Silent Movie Capital
Chicago Tribune, April 21, 1929
The Embassy theater, at Fullerton and Crawford, has been sold by Harry Goldson to the Crawful Corporation, controlled by Edwin Silverman and Sidney Spiegel. Wolf & Love and Leo Spits were attorneys.
Chicago Tribune November 30, 1929
BY AL CHASE.
One of uptown’s best known theatrical properties, the Pantheon theater, on the west side of Sheridan road, just north of Wilson avenue, which has been dark for the last eighteen months, will come to life as a home of talkies. A lease was signed yesterday whereby Essaness Theaters corporation will take over this well known playhouse, for an 8½ year term at an annual rate of $60,000, according to Leo Raemer, vice president of the C. F. Noyes National Realty corporation, who negotiated the deal.
The leassees, it is stated, will spend $100,000 in rejuvenating the interior and altering acoustically so that talkies will be talkies and not merely rain barrel conversions. A $10,000 electric sign will tell passersby what’s within.
To Be One of Theater Chain.
“In all respects the new Pantheon will be refreshed from its front to screen.” the leasees states. There will be charming new decorations in foyer, lounge and auditorium; deep pile carpets and tasteful furniture; improved lighting fixtures and seats.”
Other theaters under Essaness management are the New Center, Embassy, Twentieth Century, Broadway-Strrand, Crawford, Gold, Biograph, Keystone, Little Knickerbocker, Lakeside, Michigan, Oak Park, Pershing, and West End.
The Pantheon, when it was erected about a decade ago, was the largest and most magnificent of its kind for many miles. It has about 2,000 seats. It was designed by Walter W. Ahlschlager. It has been closed for a year and a half, much to the mystification of uptown residents. The property is owned by the United Cigar Stores company. In addition to the cinema the building contains stores and offices.
July 21, 1934.
LEFT: Chicago Tribune, December 25, 1929
RIGHT: Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1931
Essaness theatres are using a chap called “Nervo,” meaning without nerves. The guy takes pratt-falls and flops on the main neighborhood corners. He plays dead, with the public sticking pins into him, punching and pinching him, without any notice from Nervo. He lures ’em gradually to the neighborhood Essaness house, where, according to the manager, “they rush forward to buy tickets.”
Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1930
BY AL CHASE.
One of the north side’s best known playhouses, the Chateau theater, at 3810 Broadway, between Sheridan and Grace street, was leased yesterday from Albert Fuchs, who erected it years ago, by the Lake Amusement Co., Inc., for a twenty year term. The lessee is controlled by the Essaness Theaters corporation, operators of sixteen cinemas throughout Chicago. Mark Levy & Brother were the only brokers in yesterday’s transaction.
The twenty year lease calls for a percentage of the gross receipts with a minimum guaranteed rental varying during the several year periods a percentage rental based on the gross box office receipts. The rental estimated is approximately $480,000 or an average of $24,000 per annum.
House to Be Rebuilt.
Contracts entailing a reported expenditure of more than $100,000 are now being let, it is stated, and it is expected to have a formal opening next fall. Artists, technicians and sound engineers will transform the Chateau into a pretentious talkie house. The entire auditorium is to be rebuilt from lobby to scree, with new decorations and seats, improved lighting and other alterations. An enormous vertical sign will be placed in front of the theater.
The Essaness Theaters corporation operate the following playhouses:
Biograph, Center, Devon, Keystone, Little, Madison Square, Oak Park, Pershing, Broadway, Crawford, Embassy, Lakeside, Logan, Michigan, Pantheon and West End.
Carlton E. Fox and Julius E. Beach were attorneys for Mr. Fuchs. Hall, Spitz & Rooks represented the lessees.
Chicago Tribune, February 12, 1970
Private services for Edwin Silverman, 72, whose career in the movie industry spanned 56 years, will be held Saturday in Rosehill cemetery, 5800 Ravenswood av.
