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Donor’s offer could save Olympic Theatre

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By Christina Harper
HBJ Freelance Writer
Published: Tuesday, May 28, 2013, 1:57 p.m.
  • Olympic Theatre owner Norma Pappas has kept movies filling her single-screen theater in downtown Arlington since she began running it for her father 3...

    John Wolcott / HBJ file, 2012

    Olympic Theatre owner Norma Pappas has kept movies filling her single-screen theater in downtown Arlington since she began running it for her father 35 years ago.

ARLINGTON — The Olympic Theatre is a functioning relic of days gone by: a small, one-screen cinema where the smell of hot buttered popcorn wafting through the air meets neighbors and friends filing into the theater to watch the latest movie. It’s been that way for 74 years.
Owner and operator for more than 35 of those years, Norma Pappas, wants to keep that sentiment going for future generations.
She and a group of Save the Olympic Theatre volunteers have been trying to raise $30,000 by July 1 to keep the doors open.
The money is needed to purchase a digital movie projector, a result of Hollywood movie studios switching from film reels to digital technology for U.S. movie distribution. There’s no profit for studios to distribute film to small cinemas around the country. There’s no hope that all those cinemas, approximately 1,000 throughout the country, can switch to digital.
The money that Save the Olympic Theatre volunteers hope to raise does not include the cost of installing and air conditioning the projector room and other necessary work, Pappas said.
Even with benefits and donations from the public, the group holds a little more than $14,000. Much more money is needed.
“We’re not there yet,” Pappas said. “I’m hoping this will happen before we lose movies on film.”
But just when things looked very bleak for the Olympic Theatre, something happened that could hold its doors open for years to come.
An anonymous donor has stepped forward to say that he will give The Olympic Theatre group the money it needs for the digital projector.
The donor has a couple of prerequisites for the donation: He is willing to foot the bill as long as there is a deal to keep showing movies at the theater. In other words, he does not want to donate his money only to see the theater sold with all the new equipment going with it.
Working as a foundation is the other caveat that the donor wants. He will donate to the cause if the group of volunteers and Pappas form a foundation that will be run by members of the community, said William Frankhouser, a volunteer who helps to run the Save the Olympic Theatre group’s website soliciting donations and its Facebook page.
At a recent meeting, group members talked about ordering the projector once final specifications and dimensions are confirmed, Frankhouser said.
From order to installation will take two months, based on the projector provider’s time schedule.
The process for becoming a foundation has already started and will be headed as the Olympic Theatre Foundation. Pappas would have a seat on its board.
Members of the Save the Olympic Theatre group gather for meetings and hold benefits to raise money for the projector. They will have a booth at the Arlington Show and Shine car show on June 8 with information on the theater and its needs, Frankhouser said.
With a lot of work yet to go, the horizon looks less bleak for the Olympic Theatre. Thanks to the anonymous donor, families and friends in the Arlington community will be able to keep the treasure that Pappas has worked hard at and loved for many years.
Until then, patrons and donors alike can find her keeping the cinema alive in downtown Arlington, still selling tickets, splicing film and threading it into the reels.
“I’m still there, 24-7,” Pappas said.
You can help
Donations toward the digital projector, installation and other alterations are being collected at the Olympic Theatre and through PayPal on a community group’s website,, and at
Donations are not tax-deductible because the non-profit foundation status is not yet in effect.
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