BARRINGTON, Ill. (CBS) — Walk up the winding stairs of the small projection room at the Catlow Theater, at 116 W. Main St. in Barrington, and you take a step back in time.
“This was built in 1927,” said co-owner Tim O’Connor. “The original projectionist worked here until he was 94.”
60 year old 35 millimeter Simplex projectors still show the latest films.
“Orginally they had vaudeville here and then later movies.” he said.
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In the 1920s, the Barrington movie house showed silent films. Some of the era’s biggest stars came to the Catlow to promote their latest projects.
“Gene Autry was here, and Red Norville, and Sally Rand was here at one time,” O’Connor said.
In 1989, the Catlow was placed on the National Register of Historical Places, but O’Connor says the beloved one screen theater was in jeopardy of closing.
Money was needed to exchange the theater’s film projector for a new digital projector. Hollywood studios have vowed not to distribute their movies in any other format than digital after the end of 2013.
Upgrading is expensive. He would need at least $100,000 to do it.
“We didn’t know what we were going to do. We kind of panicked,” he said. Without the means to pay for the upgrade, O’Connor feared The Catlow’s demise was near until word got out that the theater may have to close.
With the help of the online website kickerstarter.com, the pledges poured in.
Pledges on ranging from $1 to $5,000 came in from across the country and halfway around the globe.
“It was overwhelming how much support we got.” Less than a week later, the Catlow had reached its goal and then some.
O’Connor says everyone feels the connection to the Catlow.
“For us it’s just a day to day thing, and we love it we didn’t know everybody loved it as much as we did,” he said.
The smell of popcorn will continue to waft through the old movie house and families will continue to bring their kids to a place they once went. The small suburban theater not on survives but thrives.
“A month ago we weren’t sure we were even going to be here or not. Now we’re pretty secure we’ll be here for the duration,” O’Connor said.
The theater might have to be closed for a day when a digital projector is installed later this year.
O’Connor plans a launch party for his donors to say thank you and to show off the new and improved Catlow.
“It’s like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,'” he said.