New Year’s Eve 1928…Dressed to the nines, revelers rejoice in the grand opening of the Viquesney Tivoli Theatre in Spencer, Indiana. Described by national media as one of the finest, small-town movie theatres in the country, Spencer artist Ernest “Dick” Viquesney commissioned the theatre at a cost of $45,000 and designed the location with architect Horam Callender Jr. of Greencastle. It quickly became a sense of pride to Spencer and the anchor for its downtown Owen County courthouse square.
The exterior was Mission Revival Style and the auditorium resembled an enclosed Spanish garden. Of course, the centerpiece of the Tivoli Theatre was its motion picture auditorium. On opening night, over 1,200 moviegoers viewed the world premiere of Shopworn Angel starring Gary Cooper and Nancy Carroll. The audience relaxed under the midnight blue ceiling, scattered with twinkling stars, giving the effect of an outdoor theatre -- one of the first star field installations of its kind.
CAPTION: The Historic Tivoli Theatre , circa 1928. Photos courtesy of The Tivoli Theatre.
Ravages of time
Time took its toll on the Tivoli Theatre since that storied day and it closed in May 1999, with the cultural icon narrowly missing the wrecking ball. In 2005 with the help of an emergency loan from Indiana Landmarks, Owen County Preservations (OCP) purchased the theatre, preventing a scheduled demolition and placing protective covenants on the building to circumvent razing. OCP took steps to prevent further deterioration, including rebuilding the support system over the stage area, repairing the roof and rebuilding the stage. However, it became clear that a large financial investment would be necessary to completely restore the Tivoli. In April 2012, benefactor Cook Group Inc., of Bloomington, Indiana, one of the world’s best-known and most-respected names in medical devices, supplies, and philanthropic efforts, stepped in to sponsor the restoration the historic Tivoli Theatre. The donation was made on behalf of the employees of Cook Medical who are based in Spencer, nearby Bloomington and other outlying communities, and came just in the nick of time.
After a year-long, exacting renovation that ran from April 2012 to April 12, 2013, the Viquesney Tivoli Theatre, complete with its original marquis, was unveiled at a special grand reopening that drew thousands from the community, nearby towns, and the public at large.
The Tivoli Theatre was immaculately restored to much of its original architectural grandeur while the projector, projection screen, audio and lighting have been transformed into a state-of-the-art digital experience with the latest. computer-driven technology. The revitalized auditorium seats 288 on the main floor and 28 in the loge. As part of the restoration, the starlight effect was recreated -- with a detailed constellation pattern matching the star alignment just as it would have appeared over Spencer at 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 1928.
Stepping up to digital projection
Systems integrator Eric Stiening, president of Experience Technology LLC in Bloomington, Indiana, was called upon to consult with the Tivoli Theatre Board of Directors and other stakeholders on the project’s restoration. Although Experience Technology specializes in residential audio, video and home automation, the company found its background and capabilities easily transferred to the historic Tivoli Theatre project. Stiening met with Stewart Filmscreen representatives during the CEDIA Expo, a major residential electronic systems contractor show, and explained the scope of the project. Stiening knew Stewart Filmscreen as a leader in high-quality, custom-configured, application-specific, projection screen solutions and felt confident that the manufacturer would be the ideal partner to assist with the design of a dynamic entertainment space at the Tivoli Theatre for movies, stage plays and live events.
Collaboration eases challenges
Still, there was some trepidation on the part of Stiening, only because Experience Technology was primarily a residential home theater integration firm, but any fears were quickly alleviated in ongoing consultations with Stewart Filmscreen. “We talked about the possibilities for the projection screen solution and it was that one-on-one relationship I developed with Stewart Filmscreen that served as my launching pad to get involved more heavily in the design and implementation of the entire system at the Tivoli,” he says.
There were challenges to the installation, especially with regards to space limitations and the auditorium’s structure and configuration. The opening arches at the Tivoli are less than 25 feet wide and Experience Technology was limited to the constraints of that space as well as the auditorium’s overall distance. It was important for the Tivoli to be able show movies in their original aspect ratio while maximizing the image area, and that the stage itself could be easily converted for live events. To accommodate the theatre’s unique needs, Stewart Filmscreen’s engineering team designed the nearly 300-inch, custom, four-way ElectriMask Wallscreen to provide the biggest, most immersive image for today’s entertainment content shot in Cinemascope, HD, or Ultra HD, while still perfectly framing classic content shot in 4:3 or other aspect ratios. And, at the touch of a button, the screen could be made to “fly” out of the way of the restricted stage area. This required a special rigging lift design that would not only house and “fly” the projection screen, but it would also need to accommodate a massive array of JBL speakers mounted behind the screen. No small task to be sure, but with help from rigging firm Beck Studios, the team created a design that would simultaneously facilitate the disappearing act of nearly 1,900 lbs. of commercial audio video equipment.
CAPTION: Beck Studios worked closely with Stewart Filmscreen and Experience Technology to design and install the automated lift system that would fly the 14-foot screen and loudspeaker array some 13 feet off the ground and out of the way of the stage, via a custom pulley configuration mounted behind the screen.
