Today is a day movie lovers across Western New York have been anticipating. After being closed for several months to undergo extensive renovations, the historic North Park Theatre on Hertel Avenue will again light up the silver screen.
"We wanted, as much as possible, to preserve the beautiful ambience of a 1920s theater, but there were some modern conveniences we wanted to bring in," says North Park program director Ray Barker, talking about the massive changes that have taken place at the movie house over the past nine months.
The single-screen art house went dark last June after Dipson Theatres announced it would no longer operate the landmark cinema, which was in desperate need of investment and repair.
A group of private investors, led by local attorney and theater-owner Thomas Eoannou, have since sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into a complete restoration. It includes a new digital projector, a restored marquee, new seats and carpeting, and some hidden artistic jewels that were obscured for decades.
"We have a Raphael Beck five-panel muraled painting in the domed ceiling. That has been completely renovated and restored. They have also restored a beautiful Beck painting which is above the screen," Barker says.
Barker says the inaugural showing at the new and improved North Park is the film Girl on a Bicycle, a romantic comedy set in Paris.
"We wanted something that was fun and lighthearted and optimistic, in part because it's been a long winter and I think people are looking for a little escapism," Barker says.
Due to popular demand, the theater will also begin showing matinees Saturday through Thursday, something that was previously only done on weekends.
More restorations are still in the works, including the eventual re-installation of a hidden stained glass mural above the marquee. Barker, who has worked at the North Park for 20 years, says he hopes patrons will be as impressed with the work as he is.
"The other night I was in the auditorium looking around and marveling at the results of such wonderful work. The theater just looks beautiful and I think it's going to be around for decades and decades to come," Barker says.
Doors tonight open at 6 p.m. Showtimes are at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.