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Arts & Entertainment

The Team Behind Texas Theatre Just Bought An Abandoned Movie House on Denton’s Town Square

Denton's Historic Fine Arts Theatre will become the Texas Fine Arts Theatre, thanks to Aviation Cinemas and Denton artist Martin Iles.
By Lyndsay Knecht |
Denton, Texas.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reported earlier this afternoon that downtown Denton’s Fine Arts Theatre finally had a buyer, after years of serious longing to see the place revived. There’d been rumors that the members of Midlake had plans for it, that a newly-minted film archivist was moving back from New York after finishing school at Tisch to run it, that it would pick up where Rubber Gloves left off, or that Jason Lee would enact his long-feared monarchal reign over the city of Denton and the theatre would become his palace. Reading the article one could still assume that any of this was true. Seems the building’s co-owner Keitha McBride could not remember the names of the people she sold it to.  Suspense mounted.

A press release has arrived to clear things up. Many will recognize the names in it. Half the team: Jason Reimer, who led the charge to bring Texas Theatre back via the company Aviation Cinemas, and his business partner Barak Epstein, who runs the Texas and is a constant physically present fixture there. The other half are Brad Andrus and Alex Payne of Axis Realty, who’ve held demonstrated interest in Denton’s future as it pertains to the arts— meaning, they’ve helped support endeavors like the music festival 35 Denton with actual money.

Now, Denton will see its own Alamo Drafthouse open soon, and Movie Tavern already expanded to eight screens. These theaters sit on opposite sides of University in their respective concrete wastelands. (The first is walking distance to Wal-Mart in the Rayzor Ranch development, and the second in a weird pocket around the corner from Kroger.) A downtown theater — a downtown art house theater — is something residents have wanted for a long time.

These other two chains will help ensure this project actually will be, and will stay, an art house theater. And something else bodes well for that. Perhaps the best news is that an artist with an abiding heart-level investment in the city will link these two institutions. His name is Martin Iles, a founding member of Good/Bad Art Collective who’s quietly helped shepherd countless projects over the years with his ephemeral sensibilities, artistic integrity and capacity for memorable conceptual statements. He’s a significant part of the reason Rock Lottery still continues in town each year, for one. We were texting about a forthcoming feature on his KUZU 92.9 deep-night radio show WOODS as the news came over.

“This is a life-giver,” I said.

“We’re excited about the future …” he replied.

The Texas Fine Arts Theatre is set to open in 2020. We will have much more on this soon. In the meantime, a press release with backstory:

DENTON, TEXAS — May 30, 2018 — Aviation Cinemas and Talented Friends are pleased to announce a new partnership formed with Axis Realty’s Brad Andrus and Alex Payne for the restoration of the historic Fine Arts Theatre located at 115 N. Elm on the downtown Denton square. The building was originally built as the Graham Opera House in 1877 before being repurposed by famed movie palace architect W. Scott Dunne as “The Texas Theatre” in 1935 by Texas Consolidated Theatres Inc. It was re-named the “Fine Arts Theatre” in 1957, the name under which it operated until its last film screening in 1982 when a fire closed it down.

Talented Friends founder and Aviation Cinemas partner Jason Reimer was approached by Andrus and Payne in the spring of 2018 to create a new partnership specifically tailored for the Denton theater. Immediately joining the effort is Aviation Cinemas CEO Barak Epstein who heads up operations at the Texas Theatre in Dallas where they found similar success in 2010 with the now highly awarded theater. In addition to the Texas Theatre, Epstein and Reimer also co-founded the yearly Oak Cliff Film Festival which has been part of the revitalization of the historic Dallas neighborhood.
“The Fine Arts theatre has been something we’ve wanted to be a part of for many years, even before I moved from Denton to Oak Cliff and became involved with the Texas Theatre,” said Jason Reimer, Aviation Cinemas. “I’m so thrilled that we’ll finally have a chance to give the community back a venue that’s been closed for so long.”
Also joining the Texas Fine Arts Theatre team is Denton artist Martin Iles, who has been part of various large scale projects including the nationally recognized Good/Bad Art Collective, creators of the famous “Rock Lottery”, where he served as director from 1997-2001 in both Denton and New York.
“We really needed to form a group of people that are passionate about downtown Denton to operate this theater. Jason and Barak share a passion for Denton’s culture and feel strongly about preserving and restoring this iconic theater. The fact that they have operated a similar theater in Dallas successfully for several years gives us great confidence that they will make the Fine Arts Theater an asset for the community of Denton.” said Alex Payne, partner at Axis Realty.
The scope of the project includes restoration of the entire venue, adding 35mm & 70mm film projection, Digital Cinema and a live sound & lighting system. The programming, similar to the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, will feature a multitude of live events including music, comedy and other performance as well as the cinema experience fans have become accustomed to.
The team will also collaborate with consultants, community business leaders and local stakeholders to assure the rehabilitation of the theater is handled with careful attention to preserve and restore as much of the building’s history as possible, including taking steps to protect the Fine Arts with historic designation.
While the actual reopening is still many months away, the team have no doubts that it will soon become a cherished part of the current revitalization of the Denton square, while paying tribute to its storied past.

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