Theater Buffs Gird for Fundraising Blitz to Restore Denis

Article excerpt

A Mt. Lebanon nonprofit is embarking on an ambitious campaign to raise $3 million and restore the old Denis Theatre.

The Denis, named for the brother of the man who opened the country's first movie theater in Pittsburgh, opened its doors in 1938 and showed "art" films such as "The Graduate" and "To Sir with Love" during its heyday in the 1960s, said Anne Kemerer, project manager for the Denis Theatre Foundation.

After Mt. Lebanon Commissioner D. Raja purchased the building in 2007 and leased it to the foundation, efforts to restore it to its former glory began.

"There is quite a strong contingent of art-film aficionados in the South Hills," Kemerer said.

Over the years, the large theater and balcony were divided again and again until there were four screens, which continued to show independent films and documentaries until the building closed in 2004. The foundation can't restore it completely to its "movie palace" days, but has preliminary plans to remodel it into three theaters retaining elements of the old days with modern equipment, Kemerer said.

So far the group has raised less than $250,000 of its $3 million goal, but Kemerer said it is about to kick off a concerted fundraising campaign -- first seeking big-donor patrons, then using smaller donations and "grassroots" efforts to fill in the rest. State grants for Main Street businesses could provide a chunk of the money needed, Kemerer said.

Over two weekends, volunteers filled trash bins with garbage, broken equipment, debris from the wrecked marquee and seven decades' worth of junk from the basement. …