Just like the movies themselves, Albany's Madison Theater has gone through several changes since it first opened in 1929. Its most dramatic renovation is now in the works.
As a single-screen neighborhood theater, the Madison entertained moviegoers for decades. It became a five-screen multiplex in 1994; two more screens were added in 1998.
In 2013, Columbia County's Tierra Farm purchased and reimagined the Madison, saving the landmark from the wrecking ball. Tierra Chairman Gunther Fishgold: "I always enjoyed the Madison Theater, the Pine Hills neighborhood, it's a very vibrant neighborhood, probably the most vibrant in Albany at the moment. It was important as a business that makes money in the Capital District, to spend a little bit of time giving back to the community. The Madison Theater was the perfect spot for us, considering we were already working next door in the coffee shop there. It was the perfect spot for us to jump in, put the money and renovate that theater."
Fishgold says Tierra Farm took over the theater as a restoration project. "I was always looking for somebody that would come in and be more passionate about the movie business and be able to provide something for that community and really maximize that beautiful theater. So, for us, it was a placeholder, while we renovated, while we put money in that made it nicer for somebody to come along like Cosmic, and do what they're about to do."
New owner South Carolina-based Cosmic Cinemas promises "no babies, no cell phones" and "meals made from scratch." COO Kris Keisling says Cosmic is excited about the neighborhood, the building and the history of the Madison. The company has already undertaken a project to update an old theater in Hudson, the Fairview Cinema 3. "While we were getting the one in Hudson started, the group introduced us to Gunther and his project at the Madison. As soon as you came into the neighborhood, and as soon as you walked into the theater you could see not only the history behind it but what Gunther's vision was for it when he first got involved and listening him talk about his passion for not only the neighborhood but the city of Albany and upstate New York. We could really feel that he wanted to pass that on to someone who was gonna bring something positive to the area."
Cosmic will keep the "Madison" brand in a four-screen configuration. "Everywhere we've been from Seattle to Charleston has received us well. We like to feel we're part of the community and bring something positive form jobs to entertainment destination to something that can contribute positively to the neighborhood. So we're excited to be there," said Keisling.
Fishgold notes Tierra will keep its current spot in the Madison building. "We wanted to stay there so we put a long 10-year lease in place to be in that coffee shop space which will be a combined coffee shop and Tierra Farms store."
Albany's Palace and Schenectady's Proctors are other local examples of preserved and repurposed movie houses, as is Utica's Stanley, now known as "the Stanley Center for the Arts" following a $20 million renovation in 2006.
Old theaters don't always see happy endings. The lavish Hellman was cutting-edge when it opened in 1960 across the street from UAlbany. The theater was demolished a few years after closing in 1999, its demise blamed on shopping mall multiplexes.