Buckhead History GH cinema 7

Published on March 16th, 2015 |

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Buckhead’s iconic Gardens Hills Cinema bids a final adieu

By Laura Hobbs and John Schaffner

For most long-time Buckhead residents, the Garden Hills Cinema was a place where memories were made. This week, the theater itself will become nothing more than a memory, as Brand Properties prepares to tear down the shell that remains after a December 2013 fire rendered the strip shopping center where it was located a total loss.

In the years since 2007 when the theater closed its doors, the marquee has been blank and the theater entrance had found a new use as a sometime home for the homeless.

The entrance and marque of the Garden Hills Cinema during the time it was operated by George Lefont.

The entrance and marquee of the Garden Hills Cinema during the time it was operated by George Lefont.

It is a sad ending for a theater that had played an important role in the cultural history of the community for nearly 6o years. It was originally opened around 1950 by John and Ruth Carter, who also owned what is now the Buckhead Theatre at the time.

Under the loving management of its most recent owner/operator George Lefont, the theater was a shining star among neighborhood art theaters in Atlanta, showing such important movies as “Like Water for Chocolate.”

BuckheadView reached out to a few local residents recently and asked them to share their memories of the theater.

An earlier view of the theater when it was owned by John and Ruth Carter  and wall called the Fine Art theater.

An earlier view of the theater when it was owned by John and Ruth Carter and was called the Fine Art theater.

Atlanta native Eleanor Ringel Cater, former movie critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and present Time Out columnist for Atlanta Business Chronicle and movie critic for The Saporta Report, told BuckheadView that Garden Hills Cinema was a great avatar for what a neighborhood theater could be.

“There was a time when having a neighborhood movie theater…made where you live a part of who you are,” Cater said.

“I remember seeing some wonderful movies there. Just the experience of it being one of the last single-screen theaters around, with that huge screen

Eleanor Ringel Cater

Eleanor Ringel Cater

and shallow little concession area (oh for the days when those were the priorities),” Cater told BuckheadView. “Like so much about Atlanta, I took it for granted,” she added.

Cater said memories were made at the Garden Hills Cinema, and that neighborhood movie theaters are a barometer of how a city grows.

“Back in the ‘90s when I was one of the critics for Entertainment Weekly, they asked several critics from around the country to be in a photo in front of our favorite theater in Atlanta, and there were still a lot of theaters to choose from then,” explained Cater.

“But immediately it was just, ‘Oh, please take my picture in front of the marquee at Garden Hills,’ because it’s just so Atlanta,” she recounted what she told the editors.

The theater provided the neighborhood with unique films not typically picked up by larger multiplexes and, for many years, hosted the Cinema Club. Cinema Club members are given a first-access pass to many independent and foreign films followed by a moderated discussion on select Sundays throughout the year. (For more information, visit http://www.thecinemaclub.com/city/atl/)

“I love movies, and especially foreign films,” said Judy Bozarth, Garden Hills resident and a Cinema Club member. “Garden Hills Cinema was one of the few places where you could see the

In the early days the shopping center was vibrant with Shuman's Market and the theater, along with other retail tenants.

In the early days the shopping center was vibrant with Shuman’s Market and the theater, along with other retail tenants.

less mass-appeal-type films.”

Like many theaters, big movies drew big audiences, but the more eclectic movies had a smaller following. Because of its size, the cinema would frequently change the featured movie from one week to the next, but not always.

“Typically, the Garden Hills, because it was a single-screen theater, would play a movie for one week, maybe two, maybe three weeks if it was doing really well. But ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ ended up playing for four or five months,” Bozarth said. “I think it was the only theater that played it. I don’t think it went anywhere else.”

“It was a great theater. It was a terrific theater,” she added. “It just had such character.”

But since the theater closed in 2007, the marque has been silent about showings and the entrance has deteriorated.

But since the theater closed in 2007, the marquee has been blank and the entrance has deteriorated.

Development plans after the center’s demolition are still unknown, but one thing is certain: Those plans will not include an art theater such as the Garden Hills Cinema.

George Lefont essentially saved the theater and made it thrive, Cater told BuckheadView. But several years ago Lefont told BuckheadView, “No one can make a go of it with a single-screen theater anymore.” Lefont now owns the multi-screen Sandy Springs Cinema.

Lefont started in the theater business in 1976 with Buckhead’s Silver Screen cinema, which showed movies from Hollywood’s golden era. The theater was later razed in the early 1980s during a shopping center expansion. Other cinemas that Lefont has operated through the years have included the Screening Room, and the Tara and Ansley cinemas.

Lefont says his decision to bring art house films to Atlanta was “a business opportunity and personal taste.”

Atlanta theater owner/operator George Lefont essentially saved the Garden Hills Cinema before it closed for good in 2007.

Atlanta theater owner/operator George Lefont essentially saved the Garden Hills Cinema before it closed for good in 2007.

A few years before the fire, BuckheadView editor John Schaffner and Eleanor Cater walked through the empty, abandoned theater with Brand Properties President Michael Hoath, trying to figure out how the theater could be saved and made vibrant again as both a movie house and for

The theater entrance in recent years has often become home to "urban campers" instead of ticket holders.

The theater entrance in recent years has become a sometime home to homeless people.

other uses.

That never happened and now never will.

“I can only remember one specific film which I saw there,” said Buff Quillian, Peachtree Heights West resident. “It was the ‘Winged Migration’ film where you feel like you are flying right along with the various flocks of birds in all corners of the world.”

