Movie Days

This is one of the most innovative and fun theatres I ever dreamed up. Then I got to build it.  It was called the Northrock 14. It originally was next door to the original Northrock theatres in Wichita, Kansas. The reversed style auditorium was a concept that came to me when I was at a workshop in a live performance theatre. As you can see the projector is in the center of the auditorium and has a large glass window showing off the equipment inside much like the old Imax theatres use to do. The auditorium is backwards in that the wide part of the room is at the front and the small end at the back. It isn’t a box. It’s also backwards from a conventional live theatre auditorium. You enter the auditorium from under the screen. I built a larger version of this type of complex in Tulsa, OK.
Funny, John Hartley the past owner of Dickinson (bought it from me) built his Palazzo Theatre in south Overland Park, Kansas using the same type of design concepts then went ahead and took credit for the concept and design. In actual fact TK Architects worked with Dickinson and John was the construction manager. I spent hours poring over the plans trying to bring the concept to life.
I never learned if this concept design had a place in Exhibition. That’s still a question but I had a lot of fun and really, the auditoriums were awesome. Huge screens and super sound systems. The complex was at 3151 North Penstemon Street  Wichita, KS.
Unfortunately like many things done to the demise of Dickinson Theatres, Hartley closed the complex in late October of 2012. Probably had too. Hartley was notorious in running theatres into the ground. Here is part of a patrons comment  found on the Internet;


Tips for Northrock 14 Theatre

Doesn’t Recommend
November 22, 2009
The dirtiest theater I’ve ever been to. I took my 4 year old to the 11:30 Sunday showing of “Planet 51.” When we walked up, the trash bins outside were OVERFLOWING with trash and the parking lot looked like there had been a party in it last night. It was obvious no attempt was made to clean up from the time before. We walked inside and the carpet was filthy and it was dark and smelled like a urinal. I mentioned to the kid selling me tickets that the front was a mess, and he apologized and said they would get it cleaned up. We bought out tickets and went to the concession stand to buy popcorn, and of course, the floor was sticky, the counter was filthy and there wasn’t an adult working to be found. Just a bunch of high school or perhaps college kids, and they weren’t too enthusiastic to help us out. We finally sat down (the theater was so dark you couldn’t see anything, which was probably a good thing, judging by the sound of crunching under our feet) and waited for the movie to start. And waited, and waited. The projector showing commercials before previews locked up, so we were stuck watching the same logo flash before our screen. FINALLY at 11:45, some kid shows up in the projection room and starts the movie. Now we get to sit through trailers….Halfway through the movie, my daughter has to go to the bathroom. Of the six stalls in there, four had out of order signs on them. The other two were filthy, sticky floors, etc. The toilet paper dispenser was broken, and there was in industrial sized roll of TP on the floor. I picked it up, it was wet, and when I turned it over, it was moldy! We moved to another bathroom, it wasn’t much better, only three working stalls, The trash was overflowing. About that time, we had had enough, and left. I noticed as we left, that NO ONE had made an attempt to clean up the trash out front. I will NEVER go to this theater again, and I’m going to tell everyone who will listen not to go there either. Not worth the health risks and for what you pay to attend a movie, I at least expect a working toilet with mold-free toilet paper!!! —  From Citysearch 

_______________________________________________________________Northrock 14 Theatre To Close

The Northrock 14 Theatre at 29th and Rock Road is set to close as Dickinson Theatres Inc. has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The theatre has been leasing the space from Occidental Management after it sold the building in January.
“It was not going to be a long-term tenant anyway, so, we’re just moving forward with our plans to convert the building into Class A office. It hasn’t impacted any of our plans or proformas for the building,” said Chad Stafford, president of Occidental Management.
According to our news partners at the Wichita Business Journal, the Overland Park-based movie theater chain hopes to have a reorganization plan soon, but in the meantime will close theaters in Wichita, Oklahoma City and Blue Springs, MO. Another Dickinson location in Leavenworth recently closed.
Northrock 14 customers were saddened by the news but said they expected the closure after seeing less attendance at the theatre.
“It’s sad for the economy. It’s sad for the people who are working there. Sad for me ’cause I can’t come here to see a movie. I’ve got to go somewhere else. Most of the places are more expensive,” said Nancy Bye, customer.
The theatre will like close its doors by the end of the year when their lease ends.
Dickinson Theatres currently operates 18 locations across 7 states. reported this story on Monday, September 24, 2012 – staff photograph

