At The Movies Plot Thickens As Usher Follows His Heart Home...1995
An Angel For The Angela ...1998
Historic movie houses face uncertain future with switch to digital...2012

At The Movies Plot Thickens As Usher Follows His Heart Home
August 31, 1995|by BOB LAYLO, The Morning Call
Michael Danchak fell in love with the big screen 34 years ago when he worked as an usher at the former Angela Theater in Coaldale and saw movies like "Lawrence of Arabia."

Now he has returned to his hometown and hopes to bring movies back to the theater that closed in 1979.

"The movie business is like the circus," Danchak said. "It gets in your blood. I like pleasing people. I like entertaining people."

Danchak, who bought the 46-year-old building for $500 in 1992, will have one screen showing first and second run films by the spring. Eventually, he wants to have three screens inside.

Danchak learned the theater at 113 E. Phillip St. was available through a tax sale during a 1991 Christmas party he attended with his wife, Debbie. He met a woman who worked at the Schuylkill County tax office and decided to make a bid.

"I thought it would be neat to own the building I worked in," he said.

Since then, he's made an apartment on the building's second floor and made a video studio and production room for his business in the basement. He ripped out the 800 seats in the old theater bolt by bolt, installed a new roof, installed new wiring and fixed the plumbing.

"The worst is behind me," said Danchak, who is doing the work with the help of his wife and two sons, Mark and Michael Jr.

Danchak, 48, is using his decades in the movie business to help him with the project. His interest in movies started when he 12 and visited the theater, then managed by his aunt, Susan Palinchak. His cousin Mike Palinchak brought him to the projection room.

"I just fell in love with it," he said.

Danchak pestered his aunt for a job, but he was too short to reach the door locks. Two years later, he was tall enough and got a job as an usher. Soon he was back in the projection room, asking to run the film.

"The projectionist would sleep and I would finish the show," he said.

When he was 15, Danchak ran the projection room.

He was so interested in movies that he leased a drive-in at Barnesville when he was 17. That try at the movie business flopped.

Danchak moved to the Harrisburg area when he was 18.

He took a job as an appliance technician, but continued to work part-time in theaters. He was the projectionist at the Elks Theater in Middletown, then ran and managed the theater.

He took a full-time job at a theater in Devin outside of Philadelphia, then later ran the Bethlehem Drive-in.

He opened the Eric Theater as manager and projectionist in Easton and watched the business grow into six screens.

He was promoted to sound and projection technician for 50 theaters in eastern Pennsylvania, then returned to Easton in 1983.

He left in 1987 when the theater was sold to United Artists.

In 1987, Danchak started his video production business but kept his hand in the movie business until he bought the Angela Theater in 1992.

Cleaning the theater took a year. And repairing the roof was major job.

But Danchak kept doing the work with little help. Danchak said he can't use contractors because the repairs would cost too much money and he wants to keep prices to $3.50 or $4.50 a ticket.

Danchak says he hopes the Angela will be part of a resurgance of theaters. At one time, each town across the area had a theater.

Tamaqua and Lansford had two and Coaldale had the Angela and Nesquehoning had the Roxy.

"Television came and a lot of theaters folded up," Danchak said.

But he said people are getting tired of television programming and the advertising now helps theaters.

"People know what the films are and what they're about," he said.

Danchak will compete with theaters in Pottsville, Hazleton and the Lehigh Valley. He not concerned about plans to open a theater in Mahoning Township.

"More theaters in the area creates a movie-going atmosphere," he said.

The theater, Danchak said, will have a 1950s feel. He's keeping the old marquee and glass blocks. He's installing some neon signs and stainless steel.

The theater will have some concessions to the times such as video games and automatic projectors.

"I want to do it right," he said. "First impressions mean a lot."

That means a lot more nights of working until midnight or 1 a.m., but Danchak said he's looking forward to the day he opens.

"I just keep picturing the finished project -- lines of people and smiling faces," he said.


