The noteworthy coming attraction at the Coolidge Corner Theatre this summer isn’t a superhero movie, it’s a multimillion-dollar renovation of the beloved Brookline arthouse.
Town officials are reviewing a proposed expansion of the landmark Art Deco cinema that would add two screens — and over 200 seats — as well as a larger lobby and third-floor community space, with a catering kitchen and an outdoor roof deck.
Pending final permitting, which is expected in the next week or so, work on the 14,000-square-foot building is likely to begin next month and take up to a year to complete. In the meantime, the venerable theater, which reopened only recently after being dark for 14 months, because of the pandemic, will continue screening movies.
“We expect there will be a relatively minimal effect on operations during construction,” said Michael Maynard, chairman of the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation.
Maynard said the Coolidge has so far raised 85 percent percent of the project’s $12 million price tag, getting philanthropic support from a variety of sources, including cinephiles and foundations. A campaign to raise the remaining funds will be launched in the fall.
The impetus for the project is simple: With additional screens, the Coolidge can expand its already robust audience — nearly 250,000 patrons attend screenings and other events annually — which should also enable the theater to increase revenue.
In addition to the two new screens, the expansion, designed by the architectural firm Howëler + Yoon, includes a new entrance on the Centre Street side of the moviehouse, leading to a spacious lobby with improved concessions, ticketing, more family and unisex restrooms, and a new elevator.
“We have a lot of demand for more films, of course,” said Katherine Tallman, executive director of the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation. “But we also need a lobby. Now, you buy tickets outside, and by the time we get everyone in and out of the theater, we’re really jammed for space.”
Built as a church in 1906, the building has been operating continuously as a cinema since 1933, surviving periodic downturns in the economy and the proliferation of suburban multiplexes, whose myriad screens and ample free parking siphoned film fans from the Coolidge.
The neighborhood theater adapted over the years by offering movie buffs not only first-run films, but also classic titles, new and old foreign films, and independent movies. And the Coolidge continues to augment its regular screening schedule with a range of film-related programs, including Science on Screen, Dance at the Cinema, The Sounds of Silents, Coolidge After Midnite, and Box Office Babies.
In its earliest days, the Coolidge had a single screen, a coatroom, and intermissions during which coffee and cake were served. Now it has four screens, the largest of which is in a theater that seats 440 people. (The others can accommodate 217, 45, and 27 patrons.) But, Tallman said, demand continues to exceed capacity, which is why the Coolidge is adding two theaters — one with 150 seats, the other with 57.
“We’re contractually obligated to show first-run movies for two weeks, and if it’s still performing you don’t want to move it along, so we can’t bring in another film,” she said.
An interesting feature of the expansion is the new third-floor “community education and engagement center,” which will include a 60-seat classroom and event space, with a kitchen and roof deck, that will be used for film education programs and be available for community use.
“There’s so much we can do with it — film classes or seminars,” Tallman said. “We also know that film is such a good platform for discussion and understanding, so we could show a film for teenagers, say, and discuss issues, whether race or gender or whatever.”
Preservationists will be pleased that the renovations will leave the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s distinctive Art Deco lobby, marquee, and theaters unaltered.
“We’re just doing some things to make the experience at the Coolidge more comfortable and user-friendly,” Maynard said. “We’re very sensitive to creating a new theater but have it very much be connected to the old.”