Northrock 14 to be office space by BILL WILSON

Wichita office developer has a contract to purchase the Northrock 14 Theatre, with plans to close the struggling movie house and develop 95,000 square feet of office space on two floors.Gary Oborny, CEO of Occidental Management, said he hopes to close later this spring on a cash deal for the theater, owned by Overland Park-based Dickinson Theatres.
Terms of the purchase were not disclosed, but Oborny said the office conversion project, slated to open in the third quarter of 2012, will carry an $8 million price tag. “Each floor will be 47,500 square feet of Class A at a two-floor minimum in a contemporary style,” Oborny said. “We’ll cut windows in the building, redo the outside in a pattern a little bit different than our other design, renovate the parking lot and landscape.”
The theater will be the second building of what Oborny envisions as a 200,000-square-foot, three-building Class A office complex at 32nd North and Rock Road, including the company headquarters at 8111 E. 32nd St. North.
That building, renovated in 2008, also was a Dickinson movie theater. Oborny said it has 6,000 of 84,000 square feet remaining. Tenants include Corporate Lodging.
Plans call for a third building between the headquarters and the theater, with between 20,000 and 30,000 square feet of office space, Occidental president Chad Stafford said. “We’re next to Rock Road, next to K-96, so the convenience of getting here from 96 just to the north allows all our different employees, customers and vendors to really get here from anywhere in Wichita in 18 minutes,” Oborny said.
He said he has several large tenants on the hook for the new office facility, including some interested in as much as 40,000 square feet. Lease rates should range between $19 and $20 per square foot, about $2 under the city’s going rate for Class A space. The theater’s closing date is up in the air, Oborny said, and will be tied to the purchase closing. No general contractor has been selected, but Wichita architect Ron Spangenberg of Spangenberg Phillips Tice Architecture will design the new facility.
John Hartley, president of Dickinson, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
The market for Class A office space in Wichita is showing signs of life, said Stan Longhofer, director of Wichita State’s Center for Real Estate.
“Very clearly in the market right now, there’s some good product and there’s demand for it,” he said. “There’s average product and there’s not a lot of demand for average product. “People are always going to be interested in high-quality space, and since he can demonstrate what he’s done with similar projects, that’s a positive for him.”
Northrock’s closing leaves Warren Theatres as the sole Wichita movie operation, other than the Starlite Drive-In.
Nonetheless, Warren Theatres owner Bill Warren said the Northrock closing has no bearing on his business plans.
“They aren’t a competitor. Haven’t been for a long time,” Warren said. “Entertainment is my competitor — baseball, basketball, events, things like that.” Wichita Eagle – to read more here

Northrock 14’s parent company files bankruptcy By Dan Voorhis and Jerry Siebenmark

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story had an incorrect date of Northrock 14’s opening.
Once the east side’s premier movie theater, Northrock 14 will close, following a decision by its owner Dickinson Theatres to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Overland Park-based Dickinson is trying to reorganize to save the company, but has petitioned the bankruptcy court to allow it to break the lease on the Northrock 14 building and close the business down. If the court grants the request, the company could be out of there within 30 to 60 days, said attorney Sharon Stolte of Stinson Morrison Hecker. Stolte said there was no clear time frame for closing Northrock 14, and that Dickinson could shut down its theater operation in Wichita at any time.
The theater building at 3151 Penstemon in northeast Wichita is owned by Occidental Management, which bought the building in 2011 with plans to convert its 95,000 square feet into Class A office space. Chad Stafford, president of Occidental Management, said Monday the bankruptcy filing was not a surprise, and he described the theater’s lease as a “temporary arrangement. It was an interim solution, not anything long term that we were banking on.”
Stafford said Occidental’s plan all along was to start converting the theater building into office space in 2013.
“That’s the same track we’re working on,” he said. Dickinson, which filed its bankruptcy papers in Kansas City, Kan., said it had $2.2 million in assets and $7.6 million in liabilities. According to court documents, the company operates 210 screens in 18 locations in seven states. “Some of these locations are expected to be closed prior to confirmation of the (reorganization) Plan, but the remaining business operations will be stronger,” the company said in court documents. The company cited competition, fewer box office hits in recent years, and higher licensing fees from film distributors as reasons for the bankruptcy, according to court documents.
The closing of Northrock 14 would signal the end of Dickinson’s long-running battle with Bill Warren for local movie-goers loyalties. Dickinson opened Northrock 6 in 1987, and instantly dominated the east-side movie scene. Warren started a few years later with the second-run Palace, then opened his own plush $10 million first-run theater at 21st and Tyler in 1996, splitting the town between east and west. In 1998 Dickinson came back with the $10 million Northrock 14, futuristically decorated in purple, pink and black with a touch of neon and a reflective ceiling. It opened to large crowds. Warren fired back by adding eight more screens at his west-side theater a year later.
Dickinson’s then-owner John Hartley sought unsuccessfully to build an 18-screen theater at Maple and Maize Road in 2002, and the company’s fortunes began to dim. At the same time Warren continued to expand, opening his large east-side theater, then a downtown theater. He has continued to upgrade and expand his properties since.
Northrock, during the same time, became less competitive. On Monday, Warren said he didn’t run Dickinson out of Wichita. “It has not been a well-run company for 20 years,” he said. “You can see it’s pretty obvious the customers have rejected their business model.” But Warren didn’t gloat about the departure of his once-bitter foe.
“It’s not good for the industry, it’s not going to help us,” he said. “It’s too bad.” – Read more here


My thoughts – When I ran Dickinson Theatres I would create a white paper at least 4 times a year. That paper detailed our ability to serve the patron, present a perfect show, keep the theatres clean, safe and well staffed among other things. John Hartley would receive a copy of this document along with everyone else and he hated it. The white paper was one way I could measure our effectiveness at motion picture exhibition. When I left Dickinson that all left with me. The Dickinson Theatres I could go to free (until John took my pass away) was getting run-down, dirty, poorly staffed and etc. I started going to AMC. What a pitiful statement on the operation of Dickinson Theatres. The last family member to be involved with Dickinson won’t even go to a theatre with his name on it. I felt John hated the “Dickinson” brand and would have dumped the name if he could have. I wish he had. I still get asked if I’m involved with Dickinson and I’m very quick to reply NO!
So here I am 13 years out from my sale of the company and Dickinson’s 1st bankruptcy and two of the most wonderful theatres I ever built, and attended are gone. The SouthGlen 12 and Northrock 14. I told John (and this upset him) that the chances of a company making it after bankruptcy declines with each year. I told him he wouldn’t make it 20 years. He didn’t.
Scars of war I guess. Show business is truly like no business I know. Today’s crop of exhibitors know nothing about showmanship. Frankly, the film companies don’t either.
If you are interested in old theatres here are a couple of websites to get you started: •
Photographs of the Northrock are by Wood Dickinson