Opening night for the newly renovated Madison Theater in Albany began with a presentation that was, appropriately enough, the first ribbon cutting for new mayor Kathy Sheehan. Sheehan was once a Pine Hills resident, and at the podium she reminisced about her old neighborhood and its defining movie theater. Sheehan was preceded at the podium by historic-preservation consultant Bill Allen, who described the theater’s renovations; New York State Assembly member Patricia Fahy; Pine Hills Neighborhood Association president Virginia Hammer; and Madison Entertainment Group CEO Darren Grout. The speakers emphasized the theater’s invigorated contribution to the vibrancy of Pine Hills, to a crowd of over a hundred people who formed an approving semi-circle under the brightened-up marquee. No one had forgotten that ten years ago, the Madison was nearly demolished to make way for a drugstore drive-through.
Madison Entertainment Group is a division of Tierra Farm, which operates Tierra Coffee Roasters coffee shop and café next door, and the under-construction storefront on the other side. Converted back from its 1990s screening-room conversion, the store will sell Tierra Farm’s full line of 175 organic snacks from its headquarters in Valatie. The farm store is scheduled to open in April, by which time the group will have full ownership of the theater building. Repaired and repainted, the building’s newly harmonious three-part frontage—the sculptural-tin façade is a surviving feature of its original 1929 design–is expected to be a bigger local draw than it’s been in decades. “It’s amazing how everything came together,” says Grout. “The community support has been phenomenal.”
After the cutting of the “celluloid” ribbon, Sheehan and Fahy, and co-owners Grout, Gunther Fishgold and Dan Laiosa, circulated through the lobby reception, where guests sampled Tierra’s gourmet nuts, wine at the new beverage bar, and, of course, popcorn (organic kernels, real butter). One topic of conversation was the possibility of a Pine Hills Film Fest. “This is a real community project,” says Fishgold. “That’s who we are doing it for.”
Attendees filled the two updated screening rooms, which seat 150 each. “The turnout was great,” says Laiosa, the theater’s manager. “There are a lot of people who have never seen these films.” Opening week features a Paul Newman retrospective of Cool Hand Luke, Slap Shot, The Sting, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (through tonight, Jan. 23). Film selection for the schedule of revivals will be “a matter of trial-and-error” and the owners are open to suggestions from the public. Upcoming films range from the guilty pleasure of Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon (1985) to that acclaimed titan of the wide screen, Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Tickets are $5.
Eventually, the Madison will also house a 400-seat live performance venue. “We want to get the movies going first,” says Laiosa.