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In Springville, a movie house-turned-place of worship celebrates 70 years

For years the Joylan Theatre has shown Hollywood and God can coexist.

Now, after a three-month renovation, the public will get to see the renovated Joylan on its 70th birthday.

An open house will be held Wednesday at the Springville building, which has been both a movie theater and place of worship and is under the new ownership of Watermark Wesleyan Church/Springville Crossing. Movies will resume the following night.

"It's exciting to see something new and bright and welcoming," said congregant Suzanne Ripstein. "I've watched the progression of the renovation and am glad to see how this building will fit the needs of both the church and the theater."

The theater has freshly painted sky blue walls, replacing an earlier seafoam green. There is a new flecked epoxy floor with aisle carpeting, and seats will soon be installed to replace ones that were original to the theater.

There are other changes in store, too. The rear of the auditorium has been enlarged to allow more space for people to congregate, including by the small refreshment stand. A new media and sound booth in the middle of the auditorium, in the rear, has been added to benefit Sunday church services. New lighting has been added for the stage area.

A platform that extends 9 feet from the stage has also been added to provided additional space for Pastor Keith Clark and others when addressing the congregation.

Tim Baker from Preferred Seatings works on installing the first row of seats at the Joylan Theatre on Oct. 11. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Joylan opened at 11 W. Main St. in October 1949 under the ownership of Peter and Lena Bifarella, whose movie theater roots in Springville went back to 1930.

Kathleen Haggerty of Springville, a great-granddaughter of the Bifarellas, remembers seeing them at the theater during her childhood in the 1960s and '70s.

"I remember being so excited to see my great-grandfather in the projection booth," Haggerty said. "It was in the day when there were reels, and I would watch him. Then he'd take me downstairs behind the curtain to check the lighting and fuses. He was very kind and charged 50 cents for kids and $1 for adults and never wanted to increase it. He just wanted them to enjoy the show."

Haggerty said their oldest daughter, her grandmother Miriam Burns, had a reputation for shining her flashlight at people who were making out, drinking or misbehaving.

"She held a tight ship in the movie theater, but people knew her as funny, kind and considerate," Haggerty said.

While the couple remained active in the theater, ownership transferred in 1964 to their daughter and son-in-law, Marion and Al Burns. The theater changed hands three times in the 1980s before Ted and Debby Adams bought the business in 1995.

Earlier this year, the building was sold to Watermark Wesleyan Church, based in Hamburg, with an agreement that allows the couple to continue operating the movie theater Tuesday through Sunday.

Springville Crossing was formed in 2007 and held its gatherings at Springville-Griffith Institute. Services switched to the Joylan in 2010, with congregants now numbering as many as 130 on Sunday mornings. Monday activities have included couple nights, youth group meetings and movie nights, including faith-based films.

Last year, Springville Crossing became a multisite location of Watermark Wesleyan Church.

Clark, who worked at a movie theater in the McKinley Mall during his college years, said he's glad the movie theater will continue and hopes other community groups will also take advantage of the building's renovations.

"We are super excited about it being a community building that people will still be able to enjoy," Clark said.

He is also excited about what the church's ownership and renovation of the building means for the church.

"I have a real passion for Springville," Clark said. "I grew up here; my wife grew up here. I don't see any better way to love the community than to share Christ."

The changes to the theater will shrink the seating capacity significantly.

Bill Gugiono and Pastor Keith Clark talk during renovations at the Joylan Theatre. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

The theater, which had 654 seats, will now see that number shrink by hundreds of seats. The exact number won't be known until the seats that were acquired from another movie theater are installed.

But Clark said the additional space will serve the church's and the community's needs in other ways. That includes a sound and media booth that will spare the set-up and tear-down time on Sundays the church used to need before giving way to movie screenings.

"I've already had other organizations say that now with this additional space, maybe we can utilize it," Clark said.

"We had our first preview service last Sunday, and it was great," he said. "I was able to be closer to people and make eye contact."

Clark is looking forward to the first official church service on Oct. 20, the first time the church will be able to fully use the space since renovations began Aug. 9.

In addition, three rooms used for children — a nursery, ages 3 to first grade, and second- through fifth-graders — have been renovated with fresh coats of paint and new carpeting. The room for older kids, which removed walls that had carved the space into four rooms, will feature movie posters, a couple of movie seats and a popcorn machine.

"The theater, as everyone knows in the community, is like a stitch in the community. It's been like that forever," said JP Nabozny, a local barber and church congregant.

"It's cool to see it to grow, and I am super excited for the community to have such a cool church in town," he said.

Volunteer Joe Weber works on adjusting the arms of seats during renovations at the Joylan Theatre. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

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