By Matt de Simone
There are a few cineplexes where one can catch a flick in the Roanoke Valley, but there is only one authentic simplex where you can take in a picture and know you’re sitting in living history.
A cineplex (also known as a ‘multiplex’) are movie houses that show films in multiple theaters like the Regal Valley View Grande or Tanglewood’s AMC theater. The first cineplexes began popping up around the country in-mass around the late 1970s.
A simplex is a theater with one room that shows one or multiple films. The first of its kind in the states opened in Pittsburgh in 1905, called The Nickelodeon. The Buchanan Theatre would arrive less than a decade later.
The Buchanan Theatre appears today, just as it did in 1962. The movie theater showcases feature films that the entire family can enjoy on weekend nights. Most modern movie theater visits can cost a family as much as a full tank of gas and then some. Buchanan’s quaint, nostalgic simplex is affordable and makes for a great evening spent in the historic town. Volunteers are entirely responsible for the theater’s operations.
According to records, in the late 1800s, A.E. McCurdy established an open-air theater on the site of the current simplex to entertain guests of the Felix Complex Hotel. He used a Model T Ford motor to operate a dynamo for showing movies. When the Felix Complex burned in 1914, McCurdy sold the property to Elmer Shank, who began cutting wood with his sons to construct the new theater building.
By 1917, Shank’s theater was known by the name of the Star Theatre. The name changed in 1931 to the Buchanan Theatre.
Jack Jackson bought the theater in 1946 and renovated the building giving it its current art deco appearance and trademark neon sign. Jackson sold the simplex to Way Thompson in 1975.
In 1985, theater-owner Wayne Thompson closed the Buchanan Theatre following the great ‘Flood of ’85’, which took place that November. The last film in the old theater was Invasion, U.S.A. starring Chuck Norris. The same reel put together for that film’s screenings is still loaded on the old projector in the projection booth.
The cinema remained closed until Dale and Gloria Carter purchased the building in April 2001. Following 18 months of work, the Carter family worked with a newly formed nonprofit organization known as Standing Room Only (SRO) to reopen the Buchanan Theatre.
On October 8, 2002, SRO purchased their first DVD projector and opened the Buchanan Theatre to a packed house less than one month later. The opening night movie was The Majestic, a story about a small town reopening a theater to bring life back into the community following the staggering losses of World War II. A fitting feature to revitalize the once-bustling movie house.
In March of 2008, SRO purchased the Buchanan Theatre from the Carter family and continued to operate the theater welcoming a whole new generation of moviegoers.
In 2012, SRO purchased a new, state of the art, digital projector enabling them to show first-run movies. Now, patrons may enjoy the latest and greatest pictures made for the entire family.
Today, the Buchanan Theatre offers movies each Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and summer movie matinees, musical performances, and performances by local groups such as the Botetourt’s elementary schools and Botetourt’s 4-H clubs.
This week’s features include Spiderman No Way Home this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. and a showing of American Underdog: The Kurt Warner Story this Sunday with a special admission of $3 for everyone.
The Buchanan Theatre sells that old-time movie-going experience. Here, the volunteers who now run the movie house know their customers by name, not a number, and greet each person as they enter the doors of one of Virginia’s historic landmarks.
For more information about the theater’s history and what’s playing, please visit their website at www.buchanantheatre.com or call (540) 254-1155.