Culture

Athena Cinema, 1950 (photo: Athena Cinema archives)
Athena Cinema, 1950 (photo: Athena Cinema archives)

Athena Cinema Celebrating 100 Years With Iconic Films


Posted on:

< < Back to

The Athena Cinema is celebrating a special birthday this year. The movie theater will be turning 100 years old in 2015, making it one of the oldest continuously running cinemas in the nation.

To celebrate the Athena Cinema’s unique history, the community is invited to participate in an exciting new series featuring monthly screenings of iconic films through the decades.

The screenings are one-time only events and seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Regular admission charges will apply. The series kicks off with the 1928 Buster Keaton classic Steamboat Bill, Jr. on Saturday, Jan. 31 at 3 p.m.

The theater opened as The Majestic on June 3, 1915 when a local family bought the building and renovated it from a grocery store. The first film shown at the theater was Mary Pickford’s Cinderella and the cost of admission was 10 cents.

The theater  also offered burlesque and vaudeville stage shows in addition to first-run films. The Majestic was purchased by another family in 1935, who renamed it The Athena Cinema. They owned it until 1966, and after that time it changed hands often.

By 1988, the cinema was owned by David Lundberg, who also owned The Varsity Theater across the street (now occupied by Chipotle). On May 28, 1988, a fire ravaged the Athena. Following the fire, William Duerson purchased and renovated the cinema and ended an Athens movie theater drought that began when The Varsity closed, also in 1988.

Duerson owned The Athena Cinema until Ohio University purchased it in 2001 and completed major renovations.

Today the Athena Cinema is operated by the College of Fine Arts at Ohio University as a three-screen, art house theater featuring independent, documentary, world and classic films, as well as student and locally produced work. The cinema has been home to the Athens International Film + Video Festival for 42 years.

The Athena is staffed by students enrolled in the Federal Work Study program through Ohio University and also serves as a classroom space for the University during the daytime.

As part of Ohio University, the cinema is committed to presenting educational programming and promoting engagement in the arts through Q&A’s, panel discussions and talkbacks with filmmakers. Many of its educational series are funded and offer free admission to both students and community members.

“We are very proud to be part of the celebrated artistic and cultural history of the Athens Community,” said Athena Cinema Operations Director Alexandra Kamody.

According to Kamody, overall attendance to movie theaters has been stable for over 50 years, with the only significant decline taking place in the 1940s when televisions were introduced to America’s living rooms. Kamody added that attendance to the Athena has actually been on the rise.

“We know that people love going to the movies and that is the one thing that has not changed in 100 years,” she said. “We have survived the digital conversion and have learned to embrace, rather than fear, the industry changes in technology. We are expanding partnerships on campus and in the community and we couldn’t be more excited to begin our second century as part of the fabric of Athens and of Ohio University.”

Throughout the year, the Athena Cinema will be hosting several events to celebrate its history. Learn more about the Athena Cinema’s 100th anniversary programming at athenacinema.com.

IF YOU GO:

Steamboat Bill, Jr., Jan. 31

City Lights, Feb. 21

The Maltese Falcon, March 28

All About Eve, April 25

The Searchers, May 23

Some Like it Hot, June 27

Breathless, July 25

The Conversation, Aug. 29

Annie Hall, Sept. 26

Do the Right Thing, Oct. 24

Brokeback Mountain, Nov. 21

The Artist, Dec. 26

All screenings are Saturdays at 3 p.m. Admission is $5. A special presentation of Mary Pickford’s Cinderella is being planned for June 3, 2015, the 100th anniversary of The Athena Cinema (time TBA).