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updated: 8/2/2012 2:46 PM

Supporters helping Barrington's Catlow theater survive

In less than a week, residents raise $80,791 of $100,000 needed

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  • The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor demonstrates how movie film is loaded onto a giant reel table that is then fed into the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector at the theater in Barrington. O'Connor said that allows the film projector operator to show the film as one piece versus holding a new reel one-third of the way through a movie.

       The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor demonstrates how movie film is loaded onto a giant reel table that is then fed into the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector at the theater in Barrington. O'Connor said that allows the film projector operator to show the film as one piece versus holding a new reel one-third of the way through a movie.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor said movie film is loaded onto a giant reel table that is then fed into the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector at the theater in Barrington. O'Connor said that allows the film projector operator to show the film as one piece versus holding a new reel one-third of the way through a movie.

       The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor said movie film is loaded onto a giant reel table that is then fed into the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector at the theater in Barrington. O'Connor said that allows the film projector operator to show the film as one piece versus holding a new reel one-third of the way through a movie.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow's film projection room with the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector that is now being used at the theater in Barrington.

       The Catlow's film projection room with the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector that is now being used at the theater in Barrington.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor shows off a strip of film in the theater's projection booth in Barrington.

       The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor shows off a strip of film in the theater's projection booth in Barrington.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor shows off a strip of film in the theater's projection booth in Barrington.

       The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor shows off a strip of film in the theater's projection booth in Barrington.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor in the film projection room with the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector, at right, that is being used at the theater in Barrington.

       The Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor in the film projection room with the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector, at right, that is being used at the theater in Barrington.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater's film projection room has reels and controls for the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector on the wall that is currently being used at the theater in Barrington.

       The Catlow theater's film projection room has reels and controls for the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector on the wall that is currently being used at the theater in Barrington.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Old-style giant reels are displayed in a storage room next to The Catlow's film projection room.

       Old-style giant reels are displayed in a storage room next to The Catlow's film projection room.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor displays an older type film storage system that is no longer used.

       Catlow theater co-owner Tim O'Connor displays an older type film storage system that is no longer used.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater, if and when it gets its funding, still won't be able to convert to digital technology for weeks as the money is processed and installation work proceeds.

       The Catlow theater, if and when it gets its funding, still won't be able to convert to digital technology for weeks as the money is processed and installation work proceeds.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater lobby holds memories for years of theater goers, the owners are learning from donors.

       The Catlow theater lobby holds memories for years of theater goers, the owners are learning from donors.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater in Barrington must upgrade to digital projection if it wants to continue showing Hollywood's latest releases.

       The Catlow theater in Barrington must upgrade to digital projection if it wants to continue showing Hollywood's latest releases.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater in Barrington is attracting donors worldwide who just want old theater houses preserved.

       The Catlow theater in Barrington is attracting donors worldwide who just want old theater houses preserved.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • The Catlow theater co-owner Roberta Rapata in the film projection room with the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector that is being used at the Barrington theater but doomed to be replaced by a digital machine.

       The Catlow theater co-owner Roberta Rapata in the film projection room with the 10940-50s Simplex XL film projector that is being used at the Barrington theater but doomed to be replaced by a digital machine.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

Exactly a week after Barrington's 85-year-old Catlow theater embarked on an ambitious, two-month campaign to raise $100,000 to make the necessary conversion to digital projection, it's already nearly there.

As of Thursday morning, 754 backers had pledged $96,448 to the online fundraiser on Kickstarter.com. The effort was launched the Thursday before.

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Catlow owner Tim O'Connor said the outpouring of support has left him and his partner and fiancee Roberta Rapata stunned.

"As we're finding out from all the emails, phone calls and visits, The Catlow holds a very special place in the hearts of so many people in Barrington and beyond," O'Connor said.

"We're hearing stories about couples' first dates here, childhood memories, different movies that people have memories of seeing here as either their first movie or at some other significant point in their life. There's a lot of love out there for The Catlow."

O'Connor said the fundraiser is even attracting people from other countries who will never see The Catlow but who love classic movie houses and want to save them.

The Catlow is offering a wide variety of appreciation gifts -- a free night at the movies, a free year at the movies or the chance to be a guest projectionist during the final days of film.

A single $10,000 donation will get the donor's name in lights on the marquee the night of the first digital screening -- for which the donor will be picked up and brought in by limousine.

O'Connor said Hollywood has made it very clear to theaters across the country that any still reliant on film -- and not the new digital format for movies -- will be forced out of business during 2013.

While big multiplex chains have been able to come up with the approximately $100,000 per screen to make the conversion, such a capital improvement is beyond the means of most independent theaters, O'Connor said. And many older, historically significant theaters like The Catlow fall into this category.

But it's not as simple as saying all old theaters are endangered and newer ones are not.

The historic Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove, for instance, belongs to Tivoli Enterprises, which has already invested about $7 million to convert all 13 of its Tivoli and Classic Cinema theaters in the region to digital projectors.

On the other hand, the independent Arlington Theaters in downtown Arlington Heights, only 12 years old, closed last month in part because of its owners' inability to afford the conversion to digital.

Property owners and Arlington Heights officials said this week that getting a new theater operator in there remains a top priority, but there are no deals on the table.

Though The Catlow won't receive funding from Kickstarter until after 100 percent of the goal has been met, O'Connor already has begun thinking about how the logistics of a conversion might work. He'd like to try to do it before the holiday season.

Amazon Payments will hold the funds for 14 days and the transfer to the bank could add another five days. After a contract is signed, it could still take another six weeks for the installation to start, O'Connor said.

Though he doesn't expect the installation itself will take longer than one rigorous day, O'Connor is thinking about piggybacking an upgrade to the theater's acoustics he's always wanted to make onto this project.

As The Catlow was built during the silent film era, sound projection was never accounted for in its design. When "talkies" were introduced, original owner Wright Catlow put acoustic tiling along the back wall -- but years later painted over it, rendering it useless. O'Connor said he'd like to install dampening material on the back wall.

Though this will take longer than the mere replacement of the projector, he believes it could be done incrementally during the daytime so the theater would miss only one day of business.

O'Connor also wants to keep The Catlow's main film projector active, in case the opportunity to show film again ever presents itself. But he'll make the backup film projector available for free to anyone willing to haul it away.

He's considering whether there's room in the lobby to display one of the theater's old carbon-arc lamp house units leftover from the days when the industry switched over from carbon rods to Xenon bulbs. If not, he may approach the Barrington Area Historical Society.

The Kickstarter campaign's deadline is Sept. 24, but O'Connor is urging supporters who haven't pledged yet not to get complacent. The project won't receive a dime of funding if the goal isn't entirely met by that time.

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