Mr. Silverman, president of Essaness Theater corporation, a Chicago-based movie theater chain with offices at 54 W. Randolph st., died Tuesday in Weiss Memorial hospital. He had residences at 5490 South Shore dr., and in Palm Springs, Cal.
Begins as Poster Clerk
His career in the movie industry began when he was 16 years old and worked as a poster clerk for Warner Brothers and later became general sales manager.
In 1929, Mr. Silverman established the Essaness circuit, which at one time included 33 theaters in the Chicagoland area.
He was a founder of WSNS-TV, channel 44, which is scheduled to go on the air April 5.
Variety Club Member
He was active in the Variety club of Chicago for more than 25 years. Mr. Silverman also was a member of the Standard club.
He leaves two sons, Jack and Alan, both executives in the Essaness corporation, and a daughter, Susan.
Chicago Tribune, February 12, 1970
THE FIRST test of a television format that media prophets have been talking about for years will begin at 6 a.m. Sunday, April 5, when WSNS begins broadcasting on UHF channel 44.
The new station will be the nation’s first all-news television channel.
WSNS will by no means fulfill the prophesy of delivering the daily newspaper to your home via television, but it’s at least a baby step in that direction. The station will transmit Associated Press wire copy thruout its 18-hour broadcast day.
At first there will be no attempt to present the news in depth. The emphasis will be on what Yale Roe, the station’s 40-year old manager, calls “instant news”—a wrap-up of news highlights every ten minutes.
The news will appear on the screen in print. There will be no newscasters or announcers to read it. Across the bottom of the screen the station will broadcast continuous time and temperature reports.
“Our goal will be to give Chicagoans all the news they want, whenever they want it,” says Roe. “We are told that one million phone calls are made every week by people wanting to check the correct time or weather.”
In addition to the Associated Press highlighrs, the station will break for lists of school closings during blizzards and for stock market reports, sports scores, and, of course, news bulletins.
“Did you ever try to find what the Minnesota Vikings are doing on a Saturday afternoon?” says Roe. “The fact is that you usually have to phone a newspaper to get any but a handful of scores. Thousands of people do that every week-end. From now on, however, all a person has to do is tune to channel 44.”
The audio portion of the programming will consist almost entirely of music. “There’ll be practically no audio interruptions,” says Roe. “We think that many persons will turn on our station for news and weather first thing in the morning and leave it on thruout the day for the pleasure of listening to good music.”
Nor will there be interruptions for commercials. These will share space on the screen with the news, time, and weather reports. Like newspaper ads, they will be there to read or ignored at the viewer’s option. Sponsors are paying $200 to $400 an hour for them, tho a sponsor does not have to buy a full hour, Roe says. The rate structure, he says, should open television advertising to small business men who cannot afford most television sponsorship.
In time, Roe says, the format will be enlivened with on-the-spot news coverage and opinion. In July, as Roe now plans it, “responsible members of the community, tho not necessarily the normal opinion makers,” will be permitted to editorialize on the station.
I’ve met a lot of people at cocktail parties who are very intelligent, who have interesting things to say, so why not give them a voice?
In its original Federal Communications Commission application for a construction permit, the station management said it intended to present minority group broadcasting. Man-on-the-street editorializing will hopefully satisfy thaqt promise. It will at least be an example of grass roots broadcasting, for which many television critics, on and off the FCC, have expressed a need in recent years.
The new station is owned by two Chicago companies, Essaness Theaters corporation and Harriscope Broadcasting corporation. Roe, a Winnetkan and Northwestern university graduate, has been a senior vice president of Harriscope, which has TV stations in California, Montana, and Wyomin, and cable TV systems in Arizona and California. For fifteen years he was associated with ABC television network, most recently as director of daytime TV sales. He is the author of two books, “The Television Dilemma” and “Television Station Management.” He was a candidate for a Republican nomination for the 12th district congressional representative and a campaign aid to Sen. Charles Percy.
The station will telecast 2½ million watts from atop the Hancock center and the picture, in color, will be seen as far as 70 miles from Chicago, Roe says.
