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Progress: Cinema is a hidden gem on Main Street

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Scott Zaremba admits he’s always got something going. Another idea, another project that’s already in the works. Zaremba, a local businessman who also has ventures in Lawrence, owns the Plaza Cinema, a hidden gem on Main Street in downtown Ottawa.The grand dame has the distinction of being the oldest operating purpose-built cinema in the world, and Zaremba is doing everything he can to restore her to her former glory. After purchasing the building six years ago, he became its sole owner last summer. In that time, Zaremba has automated ticket sales, giving moviegoers the flexibility to purchase tickets online, along with gift cards and movie posters.Up next for Zaremba is installing reclining chairs to enhance the cinematic experience for ticket buyers. That could happen within the next 90-120 days. Once the chairs are installed, moviegoers can reserve their own seat as they’re purchasing a ticket.Another big project Zaremba is working on is the addition of two Air BNB Rentals on the second floor. Each rental features a full kitchen. He’s also renovating the viewing area, which eventually can be rented for private viewings.On Thursday, he hauled out 8,000 pounds of plaster. On another day, it was 1,300 pounds of steel and metal. There’s also been exterior facelifts, including restoration work on the marquee.“I’ve been involved in a lot of different things in my life, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most is restoring things,” Zaremba said. “Whether it’s a (vehicle) or a building, I want to be able to restore and repurpose it. You know, it’s either in your blood, or it’s not.”One of his more recent projects involved the purchase and renovation of the former post office building.At the time it was purchased, the building sat vacant for 18 years. Today, it’s an event center.“I always see something interesting when renovating a historical building,” he said. “I want to be able to preserve these buildings so (future generations) will be able to enjoy them. I hate to see historical buildings torn down. I love to see them rebuilt and repurposed. When things like this building are built well, they’ll last for years if we maintain them.”The Plaza Cinema opened in 1907 at 211 S. Main St. but was originally named The Bijou. It was also called The Yale and The Crystal before opening as The Plaza in 1935.In the beginning, tickets were a nickel, and usually included two moving pictures and a song performed live.The Plaza also features the Movie Memorabilia Museum, which includes one of the earliest motion picture projectors as well as other exhibits, including movie scripts, posters and props. Zaremba hopes to have a self-guided, audio tour soon. He also has plans to eventually broaden the tour to include much of downtown Ottawa.“I think something like this can be a boon to the community,” he said. “There’s nowhere else you can see this, and I think it’s a big deal.”″...And we’re trying to put something together as we speak – so we have a larger tour, featuring our historic downtown. I want to make it big enough where it draws people to stay in community and then go home and tell their friends.”Movies aside, the cinema can also be rented for birthday parties, reunions and other events.“With the technology we have, we can show anything,” he said. “We can play home movies. It’s a 112- year-old theatre with the latest technology. It’s kinda the people’s theatre.”

Press release: March 6, 2018Ottawa movie theater named world’s oldest by GuinnessOTTAWA, Kansas --- The Plaza Cinema in Ottawa, Kansas, which opened May 22, 1907 has been named the Oldest Purpose-Built Cinema in Operation by Guinness World Records. The deco-styled downtown movie theater opened at 211 S. Main St. on May 22, 1907 and still shows current-run movies.The Plaza’s record beat the previous record holder, the Korsor Biograf in Denmark, which opened in Aug. 1908, by more than a year.Deborah Barker, who recently retired from the Ottawa Historical Society, uncovered a trove of photographs that indicated the theater was already operating in Ottawa’s early horse-and-buggy days.Peggy Armstrong, Deborah Barker and film historian Bill Shaffer compiled and authenticated evidence using documents, news reports and photographs from the Franklin County Courthouse, Franklin County Historical Society and Ottawa Library, all in Ottawa, Kansas, and newspapers.com, an online database.Convincing Guinness was a daunting task that required submitting documentation in the form of articles, movie ads and photographs for every year in the cinema’s 111-year history. It was increatable how thorough and professional the Guinness staff were,”The extensive evidence required by Guinness led resurchers to discover daily ads that listed the titles of the movies shown in the cinema’s earliest years.Over the years, the theater changed names and owners and expanded but never moved. It opened as The Bijou and for a time was called The Yale and The Crystal before opening as The Plaza in 1935.When the cinema opened, tickets cost five cents and usually included two moving pictures and an “illustrated song” performed by a live singer.Many of the moving pictures were made in France and distributed out of Kansas City. Titles of some of the first movies shown include: “Bad Mother,” “Pay Day Target,” “Nihilist’s Revenge,” “Blind Man’s Dog,” “Rival Brothers” and “Horse of Another Color.” Behind the current twin screening rooms at the Plaza, in the original stage area, now housing the Movie Memorabilia Museum. Exhibits include a numbered original Edison Kinetoscope, one of the earliest motion picture projectors, movie scripts, posters and props.

November 2015 Plaza Cinema featured in ‘Sunflower Journeys’ Thursday segmentmovie poster, movie theaters nearbyClick below to watch story

September 2013
Kansas movie theater discovers it is the oldest operating theater in America
Kansas movie theater discovers it is the oldest operating theater in AmericaOTTAWA, Kansas-- A movie theater in a small rural town finds it is the oldest operating theater in America -- and maybe in the world.A recent donation of historic photographs made to the Franklin County Historical Society led executive director Deb Barker to alert Plaza Grill and Cinema theater, 211 S. Main St., that she had some very interesting photographs of the theater from the early days of 1900. That began the research that unraveled more than a century of “Cinemagic” in Ottawa“Our records document a carnival on Main Street in 1905 that included two tents where movies were being shown. We have a photo of one of the tents on East Second St.” Barker said. “One movie was The Great Train Robbery; the other was about a great bank robbery.“Later that year the Guardian newspaper recorded many stories about the first regular movie show being opened by Fred Beeler in the current Plaza Theater building,” Barker said. “The newspaper editor apparently was a big movie fan because he wrote many articles about what a wonderful cultural enrichment the movies were and what a fascinating and safe place for children during matinee showings.”The plan is to re-create the movie theater experience by educating and entertaining guests from across the state and beyond.
“We want to create an even greater experience that travels beyond the traditional first-run movie audience. “We believe the economic impact created by a project of this size will be substantial, which makes it good for everyone.Area residents are encouraged to share their favorite magical movie memories to be included in a documentary being made that will be one of the many features of the tourist attraction. Bill Shaffer, producer for Channel 11 -- Kansas Public TV, Topeka, whose father is one of the former owners of the theater. Shaffer plans to produce a film documenting the first movie ever made and short clips of historic films from silent movies to talkies and beyond. We have acquired a number of historical artifacts from the motion picture industry that would be part of a historical components’ exhibit, such as a kinetoscope, peep shows and stereo .It’s about the impact the theater has had on so many Franklin County lives through the years, It’s about the retreat and escape a person could find here, leaving the world and all of its problems out on the sidewalk. There’s magic in these walls and a history that has so many layers we may never get to the original layer.”Few other cornerstones in small communities across America offer the historical, emotional and cultural value provided by the local “picture show,” Sharp said.“We have a significant artifact right here on Main Street". Make plans today and come experience history!

Plaza 1907 News.

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