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Baxter Springs theater nominated to National Register November 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Theaters, Towns.
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The Ritz Theater, a former movie house on Route 66 in Baxter Springs, Kansas, has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, according to a news release from the Kansas Historical Society.

The building is at 1145 N. Military Ave. (aka Route 66). The theater’s inclusion is all but assured, because the National Register rarely rejects a nomination from a state agency.

The nomination summary:

The Ritz Theatre opened in 1926 in a converted two-story commercial building along Route 66 in downtown Baxter Springs. The building had previously housed John M. Cooper’s Dry Goods and Clothing Store, which opened in the 1880s, and the upper floor had served as a gathering space for various social organizations. Under the guidance of Joplin architect T.E. Martinie, the building was converted to a theater in 1926 and officially opened on April 30, showing The Ancient Highway, distributed by Paramount Pictures. A packed house heard music from Mrs. Roy Brooks, an organist at the Victory Theatre in Rogers, Arkansas. The popularity of drive-in theaters throughout the tri-state area likely contributed to the closing of the theater in the mid-1950s. The building then functioned as the Blue Castle Restaurant from 1957 to 1980. At the time of nomination, the building is being renovated to reflect its former use as a theater.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Ritz held 488 seats with one screen.

According to the nomination papers, Ronald and Judy Puckett bought the building in 2007 with the intention of restoring it as a theater. A number of photos by the Kansas Historical Society shows the work that’s been done on the building in recent years.

Quentin Tarantino backs out of Rialto deal November 2, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Movies, Preservation, Theaters.
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Oscar-winning movie director Quentin Tarantino recently withdrew an offer to buy the closed Rialto Theatre in South Pasadena, California, reported the South Pasadena Review.

According to South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce President Scott Feldmann, Tarantino agreed to a contract for a short period of time, before pulling back on his offer prior to closing the deal. However, Feldmann said he’s hopeful a second bidder will finalize a deal to purchase the Rialto.

Mark Friedman, Tarantino’s business manager, reportedly told Feldmann that Quentin became heavily involved in a huge filmmaking project in Europe shortly after putting in an offer to buy the theater, and could not devote the time and resources necessary to carrying out the purchase of the theatre.

Feldmann said Tarantino’s plans for the Rialto had included re-opening the movie house to screen classic films in a 35mm format, while focusing attention to completely restoring the theater, once known for its Vaudeville shows in the 1920s.

Tarantino — famed for his Academy Award-winning films “Pulp Fiction,” “Django Unchained” and “Inglourious Basterds” — is set to begin production on a new western film in January.

Feldmann told the newspaper he was “bummed” Tarantino nixed the deal, but remained optimistic a buyer would be found and the theater reopened.

Tarantino also owns a movie house in the Los Angeles region — the New Beverly Cinema, where it shows double features of old films.

The Rialto Theatre, at 1023 Fair Oaks Ave., is part of the original 1926 alignment of Route 66. Built in 1925, the theater is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The theater will need a lot of work. Its vertical neon sign worked itself loose two years ago to the point where city officials thought it would become a safety hazard. The theater was put up for sale in June.

(Hat tip: Chris Willman; image of the Rialto Theatre by Scott Lowe via Flickr)

Route 66 Theater may be haunted October 31, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Ghosts and Mysteries, Theaters.
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Art deco on the Mother Road

If we are to believe a paranormal team sent to investigate, the historic Route 66 Movie Theater in downtown Webb City, Missouri, is haunted by a spirit named Zach.

Here’s the story posted on KOAM-TV:


The team that did the investigation was Four States Paranormal, which does work in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

I tried once to narrow down the five most haunted places on Route 66, which you can read here. However, since the list was made, the Spook Light near Quapaw, Oklahoma, has been nearly completely debunked by a prominent author as a paranormal phenomenon and exists as a natural one instead — namely, the bouncing light is caused by car headlights from a distant Route 66.

Another thread about ghost stories on the Mother Road can be read here. The Legends of America site also keeps a ghost listing here.

Not to besmirch the paranormal group’s motivations, but I remain highly skeptical of such ghost stories or attempts to communicate or detect with them — presuming these ghosts exist at all.

The theater, formerly the Newland Hotel, opened in 1945. It closed for a while, then reopened in 2005 when Scott and Nancy Hutson bought the property. It shows first-run films.

(Image of the Route 66 Movie Theater in Webb City by jawsawthat via Flickr)

A tour of the Tower Theatre October 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, Preservation, Theaters.
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A few days ago, The Oklahoman newspaper provided a tour for 30 subscribers to the historic but long-closed Tower Theatre along Route 66’s Northwest 23rd Street alignment in Oklahoma City.

As you will see, the tour contained a few former employees or patrons of the Tower.

The tour also included a Q&A with the developers David Wanzer, Ben Sellers and Jonathan Dodson, who plan on preserving the theater space in the building. The rest of the complex will be opened for business space.

“We want the theater to be something the community can enjoy,” Wanzer said.

It will take time, however, to renovate the space. For that reason, the developers didn’t mention a reopening date.

According to the Cinema Treasures website, the Tower Theatre opened in 1937, with a seating capacity of about 1,500. It closed in 1989.

(Image of the Tower Theatre in 2006 by Jason B. via Flickr)

Fox Theatre light returns to downtown Springfield September 20, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Museums, Signs, Theaters.
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A replica of the Fox Theatre’s neon sign in downtown Springfield, Missouri, was installed and lighted Thursday night, reported KLOR-TV.