Altho no one expects channel 44 to give Laugh-In and Bonanza any trouble, the new station could pose some interesting problems for rival news broadcasters. It could reduce viewer dependence on the 10 p.m. newscasts and on radio newscasts thruout the day. Or it could whet the public appetite for more news. But for the fact that television speakers are so small and squeaky, it even steal some listeners from the FM radio channels.
Whether it will have all, some or any of these effects remains to be seen. There are no precedents for all-day all-news video combined with all-music audio. It will be fun to watch the precedents being set.
It will also be fun to see if rival petitioners for scarce television channels will stand for this use of the medium. WSN has an interesting idea—but is it television?
Chicago Tribune, July 26, 1972
The Go-Go Sox are on the move again. Chicago’s entry in the American League has decided that it wants to go into the television business, and to that end has decided not to renew its contract with WFLD (channel 32) which has been carrying the White Sox games.
Instead, the White Sox have signed a new three-year agreement with WSNS (channel 44). It calls for WSNS to broadcast the Sox games for three years and gives them a two-year option renewal. It also puts the White Sox in the TV production business.
Specifically, it provides the Sox with total control over the production of the games. WSNS will do no more than carry a minimum of 144 games each year tho a larger number may be telecast.
The White Sox will make all the arrangements for the coverage (supposedly they are talking to the Hughs Sports Network about providing the cameras and crews), and also have the option of selling advertising for the show if they so wish.
If they prefer not to sell the advertising time, WSNS will handle that chore. Otherwise, the White Sox will pay WSNS a lump sum and keep all the advertising revenues.
Meanwhile, WFLD, which obtained the rights to telecast the White Sox games in 1968 by making the team a million dollar offer that lured them away from WGN-TV, is left out in the cold, at least for the time being. When the Sox won that “Go-Go” tag during the 1950s glory days, no one suspected the nickname would prove so strangely prophetic.
Chicago Tribune, December 22, 1976
By Richard Dozer
JIM PIERSALL was announced Tuesday as the third member of the White Sox’s broadcasting team, to the astonishment of absolutely no one.
But at the same time, WMAQ’s Charlie Warner, who presided at the Press Conference, in the absence of Sox President Bill Veeck, did provide a token surprise.
A fourth member of the team was added. Warner, general manager of WMAQ, revealed that Mary Shane, a Milwaukee sports reporter on WRIT, will serve with Harry Caray, Lorn Brown, and Piersall for 20 games on the 1977 White Sox schedule.
THIS QUARTET also will serve on telecasts of White Sox games carried by WSNS-TV, channel 44, the joint announcement by Warner, Veeck, and Ed Morris, GM of WSNS, revealed.
Piersall, Shane, Brown and Caray were on hand for the announcement.
Veeck, speaking from his apartment by amplified telephone, told Piersall, I remember you as the only guy who couldn’t throw hard enough to dent my scoreboard.”
PIERSALL RECALLED the incident, too. It was 1960 when Piersall, then star center fielder for the Indians, was struck in the ear by an orange thrown from the stands.
I was fired up. It was the second game of a double-header and I had been thrown out of the first game in tyhe fifth inning. My 18-game hitting streak went down the drain, and I threw everything in sight out of the dugout…bats, garbage…anything I could get my hands on.
Then when they hit me with an orange in the second game, I threw a baseball at the scoreboard.
I never did play very well in this ballpark.
THE SOX ARE counting on his doing better as a broadcaster.
Piersall has experience. He worked occasionally with Caray last summer, and in 1972 he worked for Charlie Finley in group sales and as an announcer of Oakland games. Piersall also has managed in the minors, and recently worked with the Texas Rangers, holding clinics, and doing public relations for Brad Corbett’s pipe company.
