CHICAGO – Standing up at the Lyric Opera house in Chicago is unusual before a show. But in this case, it was the night after a tragedy, and the operetta “The Merry Widow” – set in Paris, France, in 1905 – was about to unfold. The orchestra struck up La Marseillaise, a reminder that we’ll always have Paris.
Film News: Chicago’s Patio Theater Reaches Kickstarter Goal, Will Remain Open
CHICAGO – One of the best urban legacies in older cities like Chicago is the revitalization of venerable movie palaces, and one of the those stories in 2011 was the reopening of the Patio Theater. Located on the northwest side of the city at Irving Park Road and Austin Avenue, the Patio recently reached a goal on the fundraising website Kickstarter to purchase new digital projection, which will allow it to remain open.
Photo credit: PatioTheater.net
Theater owner/manager Demetri Kouvalis announced the news to HollywoodChicago.com during an interview regarding the Kickstarter campaign for the theater. There are still five days left to contribute, and any pledges made during that time are still eligible for the variety of perks at all levels of contribution. Go to the Patio Theater Kickstarter page by clicking here.
The Patio Theater opened in 1927. During an age when theater chains in the city were controlled by the studios and other national companies, the Patio was independently owned and operated by Greek immigrant family members William, John and George Mitchell. It premiered with “The Blonde Saint,” a silent film starring Lewis Stone, who later portrayed Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy film series. Through talkies, the advent of television and “Star Wars,” the Mitchell family ran the theater until the mid-1980s.
It was then the Kouvalis family stepped in. Alexander Kouvalis bought the theater in 1987, and revitalized it the first time as a second run theater. Growing up a few blocks away was Kouvalis’s son Dimitri, who saw every film that ran there during his childhood. Operating challenges forced the Patio Theater to close in 2001, but the Kouvalis family kept the property. When Dimitri graduated from college two years ago, he decided to apply his business degree to renovate, re-open and operate the historic neighborhood theater once again. It started showing films again in June of 2011.
HollywoodChicago.com talked to Dimitri Kouvalis about his journey back to the Patio Theater, and the what the Kickstarter success will mean for movie-goers in Chicago.
HollywoodChicago.com: What was behind your decision to re-open the theater after your father closed it in 2001?
Dimitri Kouvalis: My father closed the theater initially in 2001 for a variety of reasons. The air conditioner broke down, and he couldn’t find anybody to fix it affordably. Then 9/11 happened in the fall, and people weren’t keen on going out that much afterward, and my father was near retirement age. So while my sister and I attended high school and college, it remained closed.
My involvement began in May of 2010. From that time until June, 2011, I convinced my father that I would do the manual labor if he would put in the financial portion for renovation. That was a month after I graduated college with a business degree, so I thought I’d be capable to run a business like the Patio. My father, sister and I basically worked on the whole place ourselves, and after gallons of paint, restoring the seats, fixing the bathrooms and putting in a new air conditioner – we opened again in June of 2011.
HollywoodChicago.com: What was the reason for your Kickstarter campaign, and what will be the result of making your goal?
Kouvalis: Before we opened I realized that Hollywood was going to transition to digital projection, I just didn’t think they’d do it so soon. After being open for a year I didn’t have the cash reserves of $50,000 waiting to buy the projector, and keep the place open. So we figured after a year of getting our name out there again and building a fan base, it would be a appropriate time to begin the Kickstarter campaign to cover the cost of that digital projection system, which allows us to show the newer Hollywood films.
HollywoodChicago.com: What was it like growing up with the Patio Theater, and how did it influence your love of film and the desire to re-open the facility?
Photo credit: PatioTheater.net
Kouvalis: I lived two blocks from the theater until I was 12 years old. I would go there every week and see every film that opened, and help my father sell tickets or concessions, so I spent a lot of my childhood there, and developed my love of the movies. What I didn’t understand back then is how unique the theater was, I just thought it was a regular movie theater. When I grew up, I finally saw the benefit and unique quality of the Patio, and we still owned the building. I didn’t want to see it shuttered. I saw a gem there, that I knew the people of Chicago would want to see it opened. There is only a handful of these type of theaters left here, I thought it would be awesome to see the old place re-open.
HollywoodChicago.com: What is the most interesting thing you have found exploring the nooks and crannies of a movie palace that has been around since 1927?
Kouvalis: While we were fixing up the theater, I definitely discovered some places in the theater that I never knew existed when I was a kid. We have a ceiling there that has clouds and stars, but that’s not the real ceiling. It’s a false ceiling, and there is a place between the ceiling and roof that you can actually walk in, with all the gadgets in place for the lighting. Also the structure is very well built, it was intended to last for generations.
HollywoodChicago.com: Now that you made your Kickstarter goal, what type of programming changes will you be able to make, and what can the theater going public expect from the Patio afterward?
Kouvalis: There is just so much more variety for film selection with a digital projector. We can be part of film festivals, we can show more independent films and documentaries. I’m going to start a Patio Theater film club, where every other week we will watch great films and discuss them, make it sort of a fan club for film lovers in Chicago. It was really great to see the support for both film and Chicago architecture in making this goal.
HollywoodChicago.com: What reaction do you get mostly from people who go to the Patio for the first time, what surprise them the most when they experience it?
Kouvalis: Most people can’t tell from the outside how big and ornate it is on the inside. The first room you go into is the lobby, and you just look around and you get a sneak peak of what’s inside – so ornate, colorful and lots of details. Once somebody comes in once, they see how special the Patio is.
HollywoodChicago.com: Finally, what was your favorite personal moment for you in relationship to the Patio Theater, both as a child and now as the manager/owner?
Kouvalis: When I was a kid, it was ‘The Lion King.’ We played it for three weeks, and for two weeks there were lines around the block to see it. Those were the films I loved when I was younger, it was always exciting to see people to come out and watch them on the big screen. More recently, after 12 months of grueling work every single day, the first time that the projection went on for our initial test screening, and I saw the film ‘Thor’ on the screen, it was the first time a movie had been on that screen in ten years. It was awesome.