Quillian added, “It was a most unusual film and that was the usual fare there at Garden Hills Cinema. The layout sticks with you—the long hallways after buying tickets outside and the front hall lined with old famous film ads. We were always glad it was so close by,” She added.

“Along the long entrance hall from the ticket office to the theater, George Lefont used to put his displays” for movies and items he was promoting, recalled Jason Kendall.

“The very first movie I went to in Buckhead when I moved here 23 years ago” was at the Garden Hills Cinema, said Buckhead resident Nancy Bliwise.

Demolition of the  building that formerly housed the Garden Hills Cinema began early in the morning of March 18.

Demolition of the building that formerly housed the Garden Hills Cinema began early in the morning of March 18.

“When I lived in Peachtree Park, I used to walk there to see movies,” added Buckhead resident and real estate professional Jim Cosgrove.

“We used to walk over to the theater from Park Place to take in movies up until the time the theater closed. Before that, we drove up from Midtown for the movies,” remembered Doug Shore, who is a resident of the Park Place condominiums just two blocks south of the theater.

By late in thre morning all that remained was remnants of the movie screen, the stage and the wall behind them.

By late morning March 18, all that remained was remnants of the movie screen, the stage and the wall behind them.

But one of the fondest memories shared with BuckheadView was that of Bill Murray, vice president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties and its Buckhead office managing broker.

“When I was 13 years old I saw Brigitte Bardot and I have had a fondness for that theater ever since,” Murray said.

“The more I think about the Garden Hills Cinema, the more I remember,” Murray added. “I was a young teen and my buddy and I had to sneak

By noon on March 18, all that remained of the Garden Hills Cinema was the marque on Peachtree Road, rubble and memories.

By noon on March 18, all that remained of the Garden Hills Cinema was the marque on Peachtree Road, rubble and memories.

in the back door because you had to be 18 to purchase a ticket… You do what you have to do to see Brigitte Bardot.”

(Editor’s Note: Share your memories in the comment box below. You can see others at http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/11485)

 

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    10 Responses to Buckhead’s iconic Gardens Hills Cinema bids a final adieu

    1. Pingback: BuckheadViewGarden Hills shopping center demolition is finally beginning - BuckheadView

    2. Pingback: BuckheadViewBuckhead’s iconic Gardens Hills Cinema bids a final adieu – BuckheadView | NBCA Land Use & Zoning Committee

    3. Pingback: BuckheadView: Buckhead’s iconic Gardens Hills Cinema bids a final adieu – BuckheadView | NBCA Land Use & Zoning Committee

    4. Rumson Rd Neighbor says:

      I remember seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show there after Lafont stopped showing it at Peachtree Battle. Ahhh… the good ol’ days of my youth!

    5. Steve Wise says:

      Bardot’s first name is Brigitte.

    6. joel grtiswold says:

      I saw sooooo many films there and along with the Tara Theatre, they were strong supporters of Independent films as well as upscale mainstream. That said, come on folks…that theatre was nothing more than a concrete box with absolutely no decoration or aesthetic appeal whatsoever!!!!! The management or owners NEVER spent a dime on it. My last visit there was because I refused to go back and pay and freeze to death. I complained many many times about the fact they refused to turn on any heat in the winter. Yes, I enjoyed the posters in the Lobby…so what? They got them for free and they never changed. The concession prices were outrageous and I can deal with that as long as the heat is in use . I hate to see the building go, but when the theatre closed, it was no surprise. Like the old saying goes…..”Absence makes the heart grow fonder!”

    7. Gregory Nicoll says:

      Why has nobody mentioned ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA? Garden Hills was the only Atlanta theater to show the long version, and if I recall correctly it ran for over a year. I saw it there myself three times.

    8. Jennifer says:

      Moved to ATL in 82 – Garden Hills, Screening Room, Ponce Plaza were our theaters. Zasu’s, Harvest Moon Saloon, the little Cafe at 17th/Peachtree apts, the first Fellini’s pizza when it opened next to GHC, a little later Vickery’s, Moe’s & Joe’s, 1019 restaurant, the old Murphy’s location, the little wine bar in Va High were where everyone went – it was like a small town with familiar faces everywhere. I once tipsily pretended to be French talking with George LeFont one night and he sweetly indulged my silliness.
      1st date with 1st husband @ Screening Room in ’85; I used to go to Sunday Cinema Club 20 years later at Garden Hills after staying with my now 4ever husband.

      For me, Atlanta’s “golden years”

    9. Joan Gunning Merkle says:

      Our family of 7 children,and mother and father moved to “the Duck Pond Neighborhood” on Demorest Ave., in 1939. The one block strip of businesses on Peachtree Rd.has many wonderful memories for me and my family. I remember Carter’s Drug Store, later Law’s Drug Store, where your doctor could call in your RX and they would deliver (does anyone remember the deliver man’s name, he was wonderfull!); it also had a soda fountain bar with high bar stools; Abraham’s Delicatessen served delicious sandwiches where you sat in big booths to eat. As Seniors at CK High School, once a week we were allowed to walk there and eat lunch; A Record Store with private booths where you could listen to records you were considering buying; The grocery store (I can’t remember the name. was it Schuman’s?), Mother would call in her order and they would deliver or we would walk there with her and bring the groceries home in a wagon.
      LIFE WAS MUCH SIMPLIER THEN!

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