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Riviera Theatre to throw party for 90th after locating 1926 opening night film

It was a celebration 90 years in the making - they just needed to find the film.

When the staff at the Historic Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda thought about what type of celebration to plan for the venue's 90th anniversary it seemed clear: They would re-stage the grand opening night festivities from Dec. 30, 1926.

On that date nearly a century ago, the theater - then called the Twin Cities Rivera - had a Hollywood-style celebration. Tickets were $1 for the big event that included a message of congratulations from Gov. Alfred E. Smith and legendary movie producer Cecil B. DeMille. There was vaudeville and musical entertainment.

On the big screen patrons watched Hedda Hopper in "The Mona Lisa" (in Technicolor), a comedy short and a newsreel. Capping off the festivities was the feature film "Upstage" with MGM's big star Norma Shearer.

There was no way, then, that the Riviera could celebrate its 90th birthday without a similarly festive night featuring a screening of "Upstage." Only problem: locating a 1926 silent film in 2016 wasn't easy.

"We couldn't find a copy of the film," said Gary Rouleau, co-director and director of development at the Riviera Theatre. "We kept contacting vendors, talking to people, asking around."

No luck. They kept searching, but as time went on the hopes dimmed of finding a copy of "Upstage."

"We kind of gave up," Rouleau said. "It sounded like a good idea and a great way to celebrate 90 years But then we thought, 'Oh well, time to move on.' "

Finally after a year of searching, they found their movie treasure with a collector in England. Now on May 5, a few months later than planned, the Riviera Theatre will celebrate its 90th birthday in a manner honoring its original opening night.

The Riviera Theatre & Performing Arts Center is celebrating its 90th anniversary. (Mark Mulville/The Buffalo News)

The celebration includes a special newsreel of the Riviera's history created by the staff and a screening of "Upstage" accompanied by Clark Wilson on the Mighty Wurlitzer.

"It's quite the interesting film. It's a very vintage, silent film," Rouleau said. "It's cool that it was the first movie at the theater 90 years ago. And it's remarkable when you think about it, that the theater was going to be demolished in the 1980s. Now 100,000 people come through our doors every year.  A lot of theaters like ours don't exist anymore. We are happy to have this event."

The reception starts at 6:30 p.m. with the movie at 8 p.m. May 5. Tickets include food at the reception. There will be a cash bar. All proceeds benefit the preservation and restoration of the Riviera and the Mighty Wurlitzer organ.

PREVIEW

What: Riviera Theatre 90th anniversary

When: Reception at 6:30 p.m., film at 8 p.m. May 5

Where: Riviera Theatre, 67 Webster St., North Tonawanda

Tickets: $25 (box office, rivieratheatre.org, Dean's World of Hollywood Entertainment, McKinley Mall)

Info: rivieratheatre.org

 

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