Thursday, July 2, 2009

Top Shelf Does the Riviera Theatre

Before we get to the movies, I feel like I probably should say something about free agency but I don't really have much to add that 100 other blogs haven't already said. I like adding Steve Montador, I'll miss Jaroslav Spacek personally but think one of the kids will be able to match his PP production when getting the same number of minutes he was getting, and don't understand entirely what Montreal and Chicago are doing. I also think there's plenty of time left in the offseason and there are a number of teams who have some juggling to do to get safely under the cap (including us). I'm going to hold off criticizing next year's roster too much until it's officially next year's roster. For now I'll leave that to everyone else.

Okay, on with the show...

From the second I first saw the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, I knew I wanted to go. I love old movie theatres probably because I love old movies. My mom was really strict about what we could and couldn't watch when we were kids but she plied us with old movies. My formative years were filled with Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Gene Kelly, Danny Kaye, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and I adored all of them. Not only did I never feel like I was being punished or treated unfairly, I figured I was the lucky one. (Check out the YouTube links to see why.) I'm pretty glad to live in a generation where I can dress casually for a trip to the local multiplex, but I'm also fascinated by people getting all decked out in their finest to go see a movie at a fancy theatre.

Turn left at Charlie Chaplin.

The Riviera Theatre was originally built in 1926 by the Yellen Family. Decorated with elaborate moldings and burgundy, beige and gold accents, the theatre was called "The Showplace of the Tonawandas." Between that, an 18-foot chandelier, other ornate lighting fixtures, stained glass windows and brass railings, the Riviera really and truly is a movie palace. It opened with a huge gala that cost $1 per ticket. The theatre has changed ownership a number of times over the years but was finally purchased by the Niagara Frontier Theatre Organ Society. Volunteers continue restoration work today and live entertainment is presented regularly along with movies. The Riviera and Shea's are the only movie palaces, complete with Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organs, still standing today in an area that once had many.

When I saw that the Riviera's summer series was a Paul Newman Tribute, I immediately took note. Initially I was planning on seeing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a personal favorite, but when Lee saw a link from a previous blog entry, he noted that Cool Hand Luke was showing while he, Mom and Chris were in town and suggested it might be a fun thing to do. That worked for me because while I've seen bits and pieces of it over the years - who doesn't know the line "What we have here is failure to communicate" - I didn't think I'd ever seen it from beginning to end.

Every movie is preceded by a 3o minute Wurlitzer performance but unfortunately we missed it. We entered the theatre just as the movie was beginning. When we first sat down and started listening the sound was AWFUL. I'm all for historical preservation but I was starting to wonder if we were listening via the original 1926 sound system. Just about then however someone yelled from the back that it appeared the first reel had suffered some heat damage and that the sound should be fine once the second reel started. And it was. But really, who even needs sound when you're looking at this?

Hubba hubba.

I won't go into the details of the plot but I will say that it's a good movie. One of the funniest scenes in cinema just might begin with the line "I can eat 50 eggs." Which is not to imply that it's a funny movie because it's really not. Good stuff though and there's about a million recognizable faces in the cast including Mr. Walton who I always had a crush on as a kid.

After the movie we poked around a little and took some pictures.

Let's begin with the Mighty Wurlitzer itself. It's one of the few organs that still resides in its original theatre. A dedicated group of volunteers handle all the maintenance and any necessary repairs. At one point, the organ from the Kensington Theatre in Buffalo was donated and while it was badly damaged, parts were salvaged and used in the Riviera organ. Every month the Riviera presents an organ concert of some kind and one of these days I'm planning on going back and seeing a silent movie, accompanied by the Wurlitzer.

I took a bunch of pictures of the inside of the theatre, both from the front and the balcony but the house lights weren't on so everything came out very dark. I found these photos on some random website but there was no photo credit of any kind accompanying them. I feel a little bad using them because they're clearly professional photos (or darn good amateur photos) so if you're out there reading this and these are yours, please, please, please email me and I'll either give you a credit or take them down, whichever you prefer. If you click on these next two pictures, you'll get a larger image in which you can see even more detail. That goes for all the photos really but these two especially.

View from the balcony.

View from the stage.

Absolutely gorgeous. My one warning would be that the theatre was clearly built before the obesity epidemic and before people valued leg room. Tiiiiight squeeze.

While upstairs, Chris and I got to wondering about this door. You can't really tell in the photo but it's very small. Probably four feet high or so.

The theatre volunteer had just told us to look around so we opened the door and found this:

Another, smaller door! We weren't sure if we'd just stumbled across the entrance to Narnia, Wonderland or the Wonka Chocolate Factory.

The lobby, right inside the doors.

I love that blue molding along the ceiling.

Mom at the box office.

You can check out the schedule at the Riviera's website. I'd recommend pretty much anything in the Paul Newman series, especially The Verdict, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. While I don't care for it personally (I know, I know), they'll also be showing Slap Shot. The Riviera Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. In addition to being a beautiful sight, admission was only $3 per person so I'd say it's well worth a visit if you're in the area.

After the movie, the organist played a quick ditty for the exiting crowd. Here's a short video of it along with some footage of the theatre. Like everything else, it's pretty dark, but I think you can get a feel for the space. Kindly ignore the singing.


Caroline said...

That theatre is gorgeous! I'll have to make sure to catch a movie there some time in the future. Cool Hand Luke is a great movie. Paul Newman is one of my all-time favorite actors. Not only was a fantastic actor, but he was a great person as well who raised tons of money for kids who suffered from different dieseases through his Newman's Own Foundation. He was a special person.

Pookie said...

Dude! I totally want to see a silent movie there! So cool!

TheSharpie said...

My brother went to a Weird Al concert there when he was in fifth grade. My grandparents almost bought tickets to the same concert thinking that Frank Yankavic, the polka artist, was going to be performing since they say "Yankavic" on the marquee. My uncle warned them beforehand.

Patty (in Dallas) said...

What a beautiful theater. In my young and optimistic days, I hoped to someday buy an old abandoned theater, fix it all up, and then live in it. Takes money, though.

I'd LOVE to see The Sting in a theater like that. That's one of my all-time favorites.