Coming soon to a theater near you -- a new owner, hopefully.
Kimball Bayles, owner of Colorado Springs' last remaining downtown cinema, Kimball's Twin Peak, is selling the theater after a near four-year run at reviving the 63-year-old movie house.
Bayles operated a tiny art cinema in the Poor Richard's complex prior to the reopening of the Peak in 1994, offering art films, foreign films and unexpected independent successes (The Crying Game ran there for six months) to a devoted coterie of fans.
But the North Tejon street space was cramped, sounds of clanking dishes and coffee cups from the restaurant next door resonated through the theater walls, and popcorn popped at the back of the darkened auditorium. When his friends Raphael Sassower and Karl Walter bought the Pikes Peak Avenue building that housed the old Peak -- closed down since the end of its days as a dollar double-feature shop in 1989 -- Bayles became the owner and operator of a newly renovated theater. The revived theater, at 115 E. Pikes Peak, is sleek and spiffy, but some of the old touches still remain, like the glow-in-the-dark red rocks landscape mural in the main auditorium.
First opened in 1937, the Peak was part of a booming downtown cinema scene. It was never the most elegant theater in town -- that distinction belonged to the long-gone Chief, housed in the former Burns Opera House, now torn down. But the Peak enjoyed a steady stream of customers for many years, including Bayles himself who remembers frequenting the theater as a boy.
"I remember sitting in the balcony watching Shot in the Dark, a Peter Sellers film with Elke Sommer, about 75 times," said Bayles in a 1993 interview with the Independent. "I actually memorized the entire script."
The 1994 grand re-opening of Kimball's Twin Peak was a gala event -- a fund-raiser for film programs at UCCS where patrons packed the house at $25 a ticket for two screenings of Midnight Cowboy, re-released that summer for its 25th anniversary.
"I remember sitting back, sipping a glass of wine in the darkened theater and thinking, I don't care if anyone comes to see [Midnight Cowboy], this is just as good as it gets," said Bayles. His plan was to show a mix of "better commercial movies" and art films, but market demands soon had him scrambling for whatever film he could get.
"It stopped being fun last year," he said. "The biggest thing that changed everything was the entrance of Tinseltown into the market."
Because most smaller, crossover, independent films aren't printed in great quantity, there are usually only one or two prints available in a mid-sized market like Colorado Springs. Theaters with corporate clout like Cinemark, Carmike or United Artists are more likely to gain favor with the distributor than smaller exhibitors like Bayles. (The three art theaters in Denver -- Chez Artiste, The Mayan and The Esquire -- are owned by Landmark, an L.A.-based theater group that is the nation's largest exhibitor of independent films.)
Compounding Bayles' problems with distributors was the constant need for cash infusions into the business. Alhough he installed a new sound system when the theater was reopened in '94, changing technology now demands a new and better digital system that costs about $100,000 plus the requisite acoustical work that both auditoriums need to support an enhanced system.
Bayles and building owner Walter are currently looking for a buyer for the theater. Their hope is to find a patron, or a group of patrons, who will want to maintain the Peak as a movie house, and who have the money to make the needed improvements.
"If this were a purely selfish move, I'd have just closed it down when I saw I wasn't making any money, and that was a long time ago," said Bayles. But buying a theater, he said, isn't like buying just any business. "You're buying a lifestyle -- it's a very public thing operating a theater like this one with a loyal clientele, in the middle of downtown. We're the only downtown entertainment; it's the bars and us. I feel a responsibility to my customers not to just shut the doors."
A few potential owners have been identified, but no deals have been cut. Bayles, meanwhile, is hoping that someone will emerge who appreciates the need for a downtown venue, and who savors the history of the Peak.
"Old guys came in with memories of the place," he said, referring to a customer who came in and said he had been an usher at the Peak when he was a boy. Bayles gave him a tour of the place.
"A woman came in one day who said she and her husband saw a movie together at the Peak before he went off to war (World War II). He never came back.
"She said 'This place has a special meaning for me.'"
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