EVEN BEFORE his Sox job was announced, Piersall had given Veeck some advice. It was he who called the Sox owner two weeks ago during the winter meetings, and adviced Veeck not to take Steve Foucauk as a throw-in on the proposed deal that had Ralph Garr and Rich Gossage going to the Rangers. Veeck called off the four-man deal on the word of Piersall.
The Sox instead dealt for Richie Zisk, giving up Gossage and Terry Forster. Piersall didn’t say whether he’d be doing anything more in an advisory capacity, nor did he admit steering Veeck from Faucauk. “As of now, I’m a broadcaster,” Piersall said.
Harry Caray, Nancy Faust & Terry Gregory
Chicago Tribune, November 9, 1995
Telemundo takes over Channel 44: Telemundo Group Inc. said it has agreed to buy a 74.5 percent interest in Chicago’s WSNS-TV (Channel 44) for about $44 million. Telemundo, a Hialeah, Fla.-based Spanish-language TV network, said Essaness Theaters Corp. will continue to hold a 25.5 percent interest in the station, which is Telemundo’s largest affiliate. Telemundo said the acquisition will give it majority-owned TV stations in the seven largest Hispanic markets in the United States.1
Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1984
By Gene Siskel-
Last week’s issue of Barron’s, an influential financial trade paper, contained a cover story, “A Bearish Scenario for Hollywood.” The article was a lengthy interview with stock analyst Richard Simon, who proceeded to knock one film company after another as a bad investment;
Simon scored a telling point when he calculated that despite what we may have read about Hollywood’s setting box-office records, the hard numbers on movie attendance are these:
Admissions in the U.S. hit 1 billion in 1974. It moved up to almost 1.2 billion in ’82, and stayed at 1.2 billion in ’83.
So between ’73 and ’83 you had total admissions grow by less than 20 percent over 10 years, which is [only] a 1.8 percent compound annual growth rate.
Simon’s bottom line:
Its a very, very moderately growing business.
While the number of people going to the movies may be relatively static, Chicago-area theater owners are fighting like crazy to grab their attention and patronage. In fact, some of the most enterprising work in movie theater exhibition is taking place here.
Of course, the major ingredient In deciding which theater to attend is the movie itself, not the theater- Clint Eastwood draws more crowds than comfortable rocking-chair seats. But all copies of the same film being equal a well-run theater can draw an audience for miles w;ie a nearby theater is ignored.
What follows is a survey of the four major movie theater companies in the Chicago area and what each is doing to win business. Two chains are national; two are local. One literally is looking to the skies for its future; another is looking to inner-city neighborhoods. One is remodeling almost its entire stock of theaters; another is contemplatIng a revolutionary sound and projection system that could shake up the movie level.
A few themes emerge. These theater owners have examined every aspect of the moviegoing experience. They are experimenting with from music videos to brass trim on the candy counter. And all agree that to keep their audience in the face of expanding home video entertainment there must be a return to the more glamorous days of moviegoing- when going out to the movies truly was an event.
Let’s meet the folks who run the four chains that pull in most of the movie admissions in the area. We meet them in alphabetical order to find out what s new.
Essaness Theaters Corp.
Major Theaters: Woods, Chestnut Station, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, Plaza, Bremen, Diana, Century, Morton Grove, Golf Glen, Forest Park and Town ‘N Country.
Dating from 1929, Essaness Theaters Corp. has blossomed into a genuine entertainment empire run by the children of the late Edwin Silverman, who with the late Sidney Spiegel, was one of the company’s two founding “S”-surnamed partners, hence the phonetic name.
Alan Silverman, 41, is the high-powered president of Essaness, the one most responsible for the company’s high-tech approach to the changing world of movie exhibition. If the image of a movie theater owner is a crude old man with a cigar and baggy pants, Silverman blows that image to bits. Natty, obviously bright, he doesn’t talk for long without using such phrases as “elastic demand curve’ and “market share.”
Of all of the film exhibitors in Chicago Silverman would appear to be aiming the highest. His goal is to make Essaness a national force in film/video exhibition with an influence far beyond its 86 screens in Illinois Indiana and Wisconsin, half of which are in the Chicago area.
