January 19, 2018
We want to once again express our gratitude to everyone who attended our Open Forum this past Wednesday. Your love for the Hollywood Theater and the mission of the Friends of the Hollywood Theater is what drives us, and we appreciate your support. As a follow up to the meeting, we wanted to address a question that has been asked both online and in person: Would FOHT work with the Theatre Historical Society of America?
First, it cannot be overstated that FOHT is a mission-driven organization. Our goal is to be a cultural and economic anchor with innovative and diverse programming. That mission is manifested in all of our programming – not just popular events like ‘Breakfast and a Movie’ or our annual ‘Jaws’ party – but also in art house films, documentaries, films by local filmmakers, and by making our space available to residents and community groups. We want the Hollywood to be the type of theater that hosts ‘His Girl Friday’ with a fantastic breakfast, a documentary about kangaroos, a Norwegian horror film, and a child’s birthday party all in the same week. That is who we are.
Which means that in order to work with another organization, especially one that has membership and leadership spread out nationally, we have to trust that we can continue to serve our mission and thus the local community. As we consider whether or not that trust exists, a number of things give us pause. Of immediate consideration is Richard Fosbrink’s (Executive Director of THS) known and stated goal to show second-run films at the theater, as well as Joe Masher’s (Board President of THS) role in programming from afar. However, another thing that gives us pause are the testimonials of members who have worked closely with Mr. Fosbrink and Mr. Masher during their time at THS. We have received many such stories since news of the potential sale broke, and we would like to share one with you:
“I served as President of Theatre Historical Society from 2003 through 2013 and have seen a seismic shift in the operations and values of the organization since I retired from the seat. The Hollywood Theatre folks are wise to conduct a due-diligence examination of Theatre Historical Society and its operations before entering into any cooperative arrangement. The current organizational climate has steered away from the values and camaraderie under which THS was founded. And I would urge the Hollywood board to have voice-to-voice contact with the THS board members as they may not be fully aware of the opposition from the Dormont community and indeed THS’s own members.” – Karen Colizzi Noonan, Former Board President and current member, Theatre Historical Society
As we consider whether we could work closely with Mr. Fosbrink and Mr. Masher, it is important for us to hear from people who have worked closely with them. We have to trust that we could continue to serve our mission; giving an affordable rental to groups like Can’t Stop the Serenity – PA Browncoats, Rivers & Bridges Brigade supporting Equality Now or Dormont Elementary School is just as important in serving that mission as hosting ‘Breakfast and a Movie’. As we hear from THS members who have worked with them, we have yet to establish that level of trust.
We are continuing to examine both the situation and our potential options moving forward. In the meantime, please do not give up the fight! Stand up for Dormont, stand up for local film culture, and let the nation know what the Hollywood Theater, as it currently exists, means to you.
The Board of Directors
The Friends of the Hollywood Theater
January 17, 2018
AN OPEN LETTER TO THS MEMBERS AND ITS LEADERSHIP
Comments on the implications of the potential purchase of the Hollywood Theater
An Open Letter to the THS Board of Directors and Membership:
As you are keenly aware, there is a preliminary agreement for THS to purchase the Hollywood Theater in Dormont. Because we are the current stewards of the theater, and many of you are not local, the Friends of the Hollywood Theater wanted to take the time to give you some context about what that would entail on your end.
First off, owning and operating the theater is a significant capital undertaking. In 2016, an independent firm appraised the building for $250,000; since then the need for many capital improvements has arisen, including (but not limited to):
- An aging roof that leaks into the auditorium and is in need of replacement (a contractor even commented recently that replacing it will pose significant safety risks);
- An aging electrical system;
- Issues with plumbing in the bathrooms and concession area;
- A history of flooding in the auditorium;
- Moisture issues and water runoff in the basement; and
- A lack of accessibility, with the lower lobby lacking handicap accessibility.
We have been told on good authority that THS has agreed to purchase the theater for $375,000. Assuming that is the case, it is hard to see how this would represent a prudent fiscal decision: between a price that is significantly over appraisal, the aforementioned necessary capital improvements, the wishful capital improvements as stated by Mr. Fosbrink (such as a new marquee), and the infrastructure that would need to be purchased in order to make the theater operational (the seller does not own the seats, digital projector, or concessions area), the amount of money that would need to be invested in order to shape the theater in Mr. Fosbrink’s vision is astronomical. It also would likely require Mr. Fosbrink’s efforts to be focused on the capital campaign Joe Masher has already announced and running this theater, rather than serving the THS mission, stakeholders, and national members.
