At the beginning of this month, community leaders joined together to celebrate The Grandin Theatre’s 85 years of cultural and cinematic excellence in the Grandin Village and the Greater Roanoke Area. Currently operating “in the green” as a not-for-profit organization, The Grandin hasn’t always performed like the well-oiled machine we get to enjoy today, but it’s colorful, cultural past has helped it remain deeply rooted in the fabric of our local society.
The Grandin Theatre as a Historic Landmark
If you’ve ever had the opportunity to walk through The Grandin Theatre with Executive Director, Ian Fortier, you were likely to be bombarded with photos and facts about the rich history of this historic cultural landmark. As Roanoke’s oldest movie house, The Grandin opened its doors on March 26, 1932, selling 24 cent tickets to “Arrowsmith”. They continued to serve up captivating cinematic experiences to the community through 1976.
That same year, the theatre found new life in a partnership with Mill Mountain Playhouse, a local theatre troupe that was in need of a new location to perform. The movie theatre was adapted for extravagant performances of like “The Sound of Music” and “Guys and Dolls” by building upon the foundation of the already elaborate theatre with lights, a larger stage, and orchestra pit. It remained the Mill Mountain Playhouse until 1983.
For the next decade or so, The Grandin Theatre struggled to catch their footing as a stable operation, but it wasn’t for lack of exciting events. From 1984 to 1985, Phillip Poff booked some of the biggest names in blues and jazz, including Ray Charles and a two-night run by B.B. King. Despite the standing ovations, the Theatre had to find a new purpose by 1986, when it reopened as an arthouse theatre, showing indie and foreign films. In a final effort to save The Grandin from financial struggles, they even brought in acting legend, Bill Murray, to host a fundraiser. But the fire and finances could only hold out the theatre for so long, and it was forced to close its doors again in 2001.
Roanokers aren’t the type of people to cast off their history and late it fade into the distance. That’s why community developer, Ed Walker, formed The Grandin Theatre Foundation with a “Save the Grandin” campaign. The Grandin Theatre as you know it today, officially opened their doors on October 20, 2002.
The Grandin Theatre as a Cultural Community Center
Fast forward to today, The Grandin Theatre is known for much more than its rich history. With Fortier at the helm, this cultural community center is much more than just a movie theatre. While you can enjoy a first-run movie with friendly service and fresh popcorn on any given day, when you “look behind the curtain”, you find a widely diversified revenue stream that is keeping the organization running.
“It was clear that sustainability wasn’t feasible as just a movie theatre,” says Fortier. “The new goal is to utilize the building for multiple purposes that don’t necessarily have anything to do with first-run movies.”
Today this historic landmark hosts Sunday church service, birthday parties, and the largest business conference in town – and that’s just how the general public is able to use it through “Dark Hour Rentals“. The Foundation itself facilitates a variety of programming for the public and local community organizations. Essentially, The Grandin Theatre’s programming achieves 3 things: it provides a means of education, entertainment, and economic growth.
Through Educational Matinees for local schools, Community Conversations with local non-profit organizations, and the Theatre-run Film Lab, individuals far and wide can harness the power of film to educate and bring about a sense of community.
Film buffs with eclectic taste can also find entertainment within the various theaters of the facility. In 2018, The Grandin Theatre will host a Midnight Movie Series, a Classic Film Series, a Kid’s Matinee Series, and the first African American Film Festival. In addition to that, RideShare Roanoke has brought people from all over the country to Roanoke, VA for the Annual Bike Shorts Film Festival and Roanoke Public Libraries is able to host the Indie Pop Up Lens Series.
As the oldest continuous arts and culture organization in the region, The Grandin Theatre now operates debt free. They own the building. They don’t have any loans. They operate fully on the support of the public and the diversified revenue streams they’ve developed. They bring people from all over the country, even all over the world, to allow people to take a step back in time to enjoy old-fashioned style popcorn, elaborate 1930s architecture, and movies from yesterday and today.
Executive Director, Ian Fortier is eager to keep The Grandin Theatre on the current trajectory. By finding new ways to partner with both for-profit and non-profit institutions in the area, he’s spreading the impact and reach of The Grandin Theatre one partnership at a time. You can find familiar company names in the pre-roll credits at each showing or see a local non-profit hosting a movie series on any given week.
At the 85th Anniversary Gala, HomeTown Bank presented a check to The Grandin Theatre Foundation to sponsor their box office for the next 5 years. With an already long-standing relationship with HomeTown’s Commercial Banker and Vice President of The Grandin’s Board of Directors, Matt Hubbard and VP of Marketing, Carolyn Kiser, we wanted to take our relationship to the cultural community center to the next level.
“It represents a relationship that validates the direction of the theatre that a local organization as well established as HomeTown Bank is willing to put a substantial amount of money behind the theatre for a substantial amount of time,” says Fortier. “It proves the community, stability, and relevance we’ve built.”
It’s safe to say that the doors of The Grandin Theatre will continue to open each day, as new ways of connecting to the community and ideas of entertainment pour out.