I think what you’ll see in the future of film exhibitions a further concentration that would have as many as 10 or 12 theaters.
It pays for exhibitors to have a lot of theaters on the same site because that lowers the average cost of any one theater.
And in any business, the winners are the low-cost producers.
Now if you had an elastic demand curve for the movies, then you could indiscriminately raise the price of your tickets and make a profit that way. But that kind of demand doesn’t exist (confirming the statistic in Barron’s about the static number of movie admissions each year), so the only way you can maximize your profit is to lower your costs. I have to believe that it would be very hard not to lose market share if you raised the ticket price above $5.
So we’re going to have to offer the moviegoers a experience without raising prices. That’s why I believe changes in the technology of distributing and presenting movies will drive the marketplace.
That means, according to Silverman, that today s theater owner must look to the technology of satellite transmission of movies, to high-definition television and to the quickly changing video industry for ways of reducing costs and providing fresh product.
Silverman a day when movies will be distributed to theaters not by shipping thousands of film cans around the country. but through satellite transmissions. To that end Essaness is participating in Campus Network, a partnership that beams video material, mostly concerts and comedy shows, to video theaters in college towns.
In the Chicago area Essaness is involved in an even more progressive experiment at its west suburban Forest Park Theater, where one screen on weekends is turned over to long-form (20 minutes or so) music videos that have not played on free TV. This weekend, in a joint effort with Columbia Pictures and Picture Music International, a new long-form David Bowie music video was presented along with Columbia’s “Body Double” and the audience was polled to determine to what degree the chance to see the Bowie video influenced their decision to see the featured attraction. If music video sells tickets, it could take the place of yesterday’s cartoon or short subject.
“Because of experiments like this,” Silverman predicted “there is going to be a plethora of product available to the average moviegoer. A lot of the new programming in will be coming from the music industry as opposed to studios. An example is Prince and ‘Purple Rain’ and the new Talking Heads movie.”
What will all this do to the average neighborhood movie house? Silverman answers with an invitation to his Forest Park Theater to see those music videos as well as another experiment in high-definition television, co-financed by General Electric Co. and Matsushita of Japan. Those companies have been testing the projection of video images onto a movie screen, which has been a fuzzy problem.
“Our intent eventually is to place this equipment in theaters like our Chestnut Station complex so that someday anything that now exists on videotape you will be able to see in a theater.”
Until that day, Silverman said, the state of the art of movie exhibition can be found with the following equipment, much of which is in place in many of his theaters:
My ideal theater has 70-millimeter cameras; CP200 6-track Dolby Sound sound or, even better, the THX crossover sound system developed by Lucasfllm Ltd. That’s state of the art now. And you’ll find it at our Chestnut Station theaters. Go see a good movie there. Go see ‘Amadeus’ there, and you see the best that Essaness has to offer.
At the concession counter, Silverman said, he expects a movement toward such high-cost specialty items as fancy Italian ice creams. “We’re trying to develop a cup for that right now.”
Also, with the movie-marketing industry making more impact on the movie theater, Silverman said that we can look forward to more non-edible items being sold in his theaters, including T-shirts and buttons. If only Prince could make ice cream.
Silverman’s enterprise is something to behold, inasmuch as he and his brother, Jack, and his sister, Susan, could chose to sit on their considerable family fortune and do nothing. What motivates him to try to do more?
“I suppose what’s exciting,” he said, “is the challenge of trying to be at the forefront of a changing industry.”
General Cinemna Corp.
Major theaters: Ford City, Yorktown, Daerbrook, Meadowdale, Lakehurst, Belvidere Mall, Randhurst, Lincoln Mall, Harlem-Centnal, Tradwinds.
This publicly owned New York Stock Exchange company, began in the 1940s as a drive-in, now operates 1,100 movie theaters nationwide more than any other company. But to date, bigness and profitability have been GCC’s only assets: Its bare-bones movie houses typically leave much to be desired in the glamor department, earning the company a bargain-basement reputation for film exhibition.
