Published in IN Community Magazines – Keystone Oaks Winter 2016
PITTSBURGH – The Hollywood Theater has been a cultural anchor in Dormont for 90 years, and supporters hope it will remain so for years to come.
Monique Fontaine, secretary for the theater’s board of directors, grew up in Dormont and has fond memories of the cinema. She saw “Flashdance,” the first R-rated movie she ever attended, there in 1983 and remembers attending performances of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the cinema in the 1990s.
“It thrills me now to see all of the families and the kids of my friends coming to the theater for a show on their own,” Fontaine says.
Like Fontaine, many patrons also have strong memories associated with the Hollywood Theater. Sometimes, simply going into the bathroom, which still has the original tiles, can trigger a strong emotional reaction, Fontaine says
“Some patrons have come back upstairs with tears in their eyes,” she says. “It transports them back to the last time they were here. It’s our own time machine.”
Colin Matthews, president of the theater’s board of directors, says local patrons are very loyal to the Hollywood Theater in a way that a multiplex theater could never reproduce.
“So many people think of the Hollywood as their theater,” he says. “We’ve proud to serve as a landmark for the residents in Dormont, the greater South Hills community, and the entire Pittsburgh region.”
The Hollywood Theater also provides a social experience that’s absent in larger cinemas. Board member Margaret Jackson says she remembers how patrons began clapping during a screening of the “Princess Bride” a few years ago.
“I don’t believe that would ever happen in a multiplex,” Jackson says. “It created this wonderful feeling of community.”
The Hollywood first opened in 1926 and the building included a bowling alley in the basement. The theater has changed hands a few times and has been closed for several years. A major renovation was completed in 2007.
The board of directors celebrated the Hollywood Theater’s 90th anniversary in May by showing a restored version of 1949 British noir film “The Third Man.” Actor David Conrad, a Pittsburgh native, attended the event, which attracted a sell-out crowd. Board member Annette Bassett says that was one of her favorite memories of the Hollywood Theater because it was a great opportunity to welcome people to the cinema for the first time.
A fundraising campaign, called “90 for 90,” is also underway to help celebrate the Hollywood Theater’s anniversary. So far, about $18,000 has been raised and the average donation is about $80. The fundraiser will continue into 2017. The funds will be used to replenish savings that were spent on HVAC repairs earlier in 2016.
“We wanted to come out the gate strong, which we accomplished, but still have a long way to go,” Matthews says.
The Hollywood Theater is unique in several ways – it has a balcony, features an organ, and is one of the few surviving single-screen cinemas in Pittsburgh. However, the theater faces several obstacles as well, because it’s harder for a small theater to secure certain bookings. In addition, attendance has dropped off this year because of construction in the Dormont business district as well as increased competition from video streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu, Matthews says.
The Hollywood Theater has survived by innovating, Matthews says. The theater offers innovative programming and hosts a number of special events. For example, several couples have been married at the Hollywood Theater after saying their vows on the stage. In addition, the theater recently organized a Halloween party that featured a showing of the 1961 gothic horror film “The Innocents.” Doug Bradley from “Hellraiser” attended the event, which included a raffle and costume contest.
“Many of the attendees really get into the spirit and arrive in some truly amazing costumes,” Matthews says.
Matthews says the board of directors is pursuing several long-term goals that will ensure the Hollywood Theater remains an important part of the Dormont community. First, the directors hope to secure a long-term lease or purchase the building that houses the theater. After that, Matthews says they will execute a capital improvement campaign that focus on electrical, plumbing, and structural upkeep. Other priorities include adding an expanded and improved concessions stand, additional screening rooms, and a new marquee.
In addition, the board of directors is also re-evaluating its structural organization. Chad Hunter, the Hollywood Theater’s executive director, left in July 2016 and the board has decided to postpone the search for a potential replacement. In the interim, operations manager Joseph Morrison and several board members have assumed the responsibilities of the executive director.