If I’d posted a color picture of this week’s Access Point, I don’t think there would have been any question. It’s not The Varsity, nor Chuck E. Cheese, but the more popular choice: The Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon Avenue. The first commenter to guess correctly is two-time Access Points winner Lain Shakespeare.
Easy to see why so many of you guessed the photo correctly. The sign and marquee stand out on that stretch of Ponce, and they’ve been there a long time, 70 years, in fact. Theater owners Jonathan and Gayle Rej will celebrate this Friday by partying with Robert Osbourne of Turner Classic Movies and screening of the 1939 hit, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” plus more 1939 films the rest of the month. This will also kick off the fund-raising campaign for the Plaza Theatre Foundation, the new non-profit that runs the theater.
A quick history:
The Rejes live in East Atlanta and bought the theater in 2006 with a bit less thought than what goes into most real estate purchases. Of course it’ll be a success, they thought. Everyone loves that place!
“We bought really just to save it. We saw it for sale and didn’t want it to close,” Jonathan Rej says. “I have a full-time job in film and TV production, [Gayle] worked in theaters in college and had the know-how. We talked to the bank about how much they’d give us against our house. And here we are, trying to keep it from going away.”
Since then, Gayle works for the theater full time and Jonathan handles the booking. They’ve got good volunteers and good friends, but as he describes it, “we’re the ones down there cleaning the toilets.”
And in exchange, they get to sing along to “Grease” every few months, and see audiences treat “Purple Rain” like a rock concert, demanding encores. Jonathan’s favorite is the Silver Scream Spook Show, the classic horror films. Their usual audience is one that has seen all these movies 100 times, but just wants to keep coming back.
“Something about seeing a movie in a theater full of people that love it,” he says. “It takes movie viewing to a whole other level.”
Want to go? The Plaza Theatre celebrates its 70th anniversary with a party featuring Turner Classic Movie host Robert Osbourne and a screening of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” 7 p.m. Jan. 15.$20. 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave., Atlanta. 404-873-1939, www.plazaatlanta.com.
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