An Angel For The Angela
A Coaldale Man Hopes To Realize His Dream of Restoring The Angela Theatre
April 28, 1998|by BOB LAYLO, The Morning Call
Michael Danchak had a dream of restoring Coaldale's decrepit Angela Theater to its glory days of the 1960s, when he was a teen-aged usher there and "Lawrence of Arabia" flickered across its silver screen.

He bought the 49-year-old building in this northeastern Schuylkill County town for $500 at a tax sale 5-1/2 years ago and later proclaimed he would open it in spring 1996.

Two years past that date, his hands finally catching up to where his heart was leading him, Danchak is almost ready to open Angela's doors to the public for the first time since 1979.

On May 11, Danchak, 49, will take his dream before Coaldale Zoning Hearing Board and ask for permission to open a three-screen theater complex at the Angela.

"I got busy and the money wasn't there," Danchak said, during a break from work on the theater last week. "But we're going to do it. It's really happening this time."

He said he hopes to open two 100-seat theaters in late May or early June, then continue to work on a 300-seat main theater for a July 4 "big grand opening."

He envisions showing a mix of brand new and older movies in theaters that have modern features, such as stereophonic sound, but keep a lot of the classic 1950s decor -- glass blocks, stainless steel and, he boasts, a restored neon marquee.

"Modern movie theaters don't even have marquees anymore," Danchak said.

He said he is making the Angela a multiscreen theater so he can show the top new -- or "first-run" -- movies.

"With one screen it's pretty hard to do first-run because they (distributors) want you to keep the movies for so long," Danchak said.

He said he's in contact with film distributors. "I can get the first run." But he said sometimes it's better not to show only first-run movies, because films that have been in theaters awhile have had strong publicity and have name recognition.

For example, he said, he and his wife recently saw "Titanic," which has been out more than four months, "and the theater was just about full yet."

It's been a long road since a 1991 Christmas party when Danchak heard about the building being auctioned.

He said he spent a year cleaning out the building -- ripping out the 800 seats bolt by bolt -- and putting on a new roof.

Since then, he has lived at the theater -- literally. He's made an apartment on the second floor and a video studio and production room for his business in the basement.

He's installed new wiring and plumbing, often working past midnight. A contractor put in new walls, but "a lot of the work I did myself," Danchak said. "All this was in my spare time. We did it on a shoestring."

Doing the work with his wife, Debbie, and his sons, Mark and Michael Jr., kept costs low, as Danchak hoped, so he could keep ticket prices low.

But it also slowed his schedule.

In the meantime, in December 1995, Cinema Mahoning Valley, an eight-screen theater, opened in Carbon Plaza Mall in Mahoning Township less than 10 miles from the Angela.

That gave southern Carbon County its first movie theater since the Palm Theater in Palmerton burned almost 30 years ago, and gave the Angela its only competition from Hazleton to Frackville to Northampton.

Danchak said he was not concerned about Cinema Mahoning Valley. "More theaters in the area creates a movie-going atmosphere," he said.

The projection room is complete, as is the sound system. He built the snack bar himself.

He said work remains to be done, mostly on ceilings, carpeting and drapes in the auditorium.

Danchak is using his decades in the movie business to help him with the project. He said he fell in love with the movies when he was 12 and visited the Angela, then managed by his aunt, Susan Palinchak.

Danchak said he pestered his aunt for a job, but he was too short to reach the door locks. Two years later, he was tall enough and got a job as an usher. Soon, he would steal away to the projection room, where, Danchak says, he would finish showing the film as the projectionist slept.

At 15, he ran the projection room. At 17, he leased a drive-in at Barnesville, but that try at the movie business flopped.

He moved to the Harrisburg area at 18 and continued to work part-time in theaters, finally managing a theater in Middletown, Dauphin County. He later ran the Bethlehem Drive-In, and opened the Eric Theater in Easton as manager and projectionist.

