Hundreds contribute to keep historic Montavilla movie house alive

Take a look, and see why so many people have chipped in to help the Academy Theater convert from film to digital projection – and why it’s not too late for you to contribute …

More than 100 people attend the Academy Theater gala, raising funds to help install new digital media projectors.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
They weren’t showing movies on this special Sunday evening, at the historic Academy Theater in the Montavilla neighborhood of outer East Portland. On October 27, both members of the neighborhood and of the business community gathered for a fund-raiser for the restored movie house.

The theater that originally opened in 1948 fell into disrepair, and eventually the sloped floor was ripped out and the space was turned into a printing plant for the Penny Saver publication. Since the full-scale renovation was completed in 2006, the movie house has been showing “second-run” films in a comfortable setting at reasonable prices – and allowing food and beverages inside. The Academy Theater has gained a great deal of community acceptance since it reopened.

Professional mixologist and Bacardi representative Nathan Gerdes shakes up cocktails – two at a time.

These (candy) “cigar girls”, Esther Mann, Eva Moyer-Wade, and Ella Prevost are some of the many volunteers who help Beth Kluvers put on the 1940s-themed benefit event.

“This evening is a fundraiser to help the Academy Theatre convert their projection systems from 35mm film to digital,” explained volunteer organizer Beth Kluvers. “On January 1, 2014, ‘Hollywood’ is only going to be releasing movies in a digital format; making 35mm print projectors obsolete.”

It costs about $30,000 per theater to convert, Kluvers told East Portland News, putting the total cost to upgrade all four auditoriums at $120,000 – a very large investment for the local owners.

“All of the businesses along SE Stark Street are participating in the evening,” Kluvers  pointed out. “All of the main courses, appetizers, and desserts, came from our ten local restaurants.”

Tony Starlight entertains, singing original comedic parodies – and other tunes. Here, he’s performing the theme from the 1980s TV show, Solid Gold.

Guests enjoy tables full of food provided by Montavilla restaurants, including Flying Pie Pizza.

The Halcyon Strings ensemble provides a musical touch of class to the evening.

Academy Theater owners Heyward Stewart, Julie Stewart, and Ty DuPuis say they’re grateful for the community’s support.

The owners looked pleased, and somewhat astonished, that so many members of their community would come out to support the for-profit business.

“What I’ve heard from everybody is how much we are an ‘anchor business’ for this neighborhood,” said Julie Stewart. “I’m blown away that every restaurant in the neighborhood contributed to this event tonight – every one of them!  This is an amazing show of community; a grassroots effort.”

Heyward Stewart added, “It’s stunning to see the generosity being shown to this theater.  It’s to the point of, for me, tears of joy. You look around and there are so many people here, so many people contributing, so many people paying their way in to help us out.  I’ve never seen a turnout like this for anything. I feel so honored by our community.”

Co-owener Ty DuPuis, who is also from Flying Pie Pizza, observed, “It’ll be little different, not showing 35mm film; but we must look toward the future. And, the way that the community supports us, is the way that we want to support our community. This evening really shows how special the greater Montavilla area truly is.”

After his show, Tony Starlight kibitzes with Montavilla Farmers Market Manager Gretchan Jackson and Mia Neuse of Montavilla Community Acupuncture.

About 110 people bought tickets for the evening, supported by a cadre of about 50 volunteers.

As of this writing, their “Indigogo” fundraiser ended by raising more than $48,000. Contributions are still being accepted, DuPuis said, via PayPal. To learn more, see their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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