Atlanta's Plaza Theatre marks 70 years of independence

Last year was a blockbuster for some of Atlanta’s cinematic landmarks, with the Fabulous Fox celebrating its 80th year and the Starlight Six Drive-In marking its 60th birthday. .

This week, The Plaza Theatre, another enduring relic from Atlanta’s movie-going past, hosts its 70th anniversary celebration this week with an old-fashioned gala event followed by a film festival that continues through the month's end.

The city's only remaining independent theater will mark the grand occasion with screenings of 1939 films such as “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Gone with the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz.” It will conclude with a Silver Scream Spook Show showing of the Buck Rogers serial “Planet Outlaws” on Jan. 30.

Already known for events such as movie-themed art openings, the horror show vaudeville of the monthly Silver Scream Spook Show, interactive showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and other events that offer audience participation and cultural enrichment, the Plaza’s anniversary plans are similarly spectacular.

It all starts with a Jan. 15 fundraiser featuring period music on vintage vinyl spun by Starlight manager and anachronistic aficionado Jim Stacy. The Spook Show regulars of Blast-Off Burlesque will perform a traditional routine from the Plaza’s stage while costumed characters straight out of classic Hollywood favorites greet attendees. Following a raffle, silent auction and refreshments, Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies will introduce a rare 35 mm screening of Frank Capra’s 1939 classic “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” starring Jimmy Stewart,  which will screen four more times over the weekend.

“[Osborne’s] in town a good bit shooting for TCM and he’s come in before to see movies,” says Plaza owner Jonathan Rej. “When [the gala] came up, I just contacted his agent and found out he would be in town anyway and wanted to contribute. He really and truly loves film and theaters and appreciates what we’re doing.”

Rej and his wife Gayle purchased the Plaza in 2005 in hopes of keeping it from becoming another corporate chain store. Both have backgrounds in film and theater management. Despite their good intentions and cool event ideas, the Rejs have learned that operating an art house theater in a multiplex world (and just down the street from Midtown Art Cinema,part of the national Landmark Theatres chain) remains difficult. The Plaza became a nonprofit last year and the anniversary gala will help raise funds for the theater’s renovation plans.

“There used to be theaters all over like this,” says Rej. “The Highlands had a theater where the Starbucks is now, Little Five Points had Variety Playhouse, which used to be a theater, East Atlanta had the Madison, which is completely vacant now. These were just neighborhood theaters and slowly but surely they’ve all closed down and we’re the last one. That’s why we bought the place, because we thought it was worth putting the effort into trying to keep it up.”

Plaza Theatre’s 70th Anniversary Gala and 1939 Film Festival

7 p.m. Jan. 15. $20. (additional screenings of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” are 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16-17. $10; $6.50 for ages 12 and younger.).

“Gulliver’s Travels” screenings are 3 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Jan. 16-17. $10; $6.50 for ages 12 and younger.

“Gone with the Wind” screenings are 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22 and 4:30 p.m. Jan. 23-24. $10; $6.50 for ages 12 and younger.

“The Wizard of Oz” screenings are 2:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. Jan. 23-24. $10; $6.50 for ages 12 and younger.

The Silver Scream Spook Show presents Buck Rogers in “Planet Outlaws” at 1 p.m. and 10 p.m. Jan. 30. $7 for matinee; $10 for late show; free for ages 11 and younger.

Plaza Theatre

1049 Ponce de Leon Ave.

Atlanta, GA 30306