A typical General Cinema theater is much like the Ford City complex, offering a barren auditorium with a shadow box screen lacking drapes or black masking. Typically, the light level inside GCC theaters is much too high, resulting in a soft image on screen.
GCC board chairman Richard Smith told me years ago that the purpose of leaving on the ceiling lights at a modest level during the movie was to make moviegoing “a more friendly, less threatening experience.”
But here’s some news for you Mr Smith: Most of us go to the movies to see the movie and not the people sitting around us!
GCC blandness, however, is about to become a thing of the past, according to Leonard Miays, midwest regional vice preIdent of operations. Mays, 44, supervises 80 theater complexes containing 250 screens in six states, including 31 screens in this area.
We are now in Stage 3 of our systemwide plan to upgrade our theaters. In association with the Cambridge Seven Associates design firm (of Massachusetts) we are planning to remodel a full 80 percent of our theaters in the next three years.
New top-of-the-line GCC theaters will feature more comfortable seats, fancier wallcoverings, a more luxurious refreshment area, a curtain in front of the screen, recessed Dolby speakers and subdued, pinpoint “Tivoll” lighting in the aisles and on the
Using a recently closed twin theater in Boston as a laboratory, GCC is testing 96 of seats and a variety of wall coverings and lighting
At a Dallas five-screen test facility, GCC is operating three classes of theaters—A, B and C. They differ in degree of luxury and will be placed in corresponding economic environments, allowing for market conditions such as the luxury level of surrounding theaters. For example, the Deerbrook Cinema (Deerfield) most likely will be remodeled into a new GCC “A” theater, whereas the budget-priced Tradewinds (Hanover Park) will be refitted as a “C” house.
Our problem has been that we were building theaters in 19805 the same way we did in the 1960s,” Maya said. “We were trying to build fast then, and It worked for the company. But today people want the whole moviegoing experience meaning the best comfort and sound. And with all of the new entertainment available in the home, if we ever hope to get people out of their houses if we expect them or a babysitter and for tickets, we had better give them the best.
So what you’ll see from General Cinema is a whole new look-everything from a new corporate logo, to new pylon signs in the shopping center, to new exteriors of the theaters, to the brass trim or; a walnut candy counter, to sequential colored lights on the screen itself during intermission.
GCC will continue to build theaters Mays said at the rate of 140 screens for each of ihe next two years. Look for a new “A” level GCC sixplex in southwest suburban Woodrldge in late 1985.
“Our theaters will feature more Dolby sound,” Mays said. “Today’s young moviegoers and in. deed the movies themselves are much more sound-oriented. Young people have their own stereos, and movies such as ‘Flashdance’ and ‘Footloose’ depend upon their sound appeal. We are not building any more theaters without Dolby sound, and we have Lucasfflm’s new THX sound at our Yorktown Cinema here. You should hear it; it s dynamite.
“And don’t worry,” Mays added with a smile, “the theaters will be quite dark— the way they should be. Also we re going to try to outfit our theaters with the biggest screen possible and build new theaters with a wider configuration so you don’t get that tunnel effect that results in a poor image. Our future. I promise you, will he bright. We are going to he offerings a complete entertainment experience.”
Mays said that be expects GCC admission prices to remain at a top of $4.50 in the foreseeable future. Refreshment counters will he upgraded, but the staples will remain the same—soft drinks and popcorn, the highest profit items.
M&R Amusement Co.
Major theaters: Fine Arts, Old Orchard, Norridge, Portage, Evanston, Evergreen, Niles Square, Hillside Square, Hillside Twin, Bel Air drive-in, Twin drive-in, Double drive-in, Y&W drive-in and Hyde Park.
If Essaness president Alan Silverman has his head in the clouds looking for satellite transmissions, M&R managing partner Richard Rosenfield has his equally bright head searching Chicago’s neighborhoods for special situations.
