POSTED ON NOVEMBER 14, 2012:
Hometown Classic Revamps
Thanks to Kaiser loan, Circle Cinema is set to open theatre in historic building Nov. 21
A Tulsa institution for more than 80 years, and the only indoor movie theatre left standing -- and thriving -- in Kendall-Whittier, Circle Cinema has been slogging through renovations for its share of decades.
In early 2008, three years after the group co-founded by Tulsa businessman Clark Wiens had acquired the theatre, the organization set out to expand its capacity, hoping to add two new theatres. Now the project is nearly finished, but not without its share of patience-thinning trials along the way.
Stephanie LaFevers, executive director at the Circle, emphasized the importance of appreciating success from an historical perspective.
"Originally it opened in 1928, and again in the 1980s," LaFevers said.
"The roof had collapsed," she said, painting an outright dingy picture of what the members of the Circle Cinema non-profit were presented with.
"We purchased the retail building to the south of it," LaFevers said. "We opened that in the fall of 2005, and did some renovating. ... We began renovation again in 2008."
Notice a trend here? "What was going to be a restoration became a renovation," LaFevers said, drawing a distinction between surface level maintenance in the spirit of the age, and the poor condition of a building at the breaking point, about to give up the ghost.
"In 2006 the marquee was redone and restored," LaFevers said. With all the hard work and behind-the-scenes effort, a visual show of improvement was heartening.
"We kicked off the Capital 2 Campaign," LaFevers said of the beginning of fundraising for the vision currently coming into focus, which includes two new theatres with a capacity of 115, set to be constructed on the actual historic location of the theatre, 10 S. Lewis Ave. The current site where the majority of the Cinema's films are screened is actually referred to as the Circle 2 Theatre, and was originally a storefront at 12 S. Lewis Avenue.
"We'd divided our capital project into phases," LaFevers said.
Three phases to be exact. The folks at Circle Cinema set out to divide the construction of the facilities into bite-sized chunks, more palatable to the pockets of would-be donors.
Laying the foundation constituted the first phase, followed rather obviously by building the structure, and furnishing the interior as the third. The latter phase is officially half-through, with the smaller of the two theatres nearing completion.
"We are planning a soft opening for Nov. 21," LaFevers said. "Barring any unforeseen circumstances."
The Silver Linings Playbook, starring Bradley Cooper (Limitless, A-Team), Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, Winter's Bone), and Robert De Niro (Casino, Goodfellas) is set to play at its opening. Based on the Matthew Quick novel of the same name, the film is written and directed by David O. Russell, and is rather a more mainstream flick than the art house venue is used to showing. Still, a project this long in the works deserves a deviation from the norm as celebration.
Speaking to the projected completion date of the final theatre, "I don't think you can put an exact date on it", LaFevers said, casting her estimate somewhere in the vicinity of July 2013. "The theatre's birthday is on the 15th," LaFevers said, conveying the significance of the possible finish date of the project "It will be 85."
The monetary impact of the completion of even one theatre will aid the organization, "Our main problems are being able to keep films," LaFevers said.
"Sometimes we don't get to run films as long as we want in order to appease distributors. We end up having to drop some to bring others in. An additional screen would allow us to bring more in and keep them for longer," she added.
"We have a good following of people," LaFevers said, highlighting the prime resource of the theatre. "About 15,000 people subscribe to [and] receive our newsletter by mail."
"We are glad to see additional development around our district," LaFevers said, who, alongside Clark Wiens, supports the Kendall-Whittier Main Street program, created in conjunction with Okla. Rep. Seneca Scott and many others.
Not just a local treasure, the Circle Cinema is also recognized on the National Register of Historical Places.
"I would consider us an icon, or an anchor," LaFevers said of the honor.
So many years of painstaking fundraising brings up the question of who paid for the renovations. LaFevers said TU and the George Kaiser Family Foundation have been generous. "TU was very supportive," she said.
As Circle Cinema Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, it is eligible to seek both public and private donations in addition to other means of financial support. "Most of the funds come from private donations and grants," LaFevers said.
"The larger amounts of money come from local foundations," she added.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation is one such organization, providing a large part of the funds needed to complete the project. Recent activity by the foundation also includes financial support of Tulsa's newest park and public space, the Guthrie Green.
Stanton Doyle, senior program officer at the Kaiser Foundation further specified, "We provide them a bridge loan based on pledges." Explaining the need for a loan despite the financial promises of local organizations, "Pledges may come in over a period of three years or so," Doyle said. "We provide them a low interest loan so that they can continue construction, rather than have to wait."
"Yes, they've been very supportive of our theatre," LaFevers said, giving credit where credit is due. "They've been huge benefactors."
Commenting further on the future of development in the area, "It's just natural, with good things happening that close to us," LaFevers said, making a possible connection between increased attention on the northern regions of the city.
"We do strive to provide quality programming," LaFevers said. "It's a positive thing. We are interested in old neighborhoods being brought back to life."
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