Next month, almost 91 years to the day after opening as Jamestown’s grandest movie house, the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts will be showing its last film. Not its last movie, but its last movie on actual film, as it makes the conversion to the Digital Age.
Over the next few weeks, the Jamestown Renaissance Corporation is proud to support the “last films on film” at the Reg, every Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m., ending with “About Time” on Feb. 8. Admission is $5.
The JRC is sponsoring these movies because they’re an important part of downtown’s growing mix of entertainment options. But the change from film to digital also serves as a metaphor for the wider transformation happening in Jamestown, in which people from diverse walks of life are reinterpreting the city’s historical assets. Rather than lamenting what is lost, they are adapting and reinventing what remains.
Of course, the theater itself is an amazing example of evolution and adaptation. When it opened in 1923 as the Palace, it featured vaudeville acts and silent films. Over the years, as technology and culture changed, it began showing “talkies” and transitioned from vaudeville to other types of live performance.
In the 1950s, as television, drive-ins, multiplexes and other forms of entertainment began drawing audiences away from downtown movies, the Palace began a long decline. By the 1980s, it was rundown and nearly ready for the wrecking ball.
But the Renaissance Revival-style theater was reborn thanks to a communitywide effort to save it and the generosity of the Lenna family. After a careful restoration and modernization of the ornate interior, the curtains were raised, once again, in October 1990, with movie titles frequenting the flashing marquee.
In the nearly quarter-century since the reopening, the theater has been the lynchpin to an arts district that is becoming more diverse and creative with each passing year. With programming at the Reg Studio Theater, 3rd on 3rd Gallery, and WRFA-LP supplementing movies and other events in the main theater, the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts and its new leader, Kathleen Eads, are poised to keep the momentum going. Alongside the Reg, other downtown performance spots, private galleries, and a growing number of businesses that support the arts, are steadily bolstering Jamestown’s status as Chautauqua County’s year-round cultural hub.
Be sure to catch one or all of the last films on film to celebrate this historic transition and to partake in one of downtown Jamestown’s oldest traditions. Before or after the films, be sure to visit a downtown restaurant or bar to complete the experience
This post originally appeared in The Post-Journal on January 20, 2014, as JRC’s biweekly Renaissance Reflections feature.