Sunday, June 28, 2015

"Cool" Tivoli Theater: The tale of Frederick's first major building with air conditioning

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have been on hiatus for a brief time, due to a recent family medical situation that took place on Father's Day (June 21st).   After several days of medical treatment and recuperation, my father is doing fine.  He is resting and relaxing comfortably at the home office and worldwide headquarters of At The Matinee.  

My family and I would like to take this time to thank everyone out there for the prayers, well wishes and kind messages of concern.   All of us highly appreciate it.  

All the best,
Chris Hamby

Marquee of The Weinberg Center For The Arts, formerly known as the Tivoli theater, which was the first major building (and cinema venue) in the Frederick area to have air conditioning.
Marquee of The Weinberg Center For The Arts, formerly known as the
Tivoli theater, which was the first major building (and cinema venue)
in the Frederick area to have air conditioning.
You may have heard by now that the Weinberg Center For The Arts (the former Tivoli theater) will be shuttering its doors for a brief period, due to the installment of a new air conditioning unit in the building, according to The News-Post.  The theater will be closed after the Frederick Film Festival concludes on June 28th, and will reopen on October 1st.  This post is being called "Cool" Tivoli, in reference to vintage newspapers calling air-conditioned cinemas "cool" in advertisements for the city's air-conditioned cinema location.

The new unit will replace the theater's older air conditioning unit, which was installed in 1940, during the "golden age" of Hollywood cinema.  To paraphrase Joe Franklin (1926-2015), let's take a trip down "Memory Lane."

1940- Enter "Challedon," Warner Bros.' Jack L. Warner, W.L. Brann and Dr. Thomas: The idea for air-conditioning in the Tivoli theater came one day before the 1940 Hollywood Gold Cup thoroughbred horse race at Santa Anita Park in the town of Arcadia, California.

Jack L. Warner (late 1940's).
At a party that was held on the day before the race, Warner Bros. studio head Jack L. Warner was overheard by guests that he would bet $50,000 on the favorite horse in the race.  One of the guests, Dr. Edward "Eddie" Thomas, a local Frederick physician encouraged Warner to place his bet on the thoroughbred racehorse "Challedon" instead.  The youngest Warner took Thomas' advice, and decided to place his bet on Challedon.

Challedon, champion racehorse that Warner Bros. head
Jack L. Warner bet on, decided to return Dr. Edward
"Eddie" Thomas' favor on installing air-conditioning
at the studio-owned Tivoli theater in Frederick.
Thomas was close friends with advertising executive W.L. Brann (1877-1951), who bred Challedon at his own farm, Branncastle Farm (now Glade Valley Farms) in Mount Pleasant (which is close to the home office of At The Matinee).  Brann's racehorse would win both 1939 and 1940 titles of "Horse of the Year," won second place in the 1939 Kentucky Derby and won first in the Preakness stakes that same year.

Challedon won the Hollywood Gold Cup race, and Warner won his bet.  The prolific studio mogul wanted to throw a party in honor of Dr. Thomas, yet Thomas declined Jack Warner's offer.  Warner wanted to ask the Frederick physician what he could do to return the favor.  Thomas told Warner about one of his studio's theaters in Frederick- the Tivoli, and how the theater could benefit from having an air-conditioning unit in the theater.  Warner agreed, and ordered his associates in New York to install air conditioning at the studio-owned Tivoli theater in Frederick.

NOTE: Warner Bros. acquired the Tivoli, along with two other Frederick area cinema venues- the City Opera House (now Brewer's Alley Restaurant), and the Frederick theater in 1928, as part of the studio's acquisition of The Stanley Company of America, a major cinema chain (and around the same time, First National Pictures and its major Burbank studio complex, which would become the official home of Warners).

One factor of this was because of the Stanley chain's installation of Warners' landmark "Vitaphone" sound-on-disc sound motion picture projection equipment.   The studio would own these theaters until the 1948 Paramount anti-trust consent decree, where the major studios were forbidden to own movie theaters (Warners' theater holdings were spun off to Fabian Interests, and were renamed Stanley-Warner Theaters, the organization sold the three theaters to the Weinberg family at the end of the 1950's).

Since then, audiences flocked to the Tivoli to see landmark motion pictures throughout the years in the "cool" on hot summer days, along with the latest newsreels and short subjects.

An interesting tale of how a prominent Hollywood studio mogul, two Frederick residents and a celebrated racehorse brought air-conditioning to Frederick's "crown jewel" theater.

SIDEBAR: Here's something I would like to know (to the current management of the Weinberg)- When is the theater going to show classic films from Hollywood's golden age on the big screen to compliment the "Flying Dog Brewery Movie Series"?

I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with the Flying Dog Movie Series, I think it would be great (along with fellow classic cinema enthusiasts) to showcase vintage and contemporary films the way they were meant to be seen, on the big screen.   

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