Circle Cinema to open second screen with 122 new seats
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Sunday, November 18, 2012
11/18/12 at 4:49 AM
The cinematic experience comes full circle this week at Tulsa's longest-standing movie house.
What's old is new again as Circle Cinema opens a second screen, more than doubling its capacity and featuring state-of-the-art sound and digital projection as well as stadium seating and other creature comforts.
The new auditorium now stands in the same spot as the original cinema that opened in 1928 showing silent movies at what was then considered to be Tulsa's first suburban movie theater with its location on Lewis Avenue just south of Admiral Place.
The nonprofit Circle Cinema is unique in its mandate to offer the community art-house indie-movie favorites, documentaries and foreign films. It often juggles showtimes for up to four or five films in its 105-seat theater, which limits showtimes for the most popular movies.
With the second screen adding 122 seats - and a third and larger one, with 268 seats, planned to open next July - the Circle will now broaden its scope to also show even more high-profile films like the upcoming awards-season favorite "Silver Linings Playbook," starring Bradley Cooper of "The Hangover" and Jennifer Lawrence of "The Hunger Games."
For all of the new offerings, there remain many noticeable touchstones to the Circle's past. As guests head toward the new auditorium, they follow a hallway showing not only exposed brick walls from the 1920s but also the building's iron structural beams.
It's an eclectic look that seems to fit the style and clientele of Circle Cinema. Fans appreciate not only top art-house films but also offerings from art openings in the gallery, midnight movies and panel discussions following documentaries that put national or worldwide issues into a local perspective.
"I also think the beams just look good," theater manager Greg Younger said, admiring the artistry while a crew works nearby to complete construction by Wednesday. "The beams hold the place up, but they also have great architectural merit."
Walking into the auditorium shows off what's new: 122 mocha-colored high-back rockers with cup-holding armrests that can be stowed away for a loveseat option. Neat additions are the circular sconces diffusing the lighting in the auditorium.
The expansion has been realized eight years after the nonprofit Circle Cinema Foundation reopened the theater in 2004. The modernization had been planned "since day one," said Clark Wiens, the foundation's co-founder, but it takes time to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.
The strategy takes longer for aspirations to be realized, but the Circle operates in a debt-free fashion; when enough funds roll in, another phase of construction begins.
Next up will be completing the third auditorium as well as construction after Thanksgiving to renovate the theater's front facade, known in recent years to guests for its boarded-up appearance.
It will soon be made to resemble what it looked like in the 1950s, including solid doors with circle designs and retro movie-poster holders.
This is due, Wiens said, largely in part to a $25,000 grant from a Route 66 Association group - with the intent of restoring historical buildings to their former glory - and a recent matching donation from George Kravis, the foundation's other co-founder.
"We are fortunate to have a lot of people who believe in what we're doing," Wiens said of the donations to Circle Cinema Foundation. "These are people who believe in films being not only entertaining but also educational, and who know that these kinds of films wouldn't be brought to Tulsa otherwise.
"They see what we do as providing a certain kind of culture for our city that we might not have without the Circle, and we are proud to provide that window on the world."
Original Print Headline: Circle Cinema to open 2nd screen
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Younger explains plans just outside the new theater. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Circle Cinema Manager Greg Younger sits inside the new theater, which opens next week with a second screen, doubling the theater's seating capacity. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Black, circular wall sconces shield the lighting at the rear of the Circle Cinema's new auditorium, which opens Wednesday. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World