Arlington’s historic Olympic Theatre ends run

ARLINGTON — The Olympic Theatre, an Arlington landmark for 75 years, has closed its doors.

The single-screen movie house near the corner of Olympic Avenue and First Street in downtown Arlington may reopen under new management, but nothing is certain, according to owner Norma Pappas.

Pappas ran the show for 37 years before drawing the curtain at the end of June.

For decades, she spliced and wound film for the projector before each show while audiences settled into rows of seats. During the theater’s final shows, featuring “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” people paid $7 or less for their tickets, possibly fishing out a $5 bill for popcorn if they were hungry.

Many theaters have converted their equipment to handle digital movies, but others have closed, unable to keep up as old-fashioned film gets harder to come by.

Pappas has estimated it would cost $60,000 or more to upgrade her film-era equipment to digital. The cost was too much for the one-screen, one-show-a-night operation.

She hopes a local church group will buy the theater and resume operations soon, Pappas said Monday. She’s prepping the building for sale.

Pastor Chad Blood with Lifeway Foursquare Church in Arlington said he is close to finalizing a financing plan for the church to purchase the Olympic. Blood plans to continue operating the building as a movie theater, along with using the space for church Sundays and various musical and stage events throughout the year.

The Olympic Theater &Cafe is expected to become a nonprofit, Blood said, funneling profits into local charities.

It’s not finalized yet, he said. Blood hopes to wrap things up in the next few weeks, though no reopening date has been set for the theater.

“I know it’s time for Norma, and it’s time for us,” Blood said. “I believe we’re very close.”

The Olympic Theatre first opened in 1939 as a movie house. For a few years in the 1960s it showed X-rated films, before a church moved in during the 1970s. In 1977, Dick Pappas bought the building. Norma, his daughter, took charge shortly after, aiming to create a small-town, family-friendly theater.

A group of people from Arlington rallied around a “Save the Olympic Theatre” effort and at one point hoped to take over operations, but Pappas was not interested in leasing the space. She wanted to sell and retire.

A recorded message at the theater’s phone number explains that the Olympic is closed for the month of July and urges people to check back at www.olympictheatre.net for updates.

Herald reporters Chris Winters and Gale Fiege contributed to this report.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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