Landmark decision

Chain adds 15-screen link; L.A. 16-plex near

Landmark Theatre Corp. today will announce the addition of three theaters and 15 screens to its circuit, with an additional 16-screen complex in Los Angeles awaiting zoning clearance.

The largest specialized chain in the U.S., Landmark plans new sites — both six-screeners — in St. Louis, Mo., and Waltham, Mass., in early 1998. The chain also recently acquired the suburban Detroit triplex the Main Art. The Waltham site, the Embassy and the Plaza Frontenac Cinema in St. Louis are under construction.

The circuit’s commitment to building the largest arthouse complex in the domestic marketplace is in process; it will be located across the street from L.A.’s Westside Pavilion, where it presently operates a fourplex.

“We’re confident that the paperwork for the Pavilion project will clear in the next couple of months and the doors will be open by Christmas 1998,” Landmark president Steve Gilula said. “It’s unquestionably our biggest undertaking, following the nine-screen Kendall Square in Cambridge. But there’s definitely room for it in this market. We operate 14 screens in San Francisco and we’re continually backed up.”

Landmark presently operates 48 theaters in 10 states, including nine of the top 15 markets. Established in 1974, it still owns its first theater, L.A.’s NuArt. Landmark was acquired by the Samuel Goldwyn Co. in 1991 and became part of the Metromedia empire 18 months ago.

“Our expansion plans have been dormant for almost two years as a result of the ownership changes,” Gilula noted. “And while that’s sometimes been frustrating, this isn’t an area of exhibition that’s going to see rapid growth.

“We’re always interested in getting into major markets where we don’t presently operate, but it has to be the right venue. We’ve learned the hard way and come to the conclusion that it’s not worth going into a new area if you can’t make it work with pictures like ‘Kolya’ and ‘Lone Star.’ If you can only succeed based on crossover films like ‘Fargo,’ ‘Shine’ and ‘The English Patient,’ you’re in real trouble.”

Certainly that trio of pictures, all Oscar best picture nominees last year, have encouraged current players to widen play policies. Also expected is an imminent announcement by General Cinemas of a series of Sundance cinemas and Manhattan’s Reading, which runs some of the most prominent New York houses, will open the Angelika Houston this fall as the first of a planned national art house circuit.

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