LEEHY GERTNER/SAGAMORE STAFF
Whether it’s “Last Night In Soho,” “Spencer” or “Belfast,” watching a movie at home doesn’t hold a candle to the immersive, big-screen, popcorn-filled environment of the Coolidge Corner Theatre.
The theater announced its expansion in June 2021 with the goal of enhancing this experience. The new parts of the theater include an expanded lobby, an indoor concessions area, two new screens, a media library, a “Community Education and Engagement Center” and a roof deck, according to Director of Development & Marketing, Beth Gilligan.
“What a game changer it will be culturally, economically and artistically for the area. I think a lot of people take huge amounts of pride in it. They see this sort of anchor in Brookline and one of its cultural gems,” Gilligan said.
Executive Director and CEO of the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation Katherine Tallman has been involved with the expansion from the initial vision.
The Coolidge currently has two theaters, one with 440 seats and another with 220 seats. Tallman said this isn’t matching the needs and potential of the organization.
Building the Community Education and Engagement Center is important to Tallman and her colleagues, so they can focus on using film as a tool for education. This will include film clubs looking at film or a particular director’s work and themes through film, according to Tallman.
Gilligan said that the Community Education and Engagement center will provide a space for gathering that the area doesn’t currently have.
“I think that the Coolidge is so much about community, but it’s hard for us to offer the community moments with our current space constraints. That’s a lot of what that space is going to be about: opening it up to the community and offering more Coolidge-specific programming for people to learn about film, learn different perspectives and learn about different filmmakers,” Gilligan said.
According to Tallman, during the time they were closed, the theater pursued the building permit process and the team had to think on their feet nonstop.
“COVID-19 came and then we closed our doors and put the campaign on hold and we tried to just generate operating support to stay alive,” Tallman said.
Tallman said the Coolidge community didn’t change at all during the pandemic.
“We got so many donations, so many letters and notes of support, like: ‘hang in there,’ ‘we miss you.’ And so you never felt like you were alone in this at all,” Tallman said. “Being able to welcome our community, who’ve been with us all along through this, into a new space with more films and more offerings is really exciting in and of itself.”
The purpose of the expansion is to meet the demands that people have asked of the Coolidge for many years, according to Head Projectionist Nick Lazzaro. Their job is to figure out how to aesthetically tie in the old and the new: the functionality and the wow-factor of the theater.
“We’re trying to check all those boxes and at the same time, build a state-of-the-art facility technology-wise, but then marry that to the idea of what the Coolidge is,” Lazzaro said.
Gilligan said that rather than trying to do a carbon copy of Thirties Art Deco, architect Eric Hӧweler of Hӧweler + Yoon are taking it in a different direction.
“What he’s tried to do is take the concepts and ideas behind Art Deco, the playfulness and some of the key features and translate it to the 21st century,” Gilligan said. “We’re very much committed to the look and the feel of the Coolidge as this warm, welcoming place.”
Gilligan wants the theater to be as accommodating and forward-facing as it can be.
“It’s accessibility, it’s being fossil fuel-free, it’s being able to showcase more international films, more films by women and people of color, redefining some of the cinema cannon,” Gilligan said.
Lazzaro said in terms of the quality, the Coolidge is unchanged. It’s just keeping up with modern technology.
“Rest easy. The things you know and love about the existing building are going to be there,” Lazzaro said.
Gilligan said she knows people don’t want the Coolidge to change.
“We want to give people a sense of comfort. This is the Coolidge they know and love and grew up with,” Gilligan said. “The historic building is not going to change.”