He was promoted to sound and projection technician for 50 theaters in eastern Pennsylvania, then returned to Easton in 1983. He left in 1987 when the theater was sold to United Artists, and started a video production business.

Now, he said, his life in the movies is about to come full circle.

"It has been a dream," Danchak said. "It's a dream coming true. We're closer than you think. We're almost there."


Historic movie houses face uncertain future with switch to digital
Published: October 26, 2012

Stephen J. Pytak/staff photo Members of the volunteer group "Save the Theatre" meet Sunday at Hose, Hook & Ladder Company, Pine Grove, to plan upcoming fundraisers. They are, from left, Ann Tobias and her daughter, Lacey, and Robyn Kopinetz, all of Pine Grove, Genavieve Moyer, Schuylkill Haven, and Angie Frank, not pictured, and Joelle Bretz, both of Pine Grove.

Louise Miller, owner of the Pine Grove Theatre, places a 35-millimeter film reel of "Pitch Perfect" into aa delivery crate in the lobby of the theater Oct. 19 along South Tulpehocken Street in Pine Grove.

The digital age is threatening the future of historic movie houses in Pine Grove and Coaldale that celebrate nostalgia and run 35-millimeter film.

"The industry is going to stop making 35-millimeter projection film in the near future. There's not a here-today-gone-tomorrow date but I heard it might happen in the beginning of the year, and to upgrade to digital projection, it would cost us around $122,000," Louise H. Miller, manager of the Pine Grove Theatre, 213 S. Tulpehocken St., said last week.

On Sept. 17, Miller received a price quote from Entertainment Equipment, Buffalo, N.Y., for two Digital Cinema Project Systems for the Pine Grove Theatre's two screening rooms. The total came to $118,900.

"It was worse than I thought and that doesn't include shipping," Miller said.

"We're in the same situation. We don't know what the future holds," Michael Danchak, who co-owns Angela Triplex, Coaldale, with his wife, Deborah, said Sunday.

Danchak said it would cost him $150,000 to upgrade.

"It's like $50,000 per screen and we have three screens. It would push our operating costs up so high it wouldn't be feasible to operate, and they're forcing us to buy equipment that will be obsolete before it's paid off," Danchak said.

He and his wife bought the building at 113 E. Phillips St. in Coaldale from "G.S. Miller" for $500 in 1992, according to the online Schuylkill Parcel Locator. Then, the Danchaks did more than $100,000 in renovation work and opened in 1998.

The Triplex has three theaters, one has 240 seats and the two others have 101 seats each. On average, the theater sees 15,000 patrons a year.

Danchak is considering options for the theater's future and is open to talking with community groups.

"We're thinking of stage shows, bands, comedians and things like that," he said.

Louise Miller also manages The Strand, a movie theater in Hamburg, which is in a similar situation to the Pine Grove Theatre.

Its owner, Bill Rhoades, could not be reached for comment this week.

Miller said she's already having trouble finding 35-millimeter prints to screen.

"In September, the studios release less films because it's traditionally a very, very bad month for theaters industry-wide, and there were no film prints available. My booking agent both here and in Hamburg could not get prints of anything. So what they did was they brought back stuff I had already played, including 'Madagascar 3.' I had played that opening day in June and had it here for three weeks. So since there was nothing available, we brought 'Madagascar' back and I showed it free for that entire weekend because at least I'd be getting bodies in here and I figured I might have had a chance to make some money on concessions," Louise Miller said.

Looking ahead, she said she isn't sure if the Pine Grove Theatre will have a bright future in 2013.

"All I can say for now is I will stay open as long as we're running film. If I am fortunate enough to have the money raised to keep the movie theater open, that would be fabulous," she said.

Meanwhile, the movie theater at Schuylkill Mall, Frackville, is expanding. A $1.6-million project, the four-screen theater is being made into an eight-screen cinema called The Pearl Stadium 8. A contractor is in the process of adding 5,000 square feet to the 11,000-square-foot complex, Mark Clement, theater manager, and mall manager Elaine Maneval said earlier this month.

