Wilton Town Hall Theatre celebrates 100 years
As the end of 2012 approaches, owner Dennis Markaverich is quietly celebrating the theatre's 100th anniversary by continuing to bring happiness and a sense of old-time entertainment to the big screen.
The Wilton Town Hall Theatre occupies the second and third floors of Wilton Town Hall, a space Markaverich rents from the town. He has one 312-seat theater and a smaller 68-seat theater he added in 1988.
From the heavy wood millwork to the rich velvet curtains that part to reveal the screens, the theater is a throwback to a time before multiplexes and digital equipment - a time when Markaverich himself fell in love with the movies.
"I've always loved good old movies and the grandeur of the old movie palaces," said Markaverich. "I loved watching the projectors and seeing the velvet curtains open. I used to just go by myself when I was in high school so I could see the good movies."
Markaverich's all-time favorite was "Lawrence of Arabia," but he was drawn to more than just the films. He loved the mechanics of operating the theaters, which he learned about while working at them in high school, from running the projectors to cooking popcorn.
"I think I loved the movie theater itself more than the movies," he said.
After high school he attended college and enlisted in the Air Force, serving during the Vietnam era as a radar technician. When he returned to Wilton after his service, he learned the theater that had been run in town hall since 1912 had closed. Seeing his chance to do what he loved, he bought all of the equipment, signed a lease with the town, and brought the theater back to life.
Today, the Wilton Town Hall Theatre continues to be run the way theaters were run when Markaverich was a kid. There's real butter on the popcorn and a drink costs $1. Candy can be had without taking out a second mortgage, and tickets - even to movies like "Anna Karenina" and "Lincoln" are $7 for adults and $5 for kids.
But beyond economics, Markaverich said there's just an ambiance you can feel at the Wilton Town Hall Theatre that doesn't exist at the big movie houses.
"Nobody has their cell phone going throughout the movie," he said. "People who come here actually want to watch a movie. It tends to be a very intelligent crowd of people who really love the movies."
Employees Lillie Durnan, 18, of Wilton, and Anthony Waller, 19, of New Ipswich, said the theater is just a fun place to be.
"It has a personality," said Waller. "It's more friendly than a big theater and you can bring your own pizza or whatever."
"You just always feel welcome here," said Durnan.
And Markaverich regularly pays homage to the theater's past, showing classic movies every Saturday. Admission is free to these movies though Markaverich collects donations for local charities during these showings. He also has pianist Jeff Rapsis come in once a month to play during silent films - movies that lit up the screen at the theater in its early days. For more information, go to wiltontownhalltheatre.com.
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Nancy Bean Foster may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.