr 2004 16:41 #28621

  • outaframe
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MAGIC <> When you speak in terms of "large" and "small," I guess it all depends what your age and experiences are... Prior to the advent of multiplexes, it took 1,000 seats, or more, to be considered "large," and "small" amounted to 500 seats or less... Even the smallest towns, in the most remote locatations seldom had capacities of less than about 10% of the town's population... The reasons are numerous: moviegoing WAS the #1 activity in the US then, ticket prices were so low that to build a small capacity theater wasn't economically realistic (it took a LOT of ticket sales to achieve a decent gross), and the public expected to have seats available when they went... All this has changed dramatically in the last 40 years, or so, but I have to smile when you mention 180 seats as being a large theater, because in my experience and terminology that's really a somewhat larger modern day Nickelodeon... As JIMOR states, the earliest Nickelodeons were, in most cases, little more than an old storefront with folding chairs and a bedsheet, but by the standards and sophistication level of the times, it was MAGIC... And within a few years, one-reel Nickelodeons led to multi-reel silent movies which had real story lines and plot... This gave way to a demand for better surroundings and bigger and better picture quality... And it started the decline of Legitimate Theater, travelling road shows, and Vaudeville... Theaters which had hosted those types of entertainment installed movie projection equipment, and whatever size screen would fit their proscenium... But when sound came along in the late 1920's, movies really took off!... The demand for locations far exceeded the available theaters, and hundreds of buildings were converted from other uses... Yes, there were also hundreds of true movie theaters, and multi-use (stage and movies) built, but I SUSPECT that the number of conversions exceeded the number of theaters built from the ground up, through around 1947...

So, what you have in mind has been done many, many times before, and some of them were/are exemplary, while others were absolutely awful!... You have a leg up on MOST potential locatations because of the 20 foot ceiling height available... This is normally the stumbling block when you find a building, so you are already ahead of the game... The support posts seem to be your biggest concern, but IF you can fit your theaters in the clear span, and maintain a length/width ratio of about 2:1, you are approaching "ideal" as far as the screen height and floor plan... Aw oh, gotta run... Good luck on this!...

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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 13 May 2004 12:12 #28622

  • WGA
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I am looking at doing the retail conversion as well. Just got a response from a construction company saying it would be better just to demolish the building and that it would be around $150/sqft. The building is fine structurally, and I want to use a great deal of extra space for leasing opportunities. The main issue is the ceiling height, which the architects tried to limit the amount needing to be raised as much as possible. I haven't particularly cared for this construction company from the beginning and I think they are wrong on this. I just dont think they want to fool with the project because they are quite large. So I am waiting to hear from others.
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 13 May 2004 14:42 #28623

  • revrobor
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Coming Attractions Theatres of Ashland, Oregon converted a former Thrifty Drug Store building in Crescent City, California into a very functional eight-screener known as Crescent Cinemas. Perhaps they would share some info with you.

Bob Allen
The Old Showman
Bob Allen
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 14 May 2004 11:08 #28624

  • BurneyFalls
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They converted a Thrifty in Mt. Shasta, California also. It is pretty bad. The auditoriums are VERY small.
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 31 May 2004 20:24 #28625

  • bexter725
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I am looking at converting an Eckerd into a theatre. How much sq. footage does a typical 2 or 3 screen theatre need? What are the height requirements? Any suggestions?
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 31 May 2004 22:29 #28626

  • outaframe
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Hello, BEX <> Square footage depends on how many seats you want to put in the auditoriums... The requirements for 100 seats, or less, are much easier to meet than what is required for 200, or more... Your auditoriums should have a length/width ratio of 1.5 to 2/1, and the auditorium width determines the screen size, which determines the required height of the auditoriums... Ideally, 20' ceilings will accept a screen up to 28' x 11'8" (Scope 2.4/1), an exit door or two beneath, and a minimum of top and bottom masking... Any less ceiling height requires a proportionally smaller screen... The length of the auditorium should be no more than 5 times the screen height...

You also need either a sloped floor, or stadium style seating to permit good sight lines, and freedom from obstructions due to the row ahead... You can probably excavate the screen end to gain height and permit a sloped floot for LESS than what stadium seating requires, and there are less ADA problems and safety concerns...

Give us some actual dimensions, and what you want to accomplish... Then, we can make some solid recommendations...
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Re: designing a new theatre in an existing building 07 Jun 2004 11:05 #28627

  • mesbursmith
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We have designed quite a few cinemas in existing buildings which were not originally for that purpose. Most have turned out very successfully. The approach varies according to the characteristics of the building you are looking at. Currently, we are designing a 10 screen cinema in an existing Wal Mart store. The height is only 18 feet, and the column spacing is not really suitable, so we are removing the roof in the area of the cinemas ( only about 1/3 of the whole structure) and laying out the theatres the way we want. As we are raising the roof, we are simply removing the columns and creating a whole new structural grid to suit our layout. The cinemas vary in size from 100 to 300 seats, and are full stadium design.
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