The plush red curtains and gold leaf accents are usually the first clue to visitors that their visit to the Coolidge Corner Theater is not just an evening at the movies, but evening entertainment.
Then they look up.
The jewel-colored Art Deco sunburst pattern on the ceiling of Moviehouse I is just one of the many distinctive stylistic features that the independent theater not only in Brookline but also around the world.
“I always tell people when they’re here, ‘Look up! Look up! ‘”Said Katherine Tallman, director and CEO of the theater. “But it’s really the whole experience, right, when you walk in and just hear people say, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.'”
Now the Coolidge is getting a long-awaited $ 12.5 million addition that takes its existing quirks and visual themes and offers a new perspective and ushers the theater into its next act.
Originally built as a universalist church in 1906, the Coolidge brought the screen to Brookline when it was reinvented as an Art Deco film Theater in 1933.
The theater survived financial problems and remediation threats over the years and as 2020 rolled around shows left and right sold out, proving the need for more seats and screens, Tallman recalled. Then the pandemic hit.
Forced to temporarily close its doors, the theater turned to online programming and tested a number of innovative ways to entertain his audience and to keep his books in the black. The Coolidge even took part in the 2021 Sundance Film Festival as one of several Satellite screens across the country. After a gradually reopening, the theater is now fully occupied again.
It may seem like an odd time planning an expensive post-pandemic expansion, but the Coolidge’s new addition has been in the works for years. The theater received Town Meeting approval in 2013 to build in the parking lot behind the building at 290 Harvard Street.
Space to grow
According to Tallman, there were several factors behind the need for expansion.
One of the more visible needs is space in the lobby: currently, customers are queuing outside to buy tickets in rain or shine. Once inside, they have to fight the crowds for the concession booths.
“Our concession sales are so limited because if you’ve been in here unless you’re with a friend, you won’t get popcorn and a glass of wine or beer because you don’t have enough time and we have lines that go up the stairs, ”said Tallman. A spacious new lobby allows indoor ticketing and less crowded concessions.
The new expansion will also add a 150-seat screen and a 60-seat screen, expanding the theater’s programming options, according to Tallman. The Coolidge now has a limited number of screens – two larger movie theaters and two smaller projection rooms – and film distributors often need at least 150 available spots for a first feature film, she explained.
“We often couldn’t accept all of the films that we were offered or that our customers wanted,” said Tallman.
The Coolidge team also plans to add a Community Education and Engagement Center to the off-screen program, which will include a catering kitchen and rooftop terrace. Tallman says the room is ideal for groups watching a movie and wanting a debriefing afterwards.
“We know that film is a good basis for understanding and discussion. … I think there are a lot of difficult issues that can be discussed and addressed by watching a movie with someone else, ”she said. “One of our components of our mission is to entertain, inform and engage – to build a lively community through film culture.”
Do not worry; the marquee is safe
Earlier this month, Coolidge announced that it had hit 85% of its $ 12.5 million goal Fundraiser still running.
The project is due for fee waiver Tuesday before the Select Board, and construction could begin as early as the first week of July, according to Tallman. The theater will be open for regular operations during construction of the new fossil fuel-free expansion, which is slated to be completed in August 2022.
During the year-long process, Coolidge has found overwhelming support from the Brookline community, Tallman said.
She noticed some social media reviewers complaining that the extension looked bare in the architectural renderings and others who wondered if the construction would affect the theater’s iconic marquee. (The new lobby will be decorated with Coolidge’s usual cinematic flair, including posters and memorabilia, and the marquee will remain in place, Tallman assured.)
The expansion will complement and honor some of the existing design elements, as she explained.
“We want this to be aesthetically consistent, and what we’ve learned is that this is Art Deco, but Art Deco is really a style and is interpreted differently in different time periods,” she said.
Architects’ plans Höweler + Yoon capture the exuberance of the Art Deco era, pick up on the colors of the existing theater and make small allusions through the details.
For example, Tallman recalled, early plans showed a metal case for the expansion. The Coolidge pushed back and said he didn’t fit in the neighborhood.
“And so they came up with this wave pattern, but it’s all made of white brick,” said Tallman. “And Eric Höweler, the architect, will tell you that it reminds you of the curtain.”