Like a contrarian in the stock market, Rosenfield’s cozy, very profitable, family-operated company is growing by expanding to Chicago locations its competitors long have abandoned.
In 1980 M&R refurbished the dying Portage Theater on the Northwest Side, investing in the city when other exhibitors were building more shopping center theaters in the suburbs. In 1982 M&R began turning two vacant, downtown legitimate theaters into the Fine Arts complex of four classy art houses. Bringing sophisticated films to South Michigan Avenue was outrageously bold, flying in the face of one shuttered Loop movie house after another. Earlier this month, in another bold move, M&R announced the reopening for Christmas of the Hyde Park Theater, which will be the first major movie house to open on the South Side in years.
The financial secret to these deals is that M&R “buys” its theaters at fire-sale prices, taking on long, cheap leases with relatively little capitol investment. Thus with their low-cost, low-risk strategy Rosenfield and his partners can afford to be bullish on the movie business.
Rosenfield said with typical enthusiasm:
People have been predicting the demise of the motion picture business since
1945, since the advent of TV,” “But one way or another we fill a need for people, a need that will not die. This is the biggest year in absolute dollars for the picture industry; so we must be doing something right.
So outside Influences notwithstanding, I don’t think the motion picture business if properly handled, can be replaced b anything else. I recently rented a videotape of ‘Romancing the Stone’ for my 13-year-old daughter. Now this is the No. 1 rental tape in the country (actually No. 10). But I defy you to look at that film on TV and enjoy it as much as you do in a movie theater. It comes across as choppy, and you are always being interrupted while watching it. So I think what is happening with cassettes actually may have helped the motion picture business. We can look good by comparison.
But what we must do is give the people what they can’t get at home—a large screen, comfortable seats. At M&R we try to make moviegoing a nicer experience than watching a film at home. We have rocking-chair seats in most of complexes. At many of our top-grossing theaters (including Old Orchard and Norridge), we have parking lot attendants. We stagger our intermissions at our multiscreen theaters so that we have time to send our boys down through the aisles to do a marginal cleanup. We try to provide first-class sound.
We’re proud of all that, but-we have to do it. Obviously, anyone who stands still in this business is going backwards. And that applies to our idea of expansion as well. We’ve had ample opportunities to expand our theater business outside of Chicago. Recently we looked at the Trolley Theaters in Salt Lake City (later taken over by another Chicago firm, Plitt Theaters).
But rather than expand outside of the city, we’d rather expand in our own city. We think expanding in the suburbs just for the sake of expanding is silly. Our philosophy is not to build new theaters farther and farther out into the suburbs, but to go back into city and play to the enormous number of movie fans that still exist but have been ignored lately.
We’ve just taken on the Hyde Park Theater, and we hope to make it the quintessential integrated movie theater in the quintessential integrated neighborhood in the city. Now there aren’t a lot of situations like that around ini the city, but if the Hyde Park is successful we’ll be looking for more.
I think we run the best theaters in town.
Rosenfield said, and he has a legitimate claim to that honor. In fact, the only complaints one hears about M&R theaters is that some are too successful; so litter in the aisles can be a problem.
They are the kind of theaters you would be happy to let your own children attend. And I hope that s true of all of our enterprises—our videogame rooms, our roller rinks, our bowling alleys, even our car washes.
M&R traces its roots to 1941, to the still-operating Howard Bowl on the North Side. The partners, brothers-in- law Raymond Marks and Martin Rosenfield, expanded into the movie business in the 1960s with the Sunset and Double drive-ins. The company s first “hardtop” theater, built in 1960, was the immediately successful Old Orchard.
The chain numbers “about 42 screens,” according to Rosenfield, and is expanding slowly but steadily through the acquisition of independent theaters, much as Essaness’ Silverman is doing and has predicted will remain an industry trend. M&R took over operation of the two independently owned Evanston theaters Friday.
Four men now run M&R-surviving partner Martin Rosenfield, his son Richard and two of the Marks’ sons, Louis and Jerrold.