There were other ongoing design and engineering considerations for the historic theatre. “In order to retain the historic nature of the property, there were no modifications allowed to the structure of the building itself,” Stiening continues. “We were dealing with a restoration that dates to a time where widescreen and cinema screens were not the same aspect ratios as today. But we analyzed the space we were given and took the specifications to the engineers at Stewart Filmscreen. We wanted to maximize the overall image size and wanted the screen to be fixed but still able to move completely out of the way. A lot of care and detail went into the overall design and Stewart Filmscreen delivered a product that is exactly as specified, works wonderfully, looks beautiful and perfectly complements the overall aspects of the Tivoli Theatre,” he says. He added that when the screen was shipped to the theatre for the installation, Stewart Filmscreen’s Field Service Manager Doug Lyttle from the Amelia, Ohio office stayed onsite to supervise.
Completely custom, the projection screen solution from Stewart Filmscreen was designed, engineered, and built to maximize the Tivoli’s available space and provide the most impressive, immersive audience experience possible. (Complete Tivoli Theatre specs are highlighted at the end of this story.)
Stewart Filmscreen also created a custom projector port for the project. Experience Technology wanted to achieve the best image possible delivered from the projector to the Stewart screen and had to deal with issues related to the thickness and curvature of the projection room’s wall to meet the intended objective. “Stewart Filmscreen came forward with a solution for the projection room as well. The projector port was special, and although we had never worked with something like that before, Stewart Filmscreen was able to design to specification and accommodate the parameters to deliver the best possible experience.”
CAPTION: Stewart Filmscreen projector ports are designed to reduce projector noise.
Tyson Jordan, the Tivoli Theatre’s lead projectionist and a member of the OCP board, said the finished product definitely has that ‘wow’ factor. “The picture quality and sound are better than what you would get in a modern, multiplex theatre. The projector itself is a powerhouse and the audio is fantastic. The colors coming off the screen are spectacular,” he says.
Design for high-profile projects
Stewart Filmscreen specializes in customization and is no stranger to high-profile, cinematic experiences. For years, major motion picture studios, award ceremonies, and other televised entertainment events, theme parks, and aerospace companies have trusted Stewart Filmscreen to deliver the best image possible, regardless of the application. In fact, it is through these efforts that Stewart has come to use the phrase, “From critical viewing to mission critical, that’s where you’ll find Stewart Filmscreen”.
The design specification and installation were a collaborative effort not only between Stewart Filmscreen and Experience Technology, but the architect, project management and other contractors. “Everyone, including the electrical contractor, lighting contractor, rigging company, project manager, architect and others worked together to bring together a flawless system,” Stiening says. “We wanted the auditorium to be as close to the original as possible, but the fun part was delivering a new digital cinema system and integrating high-powered speakers into a structure that harkens back to when it opened in 1928. The Tivoli now anchors the downtown area and is a point of pride for all who experience it.”
Others who collaborated on the Historic Tivoli Theatre restoration project included:
Carl Cook, CEO, Cook Group Inc.
Kathy Cook and the Tivoli Theatre Board of Directors
Dana Beth Evans, Director of the Tivoli Theatre
Cassady Electrical Contractors Inc.
George Ridgeway, Chief Architect, Cook Group Inc.
Pritchett Brothers, Project Management
Beck Studios, Lift Rigging
Cassady Electrical Contractors, Electrical and Lighting including fiber optic star field
Revitalizing a Community
The grand reopening of the Tivoli Theatre, which has been nominated for the Cook award from the Indiana Landmarks Organization, tugged at the hearts of the community. “At a time when local communities are losing theatres across the state and the country, this renovation took on special significance,” says Carl Cook, CEO of the Cook Group Inc. “The Tivoli Theatre surpasses any building in Spencer. It brought together the community, the contractors who worked on the building, volunteers, and brought to light the history of Spencer. This was not just a restoration – it was a way to help revitalize the community,” he adds. Today, the Tivoli Theatre audience consists of locals as well as those that drive from neighboring communities and from the farther reaches of the state. Some will drive two to three hours to take in a movie or watch a performance at the Tivoli, a true testament to the property’s position as a cultural anchor for the region.
Stiening says the Tivoli Theatre is definitely one of his company’s flagship projects.
“Stewart Filmscreen worked in tandem with us and they delivered. Anyone in our industry or those unfamiliar with the technology coming in to watch a movie will be impressed with the results. It’s a wonderful experience whether you are nine or 90, coming in for the first time or reliving the past. The Tivoli theatre is certainly a beautiful place to experience.”
History in the making. See the Tivoli Theatre’s incredible transformation captured in this documentary. Video and imagery provided by Joseph Toth, The Historic Tivoli Theatre Board of Directors, Cook Medical, and the Owen County Preservation.
Tivoli Theatre Specs
The equipment list for the Tivoli Theatre restoration project included:
LINKS and ATTRIBUTION:
Tivoli Theatre: www.spencertivoli.org
Experience Technology: www.experiencetechnology.net
COOK Group: www.cookmedical.com
Documentary video: https://vimeo.com/64330924, Joseph A. Toth, Director of Audio Visual Services, Midwest Institute for Clinical Research, Inc., and the Tivoli Theatre Board of Directors, with image asset assistance from Gretchen Kromer.
Experience Technology Interview video: https://youtu.be/3hI-TeqsY-k, KMB Communications Inc. for Stewart Filmscreen Corp.
Images courtesy of:
The Tivoli Theatre Board of Directors, Tracy Wilson, Eric Stiening, Owen County Historical Society, COOK Group, Joseph Toth, Kirsten Wade, Gretchen Kromer, and Jason Kinney