The relighting was part of History Museum on the Square‘s fall fundraiser. The Fox Theatre is located at 157 Park Central Square.

More from the report:

The Fox Theatre’s iconic sign was lit at 9 p.m., with Hollywood spotlights, a live band and cheering onlookers below.

“It’s just another step in what is going to be a pretty long process, but an absolutely amazing process for the downtown and the citizens of Springfield and Greene County,” Executive Director of the History Museum John Sellars said. […]

“This sign shined on route 66 for decades. Now we’ve brought back after 30 years and we’re so happy about that,” Sellars said. “We’re so happy about all the activities we got going on at the Fox.”

The History Museum, which is undergoing a large renovation, recently acquired the Fox. Sellars said there’s much more to come for Springfieldians, and visitors alike, to enjoy.

According to CinemaTreasures.org, the Fox opened as the Electric Theatre in 1916 — a full decade before Route 66’s existence — and was renamed the Fox after it was renovated after a fire. The theater closed in 1982, although other tenants continued to use the building, including a church.

The Fox was built by M.E. Gillioz, who also built the historic Gillioz Theatre in downtown Springfield, also on Route 66.

(Image of the sign relighting via History on the Square)

Johnny Rockets to open four types of Route 66-themed restaurants September 16, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Restaurants, Theaters.
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The Johnny Rockets restaurant chain plans to open four types of Route 66-themed prototype restaurants — including drive-ins, food trucks and drive-in theaters —  as soon as this year, according to a news release Monday from the company.

The restaurant stated:

Established in 1926 as one of America’s original highways, Route 66 became the major path for those who migrated west, and it supported the economies of the communities through which the road passed. No company is better suited to resurrect the nostalgic brand than Johnny Rockets, which was founded on Classic Americana and opened its first location down the road from the culminating point of Route 66 in Santa Monica.

“Johnny Rockets launched exactly one year after Route 66 was officially removed from the highway system in 1985,” explains James Walker, chief development officer of Johnny Rockets.  “We feel privileged to have the opportunity to re-introduce the Route 66 brand to the new car culture generation through our already cravable food in what we are sure will be a cravable environment.”

The Johnny Rockets Route 66 concept will take the form of four distinct prototypes: drive-thru, drive-in, food truck and pop-up.  Through enhanced operational efficiencies and technology, the Route 66 concept allows guests to enjoy Johnny Rockets’ made-to-order burgers and hand-spun shakes while they are on the road or being entertained at the classic American drive-in.  Johnny Rockets anticipates some of the first prototypes to debut as early as Q4 2014. […]

Drive-Ins LLC, a company that collectively has 135 years of experience in the motion picture exhibition, production and distribution industry, is spurring a resurgence in the American drive-in theatre.  At one time, there were an estimated 6,000 active drive-in theatres across the country, with the number now dwindled to 350. USA Drive-Ins LLC, however, announces plans to open 200 new drive-in locations including Johnny Rockets Route 66 as the food and beverage option for attending guests. These locations will present family-friendly films and embody a nostalgic, all-American experience.

Also in cooperation with Drive-Ins LLC, Johnny Rockets will configure a pop-up theatre prototype with a combined mobile restaurant that allows owners to create a dinner and movie combination in a myriad of venues, throughout the country. As with existing Johnny Rockets restaurants, this combination of food, families and fun was created for franchise partners interested in providing an entertaining and satisfying dining experience. For current Johnny Rockets restaurant owners, Route 66 food trucks now provide the capability to increase visibility and sales. The Route 66 food truck can be utilized for catering and community events or added to a market’s existing food truck line up.

Nation’s Restaurant News also has a few more details about this four-pronged initiative. Franchise info — including discounts for entrepreneurs who are veterans — is here.

This entire plan sounds incredibly ambitious. Then again, the number of drive-in theaters has declined to a point to where perhaps Johnny Rockets sees an opportunity in select areas — especially in suburbs that never had a drive-in.

And I suspect the drive-in and drive-through restaurant ideas take aim at Sonic, which built its business on largely the same model.

As for the food trucks, Johnny Rockets probably is betting that people — especially children — will more often order food from a truck with a familiar name.

In case you’re wondering, Johnny Rockets has locations in only the Route 66 towns of Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles.

(Images courtesy of Johnny Rockets)

A look at downtown Los Angeles August 12, 2014

Posted by Ron Warnick in Businesses, History, Preservation, Theaters, Towns.
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With the help of a quad-copter, filmmaker Ian Wood produced this video about the landmarks of downtown Los Angeles, which was the western end of Route 66 until the highway was extended to Santa Monica.

Downtown Los Angeles from Ian Wood on Vimeo.

Wood’s description of the video:

Above the grit and noise of the street, downtown Los Angeles quietly provides some of the most amazing visual detail in its buildings and public art works. This is a selection of those buildings and public arts filmed across some 50 different locations in the immediate downtown area and the arts district. There are many many more locations that are not included and are equally if not more impressive.

Some of the buildings are in disrepair, some have been restored to their full glory while others have been transformed into artworks. In all of them, there is character, color and detail that makes the area a never-ending source of intrigue.

Wood also provided a very helpful map of many of the buildings he filmed here.

(Hat tip to Scott Piotrowski; image of the Palace Theatre in downtown Los Angeles by David Gallagher via Flickr)

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