Earlier today, Cinedelphia spoke with John Ciccone, owner of San-Mor Limited Partnership, the arts-dedicated organization that now owns the Roxy Theatre. And there’s good news! Read on…
CINEDELPHIA: San-Mor has been active since 1979?
JOHN CICCONE: I started the Adrienne in 1979, yes.
C: And the Adrienne has been your main outlet since then?
JC: Yes, although I’ve done other things. Where Helium is on the 2000 block of Sansom Street, I used to have a club there that had the greatest jazz artists in the world, that was 1989/90/91. I had people like Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Phil Woods. I also put on the show Sheer Madness, the longest running play in Philadelphia history. And I had a comedy club that I did in affiliation with a Boston club. In the meantime I had the Adrienne, it wasn’t called the Adrienne at the time. So I’ve been involved in things like this for a while.
C: So how did you get involved with the Roxy?
JC: I purchased the building. I just made an offer to buy it and was successful. I think that’s about four years ago.
C: I think a lot of Philadelphia residents had forgotten about the Roxy as a movie theater…
JC: Well, it’s small to begin with and there’s certain aspects both positive and negative. There’s a certain clientele that have forgotten about it and others who are dedicated to it because it’s one of a kind, really, in our region.
C: Do you already have definitive plans as to what you want to do with the building?
JC: I’m somewhat flexible in terms of what I have in mind. I just know that I’d like to see it brought to another level and I think it can be, it’s fairly risky, but I think it can be.
I put Wilma in the Adrienne many years ago and I used to put improvements in. I put major improvements in there in 2009, I made it accessible, put in public toilet rooms, put in an elevator. Adrienne has been instrumental in the growth of small-stage theaters and I brought that to a level in which I feel satisfied so now I’m turning my attention to the Roxy.
C: So if the terms are sound then there’s a good chance that film events can continue at that location…
JC: That’s certainly my intention. I intend to make it moreso. Bernie [Nearey] has been operating it and he’s done a wonderful job, he took it in 1997, before then it was with TLA, they were there when I used to have my nightclub next door at what is now Helium. So Bernie has done a great job there, but unfortunately there have been some major obstacles, one of which is that Landmark gobbles up all of the arthouse-type movies and Bernie tells me he’s not able to get them so easily. That’s one problem. Second problem is that there’s no independent films being shown there and it takes a lot of effort to find and go through those films since there’s more independent films being produced than ever. Third problem is that the business is turning digital and what this means is that you have to have the money to invest in new projectors, more than $100,000, a new sound system, new screens, you’re talking real money. The way the theater is being operated now would be difficult for Bernie to put into that kind of investment. And because it’s difficult for him to get the films that Landmark is showing and it takes so much time and effort to find worthwhile independent films he’s basically showing wide distribution Time Warner-type films. And that’s not the best plan for that theater, that kind of film, whether it be Batman or Potter, they’re shown at the multiplex-type theaters.
C: And that’s why I feel that a lot of people have given up on the Roxy since they can see those types of films in much cushier atmospheres.
JC: Exactly right. I mean, not only is there money that’s required for the equipment upgrade, but also the seating has to be more comfortable and the place needs to be spruced up. And if you can see those movies in more comfortable stadium seating then that’s where you’ll go. Of course you don’t have the control that you have at the Roxy, I know people who won’t go to a lot of the multiplexes in the area because they attract a rambunctious crowd or there’s noise or other kinds of problems that you don’t have at the Roxy. Also, in our neighborhood which is densely populated you can walk to the Roxy, you don’t need to take a car so that’s an advantage for our immediate neighborhood.
C: Is there a date in mind for changes to go into effect?
JC: Well, not precisely, but Bernie intends to stay there until November 7 so the place will basically go dark then. All of the things I’ve been talking about require planning and consideration and improvement so none of that has really been projected at this point, but I assure you that the plan is to keep it a theater, to show independent films, find a way to get around the Landmark obstructions, and to show some general distribution titles. So it will be a much more diverse venue.
Exciting times…as many of you know, I’ve been steering 12th/Spring Garden’s PhilaMOCA in a film direction for a few months now, my response to the endless complaints that Philadelphia-proper lacks a “real” outlet for independent cinema. Results have been positive though not overwhelmingly so thus far, but these things certainly take time. We’re doing a Jeff Krulik (Heavy Metal Parking Lot) retrospective this Friday (9/28) and we’re screening Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with a live score by XVSK this coming Sunday (9/30)…the point here is MOTIVATION! Get out there and show your support for worthwhile cinematic entertainment, an exciting project like the Roxy revamp won’t be successful without you.