Thursday, July 26, 2007

New Owners Plan To Keep Playhouse Open

By Nao Braverman
With the proliferation of Century Theaters and Cineplexes, local movie goers know that Ojai’s old fashioned single screen movie theater is a treasure and anomaly.
Many locals who patronize the Ojai Playhouse have grown fond of the swank black-and-white portraits of great actors Omar Sharif, Robert Redford, and Elizabeth Taylor, among them, staring down from the theater walls. In contrast to the prodigious, modern and impersonal architecture of newer corporate establishments, the Ojai Playhouse is a cozy size with comfortable cushioned seats, and the same vintage velvet curtain that has been draped over the movie screen for years.
Despite the competition of bigger theaters in Ventura County and developments in the home theater industry, the local Al-Awar family has kept Ojai’s only theater running since 1983.
“But it’s time to pass the baton,” said Khaled Al-Awar.
Also owner of the Primavera Gallery and other buildings in the Arcade, Al-Awar not only kept the theater running, but also made the most of the central building on Ojai Avenue, hosting various community events and benefits.
“That won’t change with the new ownership,” he assured.
Al-Awar said that as the owner of a building in such a prominent downtown location he has felt like a custodian to the community. When he made the decision to sell it, he was careful to chose a proprietor that he was sure would take care of it properly and tend to the needs of the community just as his family has done.
And the Hartley family, owners of the Lavender Inn, are certain to do just that, he said.
Kathy and Mark Hartley, who opened the successful and tastefully decorated Lavender Inn four years ago, are purchasing the theater, and will put their son, Jamie, a recent business graduate of California State University at Northridge, in charge.
Al-Awar said that before he purchased the Playhouse 25 years ago, owning a theater was the last thing on his mind.
When he arrived in Ojai, the previous owners had shut down Ojai’s only movie theater, so he decided to get it going again, premiering with the memorable Dustin Hoffman flick, “Tootsie.”
Thanks to extensive community support, the establishment reeled in a reasonable profit for some time, he said. But with an increasingly competitive market, the theater is not doing as well as it once was. Currently in need of some fresh changes, a little refurbishing and remodeling, a change of ownership could do the trick, he said.
Mark Hartley, who has been in the entertainment business for years, managing prominent recording artists Olivia Newton-John and Dwight Yoakum also has an interest in keeping the integrity of old buildings, and has worked on several such establishments in Ventura’s historic downtown.
Kathy Hartley said that her family was excited about enlarging the movie screen, improving the theater and adding some more concerts and cultural events. The improvements will take some time, but they will happen, she said.
“I am positive that the Hartley family will continue to support the community, and they will need the community’s support, Al-Awar said.
The first movie screened under the Hartley’s ownership will be “The Simpsons,” which opens tonight.


Anonymous said...

Glenn Emanuel was the technician at the old Playhouse and
was also responsible for bringing
in the excellent progressive films that showed at the Sunday series. It would be great to see that tradition continue.

Anonymous said...

It would also be great if they overhaul the bathrooms!