Second, the business model that underlies the deal. Both during his tenure as a board member, as well as in recent comments to local media, Mr. Fosbrink has stated his opinion that the Hollywood should show and second-run films. However, there is ample proof that second-run theaters do not fare well in the Pittsburgh region: in the past fifteen years, a number of second-run theaters in the area have gone out of business. More poignantly, under previous management the Hollywood itself was a second-run theater and failed to be financially sustainable. Beyond the extent to which a second-run model would affect the Hollywood’s standing programming (as it limits the ability to show unique, one-off films), it simply does not work for this area. This is not a situation of ‘if you build it, they will come’: it has been built, and they didn’t come.
Third, this agreement is neither needed nor wanted. Despite reports to the contrary, the Theater was not at risk of closure: the building was not actively listed for sale, nor is FOHT’s fiscal house in a perilous position. When Mr. Fosbrink approached us in early 2017 to inquire about a purchase/partnership we declined, and had since entered preliminary internal discussions to purchase the building ourselves. Since news of the sale broke, countless people have called, written, commented, and voiced their support for FOHT and its continued stewardship of the Theater. People in the community have been adamant in their support of our mission and programming, and equally adamant that they do not desire a theater in the mold of Mr. Fosbrink’s and Mr. Masher’s vision.
We appreciate the mission of THS, and that as members of the organization, you wish to honor and preserve the history and magic of theaters. In kind, we hope you appreciate our mission to serve Dormont and be a theater where people can see things on the big screen that they wouldn’t see anywhere else. While there are many venues where THS can achieve its mission, there is only one venue suitable to achieve our mission.
We implore you; please do not let Mr. Fosbrink finalize this sale. It serves neither the mission of THS, nor the community as a whole. He is not saving our theater; he is subjugating it.
The Board of Directors
The Friends of the Hollywood Theater
An open letter from the Friends of the Hollywood Theater on recent news reports regarding the possible sale of our building:
January 15, 2018 – Pittsburgh, PA – The Friends of the Hollywood Theater, a 501(c)3 that provides management and oversight of the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, has released a statement in regard to the Theater’s pending acquisition by the Theatre Historical Society of America.
As you have likely read or seen, the Theatre Historical Society of America (THS) has reached an agreement to purchase the Hollywood Theater in Dormont. Contrary to what has been reported, this is NOT the result of an impending closure, and the Friends of the Hollywood Theater (FOHT) would like to take a moment to explain the background of the sale, as well as the implications it has moving forward.
First, the sale itself. We were originally approached by Richard Fosbrink, executive director of THS, in early 2017 to discuss the possibility of a sale. We stated in no uncertain terms that we were not interested, and he gave us his word that he would not pursue the purchase unless there was mutual agreement. The Theater had successfully weathered a number of challenges, and we were in preliminary internal discussions to purchase the Theater ourselves, while continuing to lease it from Hollywood Partners, LLC, our landlord and a division of real estate firm Kelly-Riley-Nells-Barna & Associates. As these discussions took place, FOHT was not aware of any further inquiries by Mr. Fosbrink on behalf of THS, and we only learned of the potential sale this past Saturday, shortly before you all did.
Second, the implications it has moving forward. Previously, Mr. Fosbrink served as a board member for FOHT, during which he and Joe Masher (current president of the THS Board of Directors) envisioned it as a second-run theater (meaning a theater that shows recent releases immediately after their initial run). Ultimately we elected not to proceed in that direction: the data proves that single-screen theaters do not fare well from a financial standpoint when they are second-run, and it significantly limits the flexibility of programming (because film distributors demand uninterrupted runs for recently released films, being second-run limits a theater’s ability to show special screenings). Mr. Fosbrink resigned from the board of FOHT soon after.
It also would not be in line with our mission, which is to be a community asset with innovative and diverse programming. There are many theaters in the Pittsburgh region where you can see new or recently released films, and though we do screen those on occasion, our primary goal is to be a theater that screens films you won’t see anywhere else. It is possible that Mr. Fosbrink has had a change of heart since his time as a board member, and you are free to take him at his word that the Hollywood will operate as it has over the past 90 years. However given the duplicitous way in which the sale has been conducted, we believe the spirit of the Hollywood Theater as you have come to know it will change.
The past 48 hours have been a whirlwind, and we apologize for the delay in addressing the news. The Theater would not be what it is today without the support of the community, and one way or another, we hope the spirit of what you have helped build continues as this situation moves forward.
The staff and board have put their blood, sweat, and tears into the Theater, and given your gracious support as patrons and members of the Theater, we know our love of it has rubbed off on you. To that end, we would like to invite you to a Public Board Meeting we will be holding this Wednesday, January 17th at 6:30 p.m. at the Theater. This meeting will be our chance to make the case for why the Hollywood Theater should exist as it already does, and not as the vision of someone who would change what has made it so special. We hope you can take the time to be there.
The Board of Directors
Friends of the Hollywood Theater