“We don’t have titles,” Richard Rosenfield said. “We try to run it together as a family.”
In the 1940’s the city had 232 movie houses; today it has a few dozen. The suburban total of 74 represents theaters, not number of screens. a much higher number.
Major theaters: Chicago, United Artists, Water Tower, Esquire, Carnegie, Biograph, Nortown, Gateway, Will Rogers, Lake Shore, Mercury, River Oaks, Fox Valley, West Plaia, Round Lake, Oakbrook, Orland Square, Bolingbrook, Hillcrest, Woodfield, Stratford Square, Hawthorn, Marquette and Spring Hill.
Henry Plitt, the 65-year-old chair- man of the board of Pltt Theaters, the nation s fourth largest movie chain with 608 screens, said:
What’s new? I’ll tell you what’s new.
It’s incumbent upon exhibitors as well as producers to get out of the rut this business has been in for years. There hasn’t been a new idea on how to present movies since Cinemascope and 3-D.
But right now our company is working on a whole new method of projection and sound. We will not be able to convert all of our existing theaters to accommodate it but our future construction of 6, 8 and 10-screen complexes should include one or two screens with this process. We hope to become part owners of this process which has a patent, and take it all over the world. I can’t tell you much more about It at this time, except that it s really going to put the viewer much more into the picture than happens right now.. Nothing like 3-D glasses are involved.
It sounded as if Plitt was talking about some kind of curved screen process.
Yes, that s involved, but I can t go beyond that right now. We’ll have a more formal announcement1 I hope, by the end of the year.
Would he identify his partners in the project.
No. If I tell you their names you ll know It all.
All that we could learn additionally from other sources is that the process involves film-and not video tape.
Also on the “what s new?” beat, Plitt confirmed a Tribune report this summer that his company will build a four-screen theater in a basement space at the new multi-use complex being developed at 900 N. Michigan Av.
The reason for Plitt building more and more theaters on the Near North Side is to maintain his company s domination of that lucrative market place. Plitt’s holdings in the area include. seven Water Tower screens as well as the Esquire and Carnegie theaters.
“If we are dominant in an area and we want to maintain that position of dominance we will frequently build (additional theaters),” Plitt said.
Outside of the city itself, Plitt’s building program continues apace on a national scale. “We have to go where the people go. If they move to the suburbs, so do we. Right now, though, we re expanding more in the Sun Belt than in the Chicago area where the population is more stable.”
Like the other exhibitors polled in this survey, Plitt says he does not intend to raise his top admission price beyond $5 in the near future. “I don’t know where prices will go,” he said, “but we re not anxious to raise them.” And nothing revolutionary is being planned by his company at the refreshment counter either.
Taking over with other investors the ABC Great-States theaters, which included Chicago’s venerable Balaban & Katz chain Plitt has steadily expanded his operation over the last decade by acquiring one movie chain after another.
Plitt agrees with General Cinema’s Mays and M&R’s Rosenfield that plush theaters are the best way to attract today’s movie customers. That’s always been our policy,” Plitt said. “You should see our theaters at Century City here in Los Angeles. They’re scrumptious. We have better sound equipment than even that THX system of Lucasfilm.”
So why aren’t the Plitt Water Tower Theaters in Chicago equally as scrumptious? And will the new ones at 900 N. Michigan be scrumptious?
“It’s always simply a question of space and money,” Plitt said. “We have 40,000 square feet at Century City to accommodate 2,300 seats. Without that kind of space, which permits that number of seats, it does pot make economic sense to build that expensively.”
Asked to react to that Barron s article that was so downbeat on movie stocks, Plitt said that he is bullish and not bearish on the movie theater business. “We just finished the greatest summer we ve ever had,” he said. “Our business is up about 14 per cent over last year, and last year was a good year, too.”
1 NBC purchased Telemundo in 2002, and one year later, NBC bought out 25.5% Essaness’ stake.