Plaza 1907 News.
By The Associated Press
OTTAWA, Kan. — The oldest continuously operating movie theater in the world might figure to be in New York or Hollywood.
How about Kansas?
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Ottawa, some 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City, Missouri, is home to the Plaza 1907 Cinema, showing films since May 22, 1907, when black-and-white, silent movies ruled the day.
What sets the theater in the town of 12,300 people apart is that over the past 112 years, it has never shut down and has remained at the same location.
Owner Scott Zaremba said that in the early days, films were made of a highly flammable material, so fires were common.
The Plaza applied for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2017, and last year, it achieved the distinction of being the "World's Oldest Operating Purpose-Built Cinema" after it was determined it was two days older than another movie house in Denmark.
"The viewing public really enjoys the experience of coming to the theater," Zaremba said. "You just can't get that at home or on your phone. You can't get that experience anywhere else, with the sound systems we have."
Topeka Capital Journal
Posted Aug 24, 2019
OTTAWA — If you ever wondered where the oldest continuously operating movie theater in the world is located, look no further than this Franklin County town about 50 miles southeast of Topeka.
The Plaza 1907 Cinema, 209 S. Main in downtown Ottawa, has been showing films since May 22, 1907 — when black-and-white silent movies mesmerized audiences.
Over the past century, the theater has seen it all, at least as it pertains to movies: from Bogey and Bacall to Redford and Streisand; from Hanks and Ryan to Winslet and DiCaprio; and all the famed actors and actresses before and since.
The theater now has two screens and shows first-run movies. Recent films included “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”; “The Angry Birds 2″; “The Art of Racing in the Rain”; “Dora and the Lost City of Gold”; and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.”
What sets the theater apart from all the rest is that it never shut down and has remained at the same location for 112 years.
“One of the reasons we’re the oldest continuously operating theater in the world is we didn’t burn down,” said owner Scott Zaremba. “A lot of the others didn’t make it because they burned down.”
Zaremba said in the early days of movies, films were made of a highly flammable material. The projectors themselves used an arc that also could set off a fire.
In 2017, the Plaza theater applied for inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records. In 2018, it achieved the distinction of being the “World’s Oldest Operating Purpose-Built Cinema” after it was determined it was two days older than another movie house in Denmark.
Zaremba, 53, became co-owner of the Plaza in 2014. He took over as the sole proprietor in July 2018.
These days, Zaremba said, he is working on making improvements to the historic movie house, which previously operated as the Crystal Plaza and the Bijou theater.
At the same time, he said, he wants to preserve the theater’s historical features.
Among current projects: converting an upstairs section of the movie house into a pair of Airbnbs that people can rent by the day.
Other work includes adding a balcony; turning the old projector room, which has a concrete and steel-lined room, into a lounge; and adding wooden seats like those that were in place when the theater opened more than a century ago.
In addition to making the theater a more inviting place for guests, Zaremba said, he also is working on developing self-guided tours of Ottawa’s downtown area.
The Plaza will offer special film showings in the coming weeks. “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache,” will be presented Sept. 20 to 26. “The Mark of Zorro,” a silent film with live music, will be presented on Sept. 26.
In a day in which people can view movies on their smartphones, televisions or mobile devices, Zaremba said, movie theaters are making a comeback.
“The viewing public really enjoys the experience of coming to the theater,” Zaremba said. “You just can’t get that at home or on your phone. You can’t get that experience anywhere else, with the sound systems we have.
“Even the younger generation enjoys that experience. If you can get them in the theater and get that experience, they come back time and time again.”
Ottawa, a town of 12,342 people, is located on Interstate 35, a major north-south highway in the center of the United States.
In addition to showing movies, the Plaza also rents its space for special events, such as weddings, seminars and business training events. It also rents its facility as a place for families to show their home movies starting at $95 an hour.
The Plaza has a museum that showcases movie memorabilia, with tours offered by Peggy Armstrong, 71, known as “the resident historian, tour guide and theater manager.”
Ticket prices for movies are $9.25 for adults; $8.25 for military and seniors 65 and older; $8.25 for children 10 and under; and $7.95 for matinees for all ages. All tickets are $6 on Wednesdays.
For more information, visit www.plaza1907.com.
July 24, 2019 Abby Monteil
Imagine the oldest cinema in the world. Did your mind wander to the bustling streets of New York City or Los Angeles in glamorous old Hollywood? To get there, you instead need to drive an hour south to a quaint Main Street in Ottawa, Kansas.
“The oldest purpose-built cinema in operation was achieved by Plaza 1907, which has been in operation since 22 May 1907,” Guinness World Records declares.
Ottawans have always known that Plaza 1907 had a rich history. However, its distinction as the oldest theater in the world emerged in 2013, when Deborah Barker of the local historical society developed old negatives.
These photos indicated that Plaza had, in fact, been operating since 1905 — three years longer than Denmark’s Korsof Biograf. Guinness required extensive evidence of the opening date, sending a small team of researchers on a yearslong quest to sort through old articles, photographs and documents referencing the theater.
“The Guinness requirement is verification through documentation — showing that it was operational during all of those time periods,” Plaza’s current owner Scott Zaremba says. “It was just a time-consuming kind of labor of love.”
The first movie shown in Ottawa was at a 1904 street fair, when Chicago exhibitor George Spoor began distributing short “moving pictures” around the Midwest. Using a projection machine called the KinoDrome, he played The Great Train Robbery, a 10-minute film from 1903.
Among the moviegoers was local electrician Fred Beeler, who was inspired to purchase his own portable machine in 1905 and began projecting these moving pictures at a private men’s club inside the Pickrell Building. Local interest inspired the Wagner family to open the Bijou Theater — the town’s first movie theater — on May 1, 1907. Demand prompted a move to its permanent home in the Pickrell Building by May 22. The first films shown were Bad Mother, A Trip to the Stars on a Soap Bubble and Two Wives for One Husband. Complaints from local religious leaders about “fiendish flickering films” convinced owners to include religious content, such as The Holy City.
In those days, a night at the cinema meant standing in a single line to watch 10- to 15-minute silent features. Afterwards, singers would give live performances known as “illustrated songs.” In 1907, there were 12 shows daily, and tickets cost five cents.
Advertisement for the cinema came from local newspapers as much as word of mouth. “The show is first-class in every particular,” The Ottawa Guardian boasted in 1907. “The most fastidious need not be ashamed to attend.”
The Bijou continued to grow and soon showed new films daily. It was renamed twice in 1909 but later damaged by a fire in 1917. To his credit, resident pianist Harry Mapes continued to play until every last audience member had escaped.
The theater survived until the Great Depression hit. Renovations forced the cinema to close from 1929 to 1934 — however, it was never used for another purpose.
Today, the two-screen theater is open weekly from Wednesday to Sunday. To honor the theater’s part in film history, Zaremba also created a memorabilia museum on the Plaza’s original stage. The two-level room is filled with authentic props, posters and scripts dating back to the 19th century. Highlights include a vintage Edison Kinetoscope, an early draft of 1983’s Return of the Jedi (still titled Revenge of the Jedi) and an original wand box from 2001’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Progress: Cinema is a hidden gem on Main Street
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, 2018
Ottawa 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
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!
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