Circle Cinema celebrates 90 years in business

TULSA - Ninety years ago tonight, Tulsa's Circle Cinema showed its first movie the silent picture, "Across the Atlantic."

The Circle has been brought back over the past 16 years from the verge of demolition and is again a thriving movie house.

The Circle, which opened in 1928, will be celebrating it's 90th birthday this year, but this week has been especially noteworthy, hosting its first-ever film festival this weekend.

Tulsa's Jeanne Tripplehorn is at the Circle tonight for the premiere of her new movie and a question-and-answer session to follow. On Saturday night, Mary Kay Place will be there, and on Sunday afternoon, Peggy Dow Helmerich, who was an actress before she married Walt, will be there and Gary Busey will be there on Sunday night.

All to celebrate the magic of the movies and the city's last surviving old movie house.

The Circle Cinema was brand new in 1928, so was the original alignment of Route 66 that ran along the front.

Both brought an exciting new world to the Kendall Square neighborhood.

Eventually, though, planners veered the highway in another direction.

And by the late 1960's, the neighborhood, and the Circle, were in serious decline.

“We're very fortunate that we sort of exist today just because the bones stayed here,” Executive Director of Circle Cinema Foundation Stephanie LaFevers said.

LaFevers said the Circle Cinema Foundation’s hard work and dedication rescued the Circle from certain doom and turned it into a thriving art house theatre.

“It takes work, it takes passion, it takes ingenuity and it takes public support,” LaFevers said.

The planning began in 2002.

The Circle's roof had collapsed and it was a mess.

It opened two years later with one theatre. Now, there are four.

The original theatre organs have been restored. It's used to accompany silent movies, which are still shown. Along with so many other movies you'd never see anywhere else.

Documentaries, foreign films, locally-made productions, old classics and the Avant-Garde. The cinema also partners with 125 local nonprofits to showcase their causes.

The foundation's goal was to make the Circle, Tulsa's only non-profit theatre, a center of diversity and community.

“Obviously, we want to entertain people but we also want to educate and enlighten and kind of increasing awareness, expand horizons,” LaFevers said.

And because of all the work was done at the Circle, the neighborhood's expanded, too.

“We had to overcome people being fearful of coming to this area, maybe they hadn't been to this area in a long time, had pre-conceived notions,” LaFevers said.

But now the occupancy rate of the neighborhood storefronts is 90 percent, and 28 new businesses have opened within two blocks of the Circle since 2013.

Of the 28-neighborhood movie-houses that stood in Tulsa at the end of the Second World War, the Circle is the only one left showing films.

Back and better-than-ever.

A late-in-life resurgence tied to the magic of the movies, and the promise that everything works out in the end, especially if an old gal just gets a little bit of love.

“To use a phrase we've used pretty often, we look pretty good for being 90,” LaFevers said.

There's something going on at the Circle every day and they have all levels of membership support.

You can find out more at CircleCinema.com

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