Thursday, February 12, 2009

Movieland, the tour

The 17-screen cinema complex on The Boulevard, just south of The Diamond -- Movieland at Boulevard Square -- will open for business on Feb. 27. Today, its owners gave the local media a mini-tour of the facility, which is still under construction.
Owners Charley Moss and Ben Moss (pointing) in the Movieland lobby as they show reporters around

Charles B. Moss, Jr, and his son, Ben Moss, led approximately 20 reporters through a part of the enormous building which began its life as a locomotive factory in the 1860s. Richmond's newest impresarios were cordial and forthcoming as they made their presentation and stood for questions.

All of the auditoriums will seat between 150 to 300 patrons, with the capability of showing 35 mm prints of movies. Two of them will be equipped to present films in a digital format.

The Mosses are Bow Tie Cinemas, a company that traces its entertainment industry roots back to a storefront nickelodeon in 1900. Headquartered in New York, Bow Tie now operates 150 screens in 18 locations in five states. Its location in Richmond will employ about 60 people.

Charley Moss revealed that after deciding Richmond would be a good city for his company to develop a new movie theater project, he and Ben were first looking at the old Berry-Burke building on Grace St., a block west of the Carpenter Center. But it was decided that building did not lend itself to such a use.

The last new movie theater to open in Richmond, within the city limits, did so 37 years ago, today. That was the Biograph Theatre at 814 W. Grace St. As it happened, your reporter was its manager on that very day. A double feature was offered: "King of Hearts" and "A Thousand Clowns."

This former theater manager applauds what Charley Moss described as something akin to a "zero tolerance policy" that Bow Tie has, when it comes to permitting disruptive behavior from audience members. No erupting cell phones, crying babies or chattering adults, please!

Bow Tie's owners will soon begin to write a new chapter in Richmond's show biz history. They will join a long list of characters. In a 1952 Richmond News Leader piece columnist George W. Rogers wrote about a significant figure in Richmond’s theater history, calling him, “... a theatrical proprietor, impresario and father of Richmond movie houses.” That was showman Jake Wells, who had been a big league ballplayer in the 1880s.

With his best days as a player well behind him, in the late-1890s the same Mr. Wells, as player/manager of Richmond’s minor league baseball franchise in the Atlantic League he became a somewhat dashing figure in the local nightlife scene. When he lost that sports gig he looked around town for what next to do. Imagining he had a future in entertainment, Wells took the leap to create the Bijou at 7th and Broad Streets in 1899.

The instantly popular Bijou offered selected vaudeville acts that fit into Wells’ concept of “family entertainment.” And, occasionally, a short film was thrown onto a screen, then more. The first venue thrived. With his brother Otto, Jake expanded into the Norfolk market, opening the Granby. In the early-1920’s Wells’ chain included 42 theaters in the Southeast.

Eventually, Wells cashed in his theater interests to concentrate on becoming a real estate development tycoon. In 1927, in the grip of a spell of melancholia, Mr. Wells drove out to the countryside, shot himself in the head, twice! and died.

Will Movieland eventually play a role in the story of where to play baseball in Richmond? Movie theaters can act as hubs for further development. Restaurants like to locate nearby. So, whether it's part of a plan, or not, more nightlife options will be coming soon to the neighborhood surrounding Movieland.

And, yes, along with its regular first-run pictures at ordinary show times, Movieland will also present classic movies on Sunday mornings and late shows on the weekend. Current plans call for "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" to be screened at some point.

Let's do the Time Warp, again!

5 comments:

Mim said...

I am SO excited about this movie complex. I so excited that I could actually walk to it from my home in the fan. (I remember when I walked to the Capitol! AND the Biograph!) Yes, bring back the time warp.

John said...

Come see 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show' with a live cast starting on Feb 28th at 11:30pm. For more info, email the cast at orolrhps@gmail.com

tbsamsel said...

Are the Mosses the same folks who did the Silver Spring, MD AFI cinema complex?

F.T. Rea said...

tbsamsel,

No. Here's a list of their movie theaters they furnished:

New York Locations:
Bronx - American Theater
Schenectady – Movieland 6

Maryland Locations:
Annapolis – Annapolis Mall 11
Annapolis – Harbour 9

Connecticut Locations:
Greenwich – Criterion Cinemas at Greenwich Plaza
Hartford – Cinema City
New Canaan – Playhouse
New Haven – Criterion Cinemas®
S. Norwalk – Regent 8
Stamford – Landmark 9
Stamford – Majestic 6
Trumbull – Marquis 16
W. Hartford - Criterion Cinemas® at Blue Back Square
W. Hartford – Palace 17 & Odyssey Theater
Westport – Royale 6
Wilton – Wilton 4

Colorado Locations:
Basalt – Movieland 7

Virginia Locations:
Richmond – Movieland at Boulevard Square

arfarf said...

A big plus for Richmond. I'm going to go see a film even if there's nothing I want to see. Unfortunately given the state of American cinema that's likely yo be the case. . . .