A Reel Revamp
Thanks to over $100,000 in online contributions, a movie house from cinema's golden age is returned to its former glory — only a lot cooler.
As of late last year, the only thing that stood between Jacksonville's Riverside neighborhood and a great vintage movie theater was $95,000.
When the theater first opened as the Park Street Theater, it was state of the art. But, that was in 1927, and the thing that made it cutting edge was a system that synchronized a film's audio and visuals in order to show a newfangled thing called a "talkie." Legend has it the theater was set up in a way that would make it easy to accommodate stage plays should motion pictures with dialogue turn out to be a fad.
Despite its high-tech beginnings, the single-screen cinema in the heart of the historic Five Points district struggled to find its niche as the decades passed. In the '80s it was home to a theater troupe. Through the '90s and well into the aughts, it was a clove smoke-filled live music venue.
Rigid banquet chairs were poor substitutes for actual theater seats. The walls were pale beige rather than the standard black. And the projection and sound systems left a lot to be desired. When Florida native Tim Massett — a long-time fixture in the indie-cinema scene in Jacksonville and elsewhere — decided he and his wife Shana would move home to take over operations, they had their work cut out for them. The first step was raising money.
Utilizing small business loans and donations from a hugely successful online fundraising campaign, the Massetts came up with more than $102,450. Last December, after several weeks of renovations, they opened Sun-Ray Cinema to "make going to the movies fun again," Massett says. So far, they're succeeding.
When the Massetts took over, they wanted to come up with a name that conjured old Florida in all its sticky, sunny glory — Sun-Ray seemed fitting enough.
THE MURAL — $10,000 (discounted)
In Sun-Ray's main entryway, giant bugs, man-eating frogs and movie monsters all painted a swampy algae green stare out from a massive piece by local artist Shaun Thurston.
THE FOOD — $15,000
Officially open as of late March, Sun-Ray's state-of-the-art kitchen serves housemade specialty pizzas with names that reference movies filmed in Jacksonville, like culthorror Zaat, and locally brewed draft beers, all served at tables, in-theater.
THE SEATING — Chairs: $10,000, risers and tables: $9,200
Before installing their cushy new theater chairs, the Massetts enlisted the help of a local carpenter to build risers so moviegoers can see the screen from any seat in the house, as well as long tables in every row for ultimate eating efficiency.
THE EXPERIENCE — $22,000
A screen twice the size (18x34ft ) of the old one was installed, and the walls covered in pleated black fabric to improve acoustics. "The biggest thing was covering up the horrible white walls and making it look more like a movie theater than a bar mitzvah hall."
Besides the mainstream new releases, Sun-Ray screens indie films that you won't find anywhere else in town. Massett's innovative lineup has attracted filmmakers and actors (like Crispin Glover, pictured) to come and offer live commentary.
By fall, Sun-Ray plans to upgrade to a $70,000 digital projection system, a conversion that's more or less being mandated by the film industry, and that's imperiling lots of small, independent theaters. However, they plan on maintaining their old 35mm projectors so they can still screen repertory films. Once they make "some real money," Massett says they'll work on opening the balcony. www.sunraycinema.com