In an effort to save the Pine Grove Theatre, a citizens group called "Save the Theatre" assembled Oct. 9 and they're planning to hold a fundraiser Saturday.

The first "Save the Pine Grove Theatre Fundraiser" will be a "Halloween Movie Spooktacular." Funds will be raised by food and sales of tickets to special screenings scheduled throughout the day, including a midnight showing of the audience participation classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," Ann Tobias, Pine Grove, a member of Save the Theater, said Sunday.

The group met Sunday afternoon at the Hose, Hook & Ladder Company in Pine Grove. Its members include Genavieve Moyer, Schuylkill Haven, and Joelle Bretz, Angie Frank, Robyn Kopinetz, Robert L. Wolfe and Tobias' daughter, Lacey, all of Pine Grove.

"It's the only thing for children to do here in town, or even for adults who want to go out here and don't want to go to a bar," Lacey Tobias said.

"There really is no other cultural outlet in our community," Moyer said.

So far, Save the Theater hasn't raised any funds. Ann Tobias said it's in the process of setting up a bank account for donations and the group wants to hold monthly fundraisers, she said.

The volunteer group views the theater as one of Pine Grove's historical treasures.

It was built in 1910 by Gregory Achenbach and was first The Hippodrome Theater, which was open for stage shows as well as films, according to the Pine Grove Theatre website at

"The name of the theater was shortened to the Hipp in 1935 after a refurbishing took place. It's possible that sound was added to the theater at that time. After being closed in the mid-50s, the theater was reopened after a complete reconstruction was done in late 1962," according to the site.

That's when the Hipp became The Pine Theatre, which closed in 1999, according to the site.

In January 2001, Miller and her husband, Douglas E., bought the building from The Pine Theatre Co. for $35,000, according to the online Schuylkill Parcel Locator.

The couple did more than $30,000 in renovation work and reopened it as the Pine Grove Theatre on April 13, 2001, according to Louise Miller.

Today, the Pine Grove Theatre has two screening rooms, one with 200 seats and the other with 38. Its decor includes pictures and artifacts from other former movie houses in Schuylkill County. For example, the ancient popcorn machine from The Ritz in Saint Clair is on display in the back of the larger screening room. Pictures of one of Pottsville's former cinemas, The Capitol, are framed and on the wall in the lobby.

The couple separated three years ago but Douglas Miller, 50, is still a co-owner. He could not be reached for comment this week.

Louise Miller, 55, said she is the only employee at the business and she runs it with the help of family and friends. The theater has an average of 13,000 patrons a year, she said.

Danchak said there isn't a community group forming to save the Angela Triplex.

'I'd be open to that but I'm highly doubtful it will happen. That's a lot of money to put out," Danchak said Monday.

According to the website for the National Association of Theatre Owners at, in 2011, there were 39,580 movie screens in the United States. Broken down, that's 38,974 indoor screens and 606 drive-in screens.

"Digital cinema brings consistent quality to the movie-going experience - moviegoers will see the same crispness and clarity in the movie throughout the life of its exhibition," according to the association.

Digital projection is a cost-saving measure for studios and distributors that will save millions on the cost of film prints and shipping fees.

"No longer will they have to spend $1,500 to ship 35-millimeter prints in 80-pound film canisters. DCP (Digital Cinema Package) hard drives cost about $150 to ship," according to an August article on the website for The San Francisco Chronicle at

The theater owners association estimated, however, that 10 to 20 percent of theaters may close rather than convert. 'Save the Pine Grove Theatre Fundraiser' at a glance

Donations: Anyone interested in making additional donations to the Pine Grove Theatre can mail them to: Save the Theatre Campaign, 18 Cherry St, Pine Grove, PA 17963

Source: Save the Theater committee