The Woodstock Theatre’s expansion completion wows with double the screens, the latest in digital technology, plus beautifully preserved accents dating back to the 1920s.
With eight screens, 3-D digital sound, stadium seating, a new lobby and concession areas, a party room and new restrooms, the historic Woodstock Theatre is proud to be a true entertainment destination for the 21st century.
“Woodstock Theatre is a great experience,” owner Willis Johnson said. “Technologically, the theater matches any other.”
The impetus to undergo this massive expansion is to serve the public’s demand for more movie choices. “We could not play all the films we needed to play on four screens,” Johnson said.
Although Woodstock Theatre is driven by changing needs of modern moviegoers, it remains forever mindful of the rich legacy of the 1927 building and the importance Woodstock places on its heritage.
The restoration of the theater’s ornate, original dome in the largest auditorium, therefore, was significant to the renovation.
“The dome restoration is what really made the renovation turn the corner,” Johnson said. “We knew the dome was there. It certainly was a specific focus of the renovation.”
Johnson also recalled a theater employee finding a historical chandelier while touring antique shops in Richmond. The chandelier had a tag on it that said, “Woodstock Theatre.” The chandelier now hangs in the lobby of the theater.
Community reception to the renovated theater has been very positive and their expectations have been surpassed, according to Johnson.
“People did not expect that they were going to have a theater like this,” he said. “I don’t think people expected that they were going to get that caliber of theater.”
Another positive aspect of the expansion, coupled with the fact that it shows matinees year-round, is that it will bring “people to downtown Woodstock where they can experience everything else the community has to offer,” Johnson said.
The farmers market, restaurants, pubs, shopping, festivals and more are all within walking distance of the theater. An added convenience for visitors is a pedway designed to connect parking to Main Street and the theater.
The new theater will also allow it to host more special events. It has already been host to the Orson Welles Film Fest in May and will host the annual Woodstock International Film Festival in September.
Sidebar 1: Behind the Scenes
Classic Cinemas did face some significant obstacles during the renovation, Johnson said.
“We found an oil tank underground, which held things up a for a little bit,” he said, adding that additional time was necessary to remove the tank and complete required soil tests.
“We had some support issues under the theater floor that we had to deal with as well,” he added.
Those and other structural issues led to a six-month delay in the completion of the project.
“We saw what we had to work with and knew it would potentially be a major feature of the renovated theater,” he said.
Sidebar 2: A Historic Site
The Woodstock Theatre was originally the Miller Theatre, owned by John Miller and designed by architect Elmer Behrns in 1927. Behrns also designed other Illinois theaters, including York Theatre in Elmhurst, which Johnson also owns and operates under Classic Cinemas.
The Miller was built on the site of another theater, the Princess Theatre (1911), and had a seating capacity of 1,000. It opened with mixed movies/vaudeville.
It was renamed Woodstock Theatre in 1976 and added a theater in 1979. Classic Cinemas then acquired the Woodstock Theatre in 1988. In late 1991 a new marquee was created with chasing lights like you’d see in front of a theater from the past.