What the Kentucky Needs: Landmark Theatre to Turn 90

What the Kentucky Needs: Landmark Theatre to Turn 90


What the Kentucky (Theatre)
Needs on its Epic Birthday

This article appears on page 6 of the September 13 print edition of Ace Weekly.

The Kentucky Theatre opened on October 4, 1922, and wasn’t substantially renovated until the 1950s. Fire closed its doors “temporarily,” in 1987, but it remained dark until 1992, after Herculean efforts to get it re-opened.

In Ace’s very first issue, on stands in May 1989, is an article titled, “Kentucky Theatre: Revival or Just Plain Survival,” written by Jo Ann Circosta. The opening paragraphs read “The Kentucky has languished in suspended animation since October 1987, when a fire in the adjacent Fleur de Lys restaurant forced the closure of both establishments. The restaurant moved within a matter of months and is doing a thriving business on Upper Street. The Kentucky Theatre, however, continues to sit quietly, waiting to be revived — “Closed Temporarily” being its limp lament. Its revival has been delayed, not because of a lack of interest on the part of its loyal followers, but rather because of the complex legal aspects of its ownership and operation.” The story was dominated by a half page list of “Movies We’ve Missed,” lamenting the long list of indies that would have shown there… Babette’s Feast…Jean de Florette, Lair of the White Worm…

Young readers or those new to Lexington might not even remember a time when the Kentucky didn’t anchor downtown and Main Street (after a lengthy and arduous campaign, it reopened in 1992). But anyone who remembers the 80s – anyone who planned their social lives around the iconic Kentucky Theatre calendars taped to their fridges — knows it can never be taken for granted.

Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Borel at the October 2010 Secretariat premiere of Kentucky Theatre.

The Kentucky’s 90th anniversary planning has been in the works for some time. Iconic manager Fred Mills spoke excitedly about it this past Sunday after a showing of Killer Joe, in between customer interruptions to dispense Coke, and re-stock the men’s room with paper towels.

With reports in the last week that additional theater groups are looking at East downtown as potential locations for development, he’s optimistic that much of the Kentucky’s niche programming will remain a draw, though he told the Herald-Leader he’d rather not have the competition.

He feels confident in the ability of the Friends of the Kentucky Theatre to spearhead a fundraising campaign that will keep the Theatre current with digital technology and the physical facility in good shape. He says of co-chair Isabel Yates, “she is a hard person to say no to.”

Filmmaker Eren McGinnis loved the Kentucky so much, she made a documentary about it.

Kentucky Theatre manager Fred Mills at the Seabiscuit premiere. Photo by Ari Polos.

She writes, “When I lived in Lexington, I would go to the late show every Tuesday with my gal pal Carol Garver to watch films that we could not see anywhere else. I am a filmmaker and I revere the intimate experience of sitting in an old movie palace with a crowd.  I love the experience so much that my filmmaking partner, Ari Luis Palos, and I made a movie about the history of the Kentucky Theatre and the incredible people who, against all the odds, have cared for this space over the years.  The history of the Kentucky Theatre mirrors the story of downtown and reminds us of the foibles of city planners and how bad city planning can really extract the soul out of a city.  Some think it is fine to tear down our palaces of memories, ultra-cool 100-year-old buildings, with architectural elegance and palatial doors.  These sacred spaces should be able to remain and thrive.

“I lived in Bell Court for many years and would walk, with lots of kids from my neighborhood, to see old films in the summer classic series.  On the way home, after experiencing ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ we skipped and sang together, ‘What a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again!’

Ace, May 1989

Filmmaker Jean Donohue says, “As a young film criticism student at UK I spent many an afternoon watching the wonderfully ‘curated’ films at the Kentucky. That, combined with the extraordinary cadre of film criticism professors gathered at UK English Department Dick Sugg, Walt Foreman, Armando Prat, it was a heady brew. I didn’t realize til much later that Fred Mills et al were bringing in the most avant-garde films made in the 70s, that wonderful decade of auteur filming. It turns out this wasn’t happening in other towns the size of Lexington, not just in Kentucky, but throughout the U.S. Lexington wouldn’t be Lexington without the Kentucky Theater (and Squecial!).”

As Eren puts it, “Viva the Kentucky Theatre!  Run, skip, or walk your way down there tonight.”

An anniversary fundraising kickoff is planned for October 10, 2012.

Kentucky’s Mighty Wurlitzer project will host a screening of 1929’s Wings on October 4, 2012, with live accompaniment. An exhibit will be up throughout October in the State Theatre next door.



What the Kentucky Needs

Fred Mills has been informed that in 2013, many distributors will only have digital format for films, thus limiting the films that will be available to be shown at the Kentucky. In the near future, no distributor will have access to film, as everything will be converted to digital format.

Update the lobby and the concession stand. Both areas have been overused and are showing signs of deterioration.

Many of the light fixtures and the wiring to the light system are outdated, and not energy-efficient.

Perform acoustical analysis, realign speakers, and install additional acoustical panels as needed.

Seats, Carpet
Both need to be replaced.

Repair Marquee
The marquee was updated in 1992, but technology has changed. It’s hard to repair the marquee. LED tubing needs to replace both the neon tubing and the other light fixtures. Parts of the actual marquee need to be repaired as well.

Raymond the projectionist (photo by the late Forrest Payne)


From the Friends of the Kentucky Theatre

Our beloved Kentucky Theatre is celebrating two important milestones this year: its 90th birthday and the 20th anniversary of the renovation that restored it after a devastating fire.

Clearly, we love our historic theatre…in fact, we love it so much, we’ve just about worn it out. The Kentucky needs new seating, new carpeting, rewiring, a new projector, and a new sound system. Its beautiful Main Street marquee that lights up our downtown needs significant repair, as does its lobby.

All of that costs money, of course, and the city’s budget is still extremely tight. That’s why we’ve formed Friends of the Kentucky Theatre. We’re looking to theatre lovers from all walks of life to join us in support of the Kentucky. We’re planning a giving campaign that will include naming opportunities and gift opportunities.

Lexington KY 40507


Isabel Yates,
Co-chair, Friends of the Kentucky Theatre

Steve Grossman
Co-Chair, Friends of the Kentucky Theatre



Also in this issue:

P. 4    Gallery Hop for a Cause
P. 8    Killer Joe Review
P. 10  Jubilo Music Festival
P. 12   Boomslang 2012: A Preview
P. 13   Chef Tom’s Take on Cazuelas
P. 14   Bluegrass Baseball