Speakeasy Movie Theatre returns to Breckenridge as part of renovated community center
If you go
What: “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb” (PG, 94 minutes)
When: 5:30 and 8 p.m. daily, plus 3 p.m. matinee on Saturday and Sunday
Where: Speakeasy Movie Theatre, 103 S. Harris St., Breckenridge
Cost: $10 for adults, $7 for children, seniors, military and matinees
More information: Call (970) 453-9021, or visit www.speakeasymovies.com.
Snow fell softly on a winter afternoon, flecks of white against the red brick framing illuminated posters that hawked coming attractions. Showtime was approaching, and a cheerful glow emanated from the windows of the new addition on the north end of the old schoolhouse building on Harris Street in Breckenridge.
Families passed through the double doors to the gleaming new concession stand, where parents bought tickets and children ogled the shelves of candy lying in colorful rows. They scooped up their popcorn and sodas and disappeared down the hallway to the waiting silver screen, among the first to experience the renaissance of the Speakeasy Movie Theatre.
Originally established in 1998 in the basement of the old Colorado Mountain College, the Speakeasy sits at 9,604 feet of elevation, making it the highest cinema in the United States. Karin Litzmann first discovered the theater when she moved to Breckenridge in 2001.
“I loved the programming and got to meet the guys who ran it,” she said. “When Guy Natanel sold it to move to London to go to film school, he asked if I wanted to buy into the business, and that was in 2008.”
When Litzmann became owner and manager of the theater, it was a few dozen red, padded seats, a screen and a hulking 35-millimeter projector named Vicky.
“That was her nickname because it’s a Victoria model from Italy, and she was a little touchy old lady,” Litzmann said with a laugh. “You always had to treat her with respect and gently focus her at the beginning of each show and hope she stayed in focus.”
In 2012, Hollywood decided to leave behind its filmstrip days and convert everything to digital, a near deathblow for the Speakeasy, which was faced with the options of converting or closing. At about the same time, the town of Breckenridge had purchased the building housing the Speakeasy from CMC and was mulling over options for it.
“We asked if we could stay while they figured out what they were going to do with the building,” Litzmann said. “Then the grand renovation project happened, and there was overwhelming support from the town of Breckenridge, the people here, that the Speakeasy be part of the new Harris Street building, so we were thrilled.”
PEELING BACK LAYERS
The new Speakeasy Theatre is more than just an upgraded version of its former, funky self. The old theater sat in the east end of the basement, which now houses a community multipurpose room. The new cinema was moved to the west end, underneath the new library, in a part of the building that has seen many uses over the years.
“The new theater is where the clay studio was for CMC,” said Graham Johnson, assistant project manager for Spectrum General Contractors and project engineer for the Harris Street schoolhouse renovation. “That’s where the historic swimming pool was, the far west of the building. That’s where the fire department had their spots in the building when the town used it as town hall.”
The contractors removed layers of material added over the years, from the shelves and walls of the pottery studio down to the original swimming pool that was built when the gymnasium and auditorium addition was constructed in 1921.
“Finding the pool was pretty neat,” Johnson said. “That was something from the very beginning everyone talked about. There were no historic photos, no one knew where it was or the orientation, so as we were peeling back the layers, it was almost like a treasure hunt trying to figure out what wall used to be where.
“We found the old plumbing where the dressing rooms were and the heat pipes from the pool, the pool walls themselves. It was neat to try to envision how that looked. From the beginning, (we knew) there was a pool somewhere down there, and when we finally found it, we figured out how to work with those existing walls and material that was already in place down there.”
When the fire department relocated to the building in the late 1960s, they cut big garage doors in the side of the building for their trucks and toppled the pieces of foundation into the swimming pool, Johnson said, filling in the rest with gravel and sand and pouring a new floor slab on top of it. Some of the base material was retained in the renovation, but with the slant of the floor for the theater, there was more than what was needed.
“As you walked into the old clay studio, that floor used to be about where the bottom of the screen is now, slightly higher, so that floor dropped quite a bit for the seating and for the screen and all the elements to fit properly,” Johnson said.
Johnson described the new theater’s design as a room within a room, and said different building techniques were used to both keep the sound quality in the theater high and keep that sound from escaping into the library above.
An air gap above the theater, where all of the ductwork runs, provides insulation, along with a double-layer ceiling with isolation framing that breaks the path of the sound, allowing less noise to pass through. All of the seams in the walls and any pipe that went through were also sealed with sound caulking to prevent air movement.
“It was a more complicated room in the construction process because of that, but I think it does its job well,” Johnson said. “When it’s running, it’s tough to hear upstairs, though I haven’t been in here in a perfectly quiet building. That whole process and that system was a big part in getting the theater all prepared.”
The theater is outfitted with a state-of-the-art projection system, with digital picture and sound for a crisp, clean, high-tech film experience. The final new element of the Speakeasy is the addition on the north end of the building, which houses the concession area and bathrooms and provides the theater with its own outdoor entrance.
Litzmann said she could hardly believe the transformation from a hole in the ground six months ago to the completed theater.
“I’ve gotten such a great thrill out of everyone’s enthusiasm when they walk into the new space,” she said. “Without fail, everyone is wowed and overjoyed, and it feels so good to be on the receiving end of being welcomed back.”
With smartphones and tablets scattering and isolating entertainment, it’s important to have a place where people can come together and share the fun, social experience of watching a movie, Litzmann said. And though she sometimes misses the old filmstrips, the excitement about the new Speakeasy far outweighs the pangs of nostalgia.
“We really loved the sort of funkiness of our old space, but we’ve only been here a weekend now,” she said. “Give us some more time and we’ll make this place pretty funky, too.”
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