Hollywood Theater's comeback continues

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Friends of the Hollywood Theater are making long-term plans to buy the Dormont landmark now that they've been granted official status as a charitable organization.

The board will vote next week on a sponsorship program that, in exchange for $250, $500 or $1,000, would provide a certain number of tickets plus recognition on the marquee, screen and in the lobby as backing, say, "Gone With the Wind."

Still to come will be a more modestly priced membership program giving patrons perks such as some free tickets, popcorn and admission discounts.

The theater, nearly 80 years old, is owned by Hollywood Partners LLC, which leases it to The Bradley Center. It, in turn, sublets it to the Friends of the Hollywood Theater, which reopened the Potomac Avenue venue in May and has programmed an eclectic mix of indies, horror, classics, Pittsburgh-flavored and returning favorites.

In February it will screen "Certified Copy" and "Take Shelter" along with "Groundhog Day," "In the Heat of the Night," "Royal Wedding," "Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975" and, for one day, "Hi-De-Ho" with Cab Calloway.

The Bradley Center, which runs a residential treatment center for children ages 6 to 18 who have experienced traumatic home lives, took a 10-year lease on the theater that began in fall 2006. It renovated the rundown facility and provided staffers until its Mt. Lebanon facility closed, making for a thornier commute from its Robinson campus.

After fits and starts, the Friends of the Hollywood Theater was formed to operate the theater as an independent, nonprofit theater and community center.

"The agreement we have with the Bradley Center is we sublet from them, plus a portion of the money we give them goes into an escrow account toward purchase of the building," John Maggio, executive director of the organization, said Thursday. In a perfect world, when the lease expires, the Dormont group would have a handsome start toward the purchase price.

Allegheny County's assessment site, lists the land and building as valued at $97,400 in 2001 and the new figure and purchase price are certain to be far higher.

In the meantime, the Hollywood will launch its capital campaign this spring as the closed Denis Theatre in Mt. Lebanon continues its fundraising.

"I think we could complement each other. I'm excited about the Denis reopening. The more single screen theaters you have, it's better for the region," Mr. Maggio said.

"I'm ready to do a little YouTube thing and drive by Bloomfield and Brookline and the one on West Liberty [Avenue] and point and say, 'That used to be a theater, that used to be a theater,' and then come to the Hollywood and say, 'This is still a theater.' "

The Hollywood needs to convert to digital projection but has been remodeled.

"You walk into our theater for the first time, you're blown away just by how beautiful it is. Brand new stadium seating with all kind of leg room because they took it from 700 seats to 286 seats. Couches in the back, state-of-the-art sound system, one of the largest screens around, a true balcony, which very few theaters have anymore."

Dormont's Scott Jackson, president of the Friends board, said the organization waited more than a year for the 501(c)3 status to come through. "A Duquesne University class really helped us quite a bit in getting it put together. It's great, we're going to go full throttle as far as fundraising goes."

The theater will be used for a couple of concerts and the operators are completing paperwork for the United Way's Day of Giving and hope to pursue grants, too.

"We're hearing nothing but positives from people who really see the advantage of having a neighborhood theater like that and what it does for the business district it's in, as far as bringing people into the Potomac Avenue district. They're just so happy that we're there within walking distance and showing interesting movies, movies they might not see anywhere, older movies that they would love to see on the big screen again."

Patrons watching "White Christmas" applauded after a musical number, and "Gone With the Wind" drew an equally appreciative crowd.

In addition to the sponsorship and membership plans, the group is accepting tax-deductible contributions through Friends of the Hollywood Theater, Box 7902, Pittsburgh 15216. They can be designated for the capital campaign or general operations.

For more information and a schedule for the theater, which operates Wednesdays through Sundays, see www.thehollywooddormont.org .

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies .


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