David McRae hasn't pulled out all the stops to let the world know that the beloved Columbia City cinema he revived from the dead is now officially open. Instead, for the past couple of weeks, he's been going with a "soft opening" for the now named Ark Lodge Cinemas. "Hopefully, that way we'll build up trust with the community," McRrae tells SW.
South End residents went through a roller coaster ride with the cinema last year as owner Paul Doyle struggled to meet the city's demands for fire sprinklers and alarms. To raise funds, he tried selling stock in the cinema (a plan nixed by regulators) and then selling seats. In the end, he reluctantly called it quits with a bitter j'accuse at the city.McRae, though, credits Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith with helping him reopen the cinema. Smith, who lives in the Columbia City area, couldn't eliminate the red tape completely. "But he did shorten it," McRae says.
All in all, McRae says he has spent $200,000 getting the historic building, originally used as a Masonic Lodge, up to code. As he's been putting the final touches on the system, he's opened only the small, bottom two theaters--both playing The Hobbit-- and had a staffer on fire watch, walking through the building every 15 minutes.
That's supposed to end this week when McRae expects to get final approval from the city for his upgrades . He's booked two new movies, Les Miserables and Promised Land, the latter likely to play in the art-deco showpiece of a theater upstairs.
Programming will remain much as it did under its previous incarnation, with first-run and independent films, according to McRae. However, the new owner says he's open to suggestions. When someone from the deaf community called up wanting to know about a possible screening with subtitles, McRae accommodated. He now says he plans to show one such screening a month. He says he'd also like to see such diverse offerings as movies from Bollywood and gay and lesbian film festivals.
McRae lives in nearby Beacon Hill and hails from a movie background; his parents once ran a theater in Redmond called Cine-Mond. Over the past few years, he's been traveling the country helping cinemas transition to the digital age. Oddly, he never went to the Columbia City Cinema himself. After it closed, though, he would drive past and see the "for lease" sign. "Maybe I could this," he says he thought to himself as the idea of taking it over began to take shape. He took the plunge.
So once again, locals not only have that rare thing, a neighborhood theater, but something perhaps even rarer: cheap ticket prices! Catch a matinee and it'll set you back a mere $7.