By Hillary Maglin
Point Park News Service
When The Hollywood Theater on Dormont’s Potomac Avenue opened in 1933, it was expected to be a local entertainment hotspot for the remainder of its existence. However, lack of funds forced the independent theater to close its doors to the public in 1998. After reopening and closing several more times over the next decade, 2011 marked the start of a new era for the Hollywood Theater.
“The Hollywood is now run by a charitable nonprofit organization, and because of that, we are now able to seek grants and donations,” new managing director Chad Hunter said. The organization, Friends of the Hollywood Theater, and the theater’s board of directors have recently put together a new team of managers and assistants to help keep the theater open permanently.
Additionally, the nearly 300-seat theater is currently undergoing a variety of efforts to improve funds and modernism that it hopes will lure folks away from traditional multiplex theaters.
“The new team will be looking at all facets of current operations to see what can be improved” Hunter said, “including fundraising, marketing, programming, concessions and box office, and much more.” The team is also steadily increasing the amount of rentals and special events the theater will host, and is planning to show a larger number of films that Pittsburgh citizens want to see, but are not being shown elsewhere.
Despite the efforts and reorganization, including comfortable new seats and a balcony, Hunter said the Hollywood has a long fight ahead, partially because theaters are not as popular as they once were. Hunter expressed a few specific reasons why he thinks theater-going has declined in recent years and may continue to do so: People now have access to home video technology like Netflix and other free or cheap internet film streaming. “I think the quality of big studio pictures has declined, while prices have gone up” he said.
To compete with new easy-access means of movie viewing, the Hollywood Theater plans on revamping its physical appearance as well. The board of directors would ideally like to increase the size of the stage to allow for more live performances and music events, and an upgraded sound system is in the works.
In addition to improving the sight and sound quality for movie-goers, the theater is fundraising to make the shift into the digital age.
“We have to make the transition to full digital projection,” Hunter said.
The film industry is quickly shying away from the original 35mm film projection and is now using Digital Cinema Package, or DCP, so theaters around the world must make the switch in order to stay in business. The Hollywood Theater’s particular changeover could cost up to $100,000.
“We’re in the process of researching out technical needs, getting quotes and planning our fundraising strategy,” Hunter said. “Our ultimate goal is to purchase the building.”
Hunter believes that many Pittsburgh citizens have a soft spot in their hearts for the theater because of the memories they made there when they were young. This rings true for 20-year-old Dormont resident Valerie Macher.
“I love the theater because they play older films most people will never have the chance to see on a large screen and with an audience,” Macher said. “There’s something about seeing films like Casablanca in a real theater that you just don’t get watching from your laptop.”
Unlike many other intimate community theaters that have been destroyed or reopened as small stores and businesses, the Hollywood Theater still stands today and offers several movies and shows from a multitude of genres to entertainment seekers all over the city.
“We are…not a corporate multiplex, we’re a community non-profit theater that needs your support,” Hunter said, “If you don’t want to see small cinemas die off, please support your local independent cinema, including the Hollywood!”