The man, who in 1990, transformed a shuttered Fresh Pond Mall twin-screen cinema into one of highest grossing movie houses in the Boston-area is back to do it again.
After cleaning it up and replacing the carpets, he is going to bring back the complex’s signature two-story waterfall and everything he needs to do to re-create the its glory days, said Bill Hanney, president of the Entertainment Cinemas.
Bill Hanney, president of Entertainment Cinemas
Hanney closed on the purchase in the first week of February after it was closed by the AMC Theatres company Jan. 25, which acquired the cinema as part of its merger with Loews Cineplex, he said.
The only remnant of that period is the restroom behind the first floor snack bar because it was brand new when General Cinema closed its doors, he said.
General Cinemas would test new seats, snacks and interior decorations at the location before making decisions for the rest of the chain, he said.
A young movie-goer communes with a extra-large standing poster for "Ice Age 2," starring Denis Leary
Hanney said he came on the scene when he got a phone call from real estate agent, Rob Caruso.
“He said: ‘Take a look at this thing. Everyone else has passed on it.’”
At first, Hanney said he was reluctant. “I told him it was a second-run theater.”
The other problem was the building’s footprint. Hemmed in by railroad tracks and the rest of the Mall, it was impossible to expand without losing parking spaces, he said.
Still, it was worth a look, he said.
Standing in the parking lot with his architect, Hanney asked him high much ceiling was needed for a screen.
The architect told him he needed at least, 18 to 20 feet, he said.
Then he asked him how many screens could they fit in if he raised the second floor, which had been used for office space, the popcorn room and machinery space, he said.
By digging into the basement and added a 30-foot high second floor, he was able to fit in 10 screens, which given the changes in the industry was what he needed to make the project profitable, he said.
Spending $2million on the renovations, Hanney said he sought to bring grandeur to the movie-going experience. He installed windows in the cinema’s façade, created an atrium feel by opening up a section of the first floor’s ceiling and building a glass elevator—all in addition to the two-story waterfall in the lobby.
The cinema was a tremendous success, he said.
In the beginning, Loews would manipulate the movie distributors to withhold hit movies from Fresh Pond, but as the grosses kept growing even that did not work, he said.
Finally, six months after he turned on the lights, Hanney accepted an offer from Loews he said he could not refuse.
While he would not reveal the amount, he said it took him all of two seconds to agree to sell out.
Looking back, Hanney said he was disappointed that Loews did not maintain his vision for the movie house. They shut off the waterfall and much of the carpet is from Hanney’s first renovation.
Another example of the neglect is the rows of burnt out light bulbs around the carriage of the glass elevator, he said. “Light bulbs last a long time, but they don’t last 15 years. We are going to replace the bulbs.”
The appreciation of the movie experience was one of the first lessons Hanney said he learned when he started as an usher at Dorchester’s Puritan Mall Cinema, when he was still a student at Randolph High School.
Later, Hanney said he became a manager at the movie theatre owned by a friend’s grandmother in Hyde Park.
The grandmother was tired of the business and would often complain to Hanney about the various problems running the theater, he said.
“If you are so sick of this, why don’t you sell it to me?” he asked her one day.
To his surprise, she said she would, and the 19-year-old was in the movie business.
“She let me pay her weekly and she covered the heat bill,” he said.
As Hanney was turning around the theater in Hyde Park, he got a call from a landlord of a theater in Fitchburg that had been closed for years. The landlord asked him to take it over.
As he had in Hyde Park, he cleaned up the Fitchburg theater and made it a pleasant place to see a film. The rest was up to the customers, who turned up in droves, he said. “I remember one night we were showing ‘Rocky’ and there were 1,700 people waiting in line. You could not see the end of the line that went all the way down the street.”
The movie theater business is very simple and without risk, he said. The theater pays for its films out of the ticket sales. If there are no sales, there is nothing to pay. After the usual one-month minimum, the theater can send back the bombs and give another movie a try, he said.
Hanney said the simplicity of the business takes the guesswork out. “I thought ‘The Big Chill’ would be the biggest flop ever.”
Right now, the biggest hit at the theater is “The Pink Panther,” starring Steve Martin. Over the next few months, the movie with the most buzz is the Johnny Depp pirate film “Dead Man’s Chest.”
Since he resumed control of the Fresh Pond Mall, Hanney said he toughest challenge is getting the word out that cinema is open for business. “That week that we were closed killed us.”
As the customers return, Hanney said he hopes to keep them coming back by setting prices low, $8.75 for adults and $5.75 for seniors and children, and $5.75 for everyone every Tuesday.
Hanney said he is happy he is back, and he is encouraged by the customer feedback. “We knew the theater was an important place for the local community. When the customers come in, they say thank you, we are glad you are open.”