Let’s go to the movies

Miamisburg Plaza Theatre now showing!

By Gary Spencer

From time to time, something old and long forgotten is revisited and cherished—think record collections or vintage finds at antique stores. This also seems to be the case for a historic movie theatre in downtown Miamisburg that, thanks to generous support from the public, has a new lease on life nearly 50 years after it closed its doors.

The Miamisburg Plaza Theatre was originally built and opened by entrepreneurs the Weaver Brothers in 1919, holding nearly 700 seats and an old school Wurlitzer organ, and regularly held new movies for as low as 10 cents a person. However, as business paths and public tastes changed the theatre eventually shut down.

“As a movie house the Plaza was a center of culture for decades,” says Doug Sorrell, president of the Plaza Theatre Association. “[The Weaver Brothers] transferred operations in the mid ’60s [which] closed the theatre in 1968. New cinemas, malls and the decline of small downtown shopping districts were contributing factors to the closing of the Plaza.”

For the next 30 or so years, the building where the theatre stands became a retail outlet, and when that operation closed, the building sat vacant for over a decade. In that time, a couple of attempts at reopening proved to be false starts with many complications thwarting those endeavors. However, after local businessman Joe Harrison took over ownership of the building, the concept of getting the theatre up and running got momentum again.

“Its use as ‘something’ was critical for downtown,” Sorrell explains. “The city was interested, the business community was interested, citizens were interested. I felt this could be feasible if the Plaza went down the path of only showing older films. I sensed that nostalgia could be a strong force in attracting patrons.”

While the idea of reopening a nearly century-old theatre dedicated to showing classic movies was great in theory, the obstacle of having the capital to do so was an obvious hurdle. With that in mind, Sorrell’s mission was to find ways to raise the funds to make what people envisioned into reality.

“For decades, as a charity auctioneer I have helped committees raise millions for their causes in the Miami Valley area,” Sorrell explains. “I have a pretty good idea where to look for sympathetic ears on a project like this. Many of these early donors are longtime friends of mine and the Plaza was my turn to ask for their help with a project meaningful to me. They responded very generously.”

And what a response it was. The estimated construction and initial operating budget was set at roughly $400,000. Sorrell received an initial donation of $600 back in 2014, and in roughly a year’s span Sorrell’s collective of donors raised $432,000 to get the renovation and reopening off the ground.

“Looking back, I had to be nuts to think I could raise this much money,” Sorrell jests.

The Plaza Theatre reopened its doors on Christmas Day, 2015—exactly 96 years after the Weaver Brothers opened the theatre’s doors for the first time. While it’s still an old building full of old building charm, some upgrades and changes have been made to the theatre to give it contemporary comfort, functionality and efficiency.

“The intent was to end up with a movie theatre that had certain characteristics that was reminiscent of an early twentieth century movie theatre, yet provid state-of-the-art projection and sound capabilities in a comfortable environment with modern amenities,” explains David Sweeney of DPS Architects, who was instrumental in the physical renovation of the Plaza Theatre. “Some structural modifications included installing columns to support one of the long-span roof trusses, which had sagged over time and created a depression on the roof.  The interior was reconfigured to provide a larger lobby, a new projection booth, a larger concession stand, an additional restroom, all new lighting, upgrades to the mechanical and plumbing systems.”

“The Plaza now offers 285 tall-back seats with movable armrests and cup hold holders,” adds Sorrell. “We have new digital projection equipment, Dolby 7.1 surround sound, full audio, video and data ability onstage—we have capability to stream Broadway plays, opera, ballet, concerts and sporting events.”

The Plaza Theatre is now showing movies on the regular and selling well with the public and growing. And there are big plans for the theatre in the works.

“We will be showing the Oscars broadcast,” Sorrell says. “One of our local elementary PTA organizations is hosting free movie nights. The Dayton Jewish Film Festival is kicking off their 2016 offerings at the Plaza Theatre. This spring we are starting Caring Tuesday events with proceeds directed to local charity organizations. When our marquee sign is installed and our ‘stars’ are imbedded in our sidewalk, we plan to have an Official Grand Opening with limos, red carpet, spotlights streaming across the night sky and local citizens encouraged to dress as their favorite movie character.”

Ultimately, everyone involved with the Plaza Theatre wants to stay true to their vision.

“The purpose of the theatre is to be a draw in coming to Miamisburg,” Sweeney says, “in which visitors and frequent one of the local restaurants or businesses and take in a movie as well.”

“Our mission is not about making money,” adds Sorrell. “We want people to adopt the mindset that it’s not so much about the movie as the experience.”

For more information and current show times, please visit myplazatheatre.com.

Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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