The Plaza Theatre owner to reopen the Tara Theatre

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@

Credit: RODNEY HO/rho@

Regal shut down the theater in November and relinquished the storied Tara name

The Tara Theatre shall rise again.

The storied Atlanta movie theater that specialized in foreign and independent films shut down suddenly in November. Its prior owner, Regal Cinemas, whose parent company filed for bankruptcy protection last fall, has been shuttering low-performing theaters to reduce debt.

In November, Christopher Escobar discovered that Tara’s landlord, Halpern Enterprises, was open to keeping the space as a movie theater. The owner of the independent Plaza Theatre on Ponce de Leon Avenue gathered a team of investors to revive Tara with plans to reopen this spring. The new lease deal, which runs six years but could be extended to 10, was finalized Tuesday.

He made the official announcement Tuesday night at the closing event for the 2023 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center.

“I’m feeling excited,” Escobar said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the event. “We have a lot more work to do, but I feel like the picture is becoming more whole. It went from far-fetched to theoretical to real very quickly.”

Credit: RODNEY HO/hor

Credit: RODNEY HO/hor

Escobar said a new for-profit company called Tara Theatre LLC will oversee the theater, structured like Plaza Theatre LLC, which he created in 2017 to preserve and operate his Midtown venue. The company will partner with the Friends of Tara Foundation, a nonprofit organization comparable to the nonprofit Plaza Theatre Foundation, which is used as a fundraising arm.

His other equity partners in the venture are cinema booker/operator Michael Spaeth, his wife, Kris Spaeth, and Steve Krams of Magna-Tech Electronic, which provides projectors to movie theaters.

AJC podcast from November 2022, when Tara closed

“Magna-Tech’s investment as a partner for Tara creates drastic cost savings for the project,” Escobar said.

Escobar plans to install new digital formats as well as historic 35 mm and 70 mm film projectors, making the Plaza and Tara the only theaters in the city with both types of older film projection units.

He said Regal, after closing Tara with almost no warning, removed all projection equipment, furniture, concession stand equipment and wall art, which he estimated was worth about $250,000. “They took everything that wasn’t bolted down,” he said.

All of that will have to be replaced. Tara is now seeking donations to help the theater reopen via The public can also support the theater by purchasing advance tickets or gift cards from the website. Escobar hopes to raise $50,000.

“We’re going to lean into the original midcentury modern aesthetic when Tara opened,” he said.

The good news, he added, is Regal relinquished the Tara name, enabling Escobar to use it moving forward.

Tara, which opened in 1968 off Cheshire Bridge and LaVista roads, became a mecca for indie, arthouse and foreign films after George Lefont purchased the theater in the early 1980s. (Lefont, who is now retired, also owned the Plaza for many years.) Escobar will continue to book comparable films while also organizing more special events.

Escobar, who signed a 25-year lease for the Plaza Theatre last year, said Kenny Blank, executive director of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and son of Home Depot founder Arthur Blank, was able to facilitate the deal.

Blank, in an interview Wednesday, said the Halpern family have sponsored his Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and he was able to connect them with Escobar. And he will continue to support Escobar’s efforts.

“The Tara may not have all the modern trappings of some newer theaters but it is a shrine to cinema, a place to feel the movies differently than somewhere else,” Blank said. “We hope the community will demonstrate their love and support for the Tara in any way they can.”

Jack Halpern, CEO and chairman of Halpern, said in a statement that “we were impressed with Christopher’s business model and track record. We also believed that the variety of films that he could bring to the Tara would resonate with the community, and would enable him to succeed in ways that the larger movie chains couldn’t match.”

Credit: RODNEY HO/

Credit: RODNEY HO/

Five things to know about the Tara Theatre

The historic arthouse theater Tara Theatre off Cheshire Bridge and LaVista roads in Atlanta is reopening in spring 2023 after its owner Regal Cinemas closed it in November 2022.

Here are five things to know about the Tara:

1. Loew’s opened the single 1,000-seat theater in 1968, naming it Tara after the fictional plantation from the 1939 classic film “Gone With the Wind.” which was also the first film shown there.

2. In 1977, Burt Reynolds hosted the premiere of “Smokey and the Bandit” at Tara.

3. The theater was the first in Atlanta to show “Star Wars.” which stayed there for nearly six months.

4. In 1980, legendary local arthouse cinema owner George Lefont purchased the theater and began screening independent and foreign films that most other theaters wouldn’t touch. including the controversial X-rated historical drama “Caligula.”

5. After Lefont sold the theater in 1990, Tara maintained the arthouse strategy through multiple owners and eventually became a four-screen theater. The final movies shown at the theater before it shut down included “Tar,” “Call Jane” and the appropriately titled “Decision to Leave.”

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