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Column: Keep history, appreciation of film alive with Crump


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I attended a public meeting in which ideas where floated about “repurposing” the Crump Theatre. I found most of these ideas appalling.

There was some real concern about the fate of the theater, but a lot of the assumptions were poor. One of the basic ideas was to put Columbus up against other similar-sized cities to see what sort of theaters they had. Another gentleman stood up and lobbied for a restaurant to be attached to the Crump because most of the money to be made was in food.

I can sum my objections up in three points:

1. There’s an assumption made in most of the repurposing suggestions that “Movies don’t work at all here, and we won’t even consider it.”

2. There’s a lack of consideration for what the Crump is rather than what it could be.

3. The breakdown of competing cities misses the point. You should come at it from the standpoint of “How do we preserve what we have, and how do we make that work and still be compliant with modern construction codes?”

The Crump is a real art deco gem. There aren’t many in the state left like it. It’s bigger than Franklin’s Artcraft and more ornate. That’s the closest one to Columbus. There are others, including the vastly remodeled Tivoli in Spencer.

The stock line I hear from most architects is this: “Gut it like a fish and change it into a music venue.” Is that what Columbus wants? I think Columbus is different.

History means something in Columbus. Architecture means something in Columbus. These are important. Look at Zaharakos. This is a historic gem. It’s one of the most beautiful and accurate restoration jobs I have ever seen. It’s done right. The architecture and the history are honored.

Is it 100 percent the way it was? No. There’s a new HVAC system, a second storefront gingerly added and a host of other things to bring it up to snuff with modern expectations and codes. But it feels right. I walked into Zaharakos on opening day and said, “This is right.”

I’d like to see the same respect paid to the Crump. It deserves it.

So how do you make money with it? Well, the “gut it like a fish” idea says, “Turn it into a music venue.” That’s only going to take you so far. I’m not against music at all, and the idea of the theater being multipurpose is historically accurate and something I support.

However, I hate the idea of taking a perfectly good screen and movie equipment out. I’ve been in the booth, and it’s a nice serviceable Simplex XL. You’ve even got carbon rods up there. Wow! Did you know that the last place in Indiana that still uses carbon arc projection is The Embassy in Fort Wayne? They don’t see it as a liability but as an asset.

So if movies don’t work in Columbus, then why is that? Generally it’s because of poorly run theaters with people who don’t know how to draw a crowd, running only first-run stuff. (I have seen this in other cities; I don’t know the specifics in Columbus.) These days, first run will kill you. It kills most theaters. I wonder if you could ask other historic theaters how they make a go of keeping their theater running.

I’m a film historian. I collect and restore old motion picture film. I do shows with it. I travel the country to visit historic movie theaters so I can run historic film. Places like The Capitol in Rome, N.Y., The Embassy in Fort Wayne, the Cinematheque in Cleveland, the New York Public Library, the Castro in San Francisco, the Fargo in North Dakota, the Paramount in Oakland, Calif. ... the list goes on. How do I know these places? I’ve either been to all of them or my films have.

The Capitol in Rome is bigger than the Crump and serves a smaller community. They solved the problem by going regional. They have vaudeville shows, movies, small stage productions, etc. They got millions of dollars in grant money, and they preserved their theater right. The projectors had been removed. They put them back and improved them. The screen and optics were improved. The stage was ventilated, asbestos taken out.

But you go into the Capitol and it feels right, like Zaharakos. It’s not as ornate, and it’s an ongoing project, but it still feels right. It’s not the big clumsy barn of a building that was gutted so that teens can put on a rock show every alternate Saturday. They certainly do some of that, which is fine, but they do the history, too, which is part of what the building is about.

The gentleman who suggested that “the money is in food” has a well-taken point. But I pose this: Columbus is blessed with a number of excellent places to eat. I have often traveled to Columbus to eat at Tre Bicchieri or Zaharakos just because I like the food and atmosphere.

But so many other places ... have you considered partnering with restaurants in the area to have a “dinner and show” night so you get dinner and a movie/play/concert for a night? Rather than competing with the plethora of excellent restaurants in the area, you could partner with them to share the profits and get you both going.

Most are within easy walking distance to the Crump, but you could even arrange for transportation for those not so inclined.

I encourage you to think beyond local. Think regional. The Capitol has a show of 1914 movies that they are running in conjunction with a vaudeville show. That gets out-of-town visitors. They can’t get this at home. Could you partner with hotels and bed-and-breakfast places in the area? Again, I’ve seen this in other areas.

I’m not an architect. I’m an engineer with a background in film and imaging. I still do this whenever I can. I believe strongly in keeping the history alive. I’ve worked with and for many theaters that are still having a go at keeping their history and their movies.

But if you gut the Crump like a fish, I’ll never set foot in it again. It will be too painful a reminder of what we have lost. Let’s not lose it, please.

Eric Grayson is a film historian/collector/consultant from Indianapolis and operates two websites: filmeric.com and drfilm.net.

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