Hollywood and Divine

Movie history comes alive at new theater

Published Saturday, September 19, 2009 6:00 am
by Hank Beckman

One of the most abused words in the English language is "unique." Outside of fingerprints and snowflakes, there are simply not that many one-of-a-kinds in this world. But then there is Naperville's Hollywood Palms Cinema.

"I want people to know how special this place is," owner Ted Bulthaup said as he welcomed visitors to an open house Sunday at the recently remodeled 60,000 square-foot movie theater at 352 S. Route 59. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience." Just how unique an experience is evident the moment the moviegoer steps into the remodeled space, which formerly housed the Nova 8 Cinema.

The box office is decorated by woodwork from Afghanistan and opens into a huge lobby that sits under a skylight almost as big as the room itself. Plants and trees, many of them natural, lend a tropical look to the room, which is flanked by 800-pound teak elephants imported from India and covered in bronze. Should the elephants magically leave their posts and decide to check out one of the seven theaters inside, the massive doors to the interior - patterned after walled villages in India - are more than big enough to accommodate them.

Once inside, past the waterfall, the Hollywood accent - with a dash of multiculturalism thrown in - becomes unmistakable. The hallways are lined with posters and publicity stills from movies ranging from hits of the recent past to the classics of the golden era of the big studios and reaching all the way back to the silent screen era. When told how distinctive some of the art work is, Bulthaup points with pride to two posters he's especially proud of: the original posters from "Woodstock" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."

The theaters all have a different theme, with their own special decorations.

The Green Theater, or Mayan Room, is the largest of the theaters and contains small pieces of art, many from the Yucatan peninsula, and larger pieces made for Hollywood Palms by Universal Studios.

The Red Theater, or Chinese Room, educates the visitor with a presentation about Anna May Wong, the silent screen star who was the first female lead in a color movie. Inside the room, terra cotta warriors and other figures imported from China are lined up underneath movie posters with a Chinese theme.

Other rooms are the Deep Blue Sea (blue), with its nautical motif; the Academy Award (brown), dedicated to Oscar winners down through the years; and the Animation (purple), paying homage to classic cartoon productions.

While one might expect classic movies to dominate the programming, Bulthaup stressed that the majority of movies presented are first-run feature films, shown at the relatively inexpensive cost of $8 per ticket. Combine that with restaurant quality food and alcoholic refreshments - Bulthaup boasts his kitchen can turn out 1,000 custom-ordered meals per hour - and the stage is set for a movie-going experience that is only rivaled by Bulthaup's first Chicago-area theater, Hollywood Boulevard in Woodridge.

Visitors were impressed.

"Recently we went to Woodridge for ‘Julie and Julie," said Jack Fijolek, who came with his wife, Cheri.

"We enjoyed it." "This is amazing," Tamie Joanes said. "The Wizard of Oz Room is the most creative." Hollywood Palms officially opened September 8th, and Bulthaup is pleased with the results so far. "We had a soft opening," he said, noting there was almost no advertising, but "we did better than expected."

Bulthaup praised the city of Naperville for its cooperation during the remodeling process. "The city's been wonderful," he said. Not only will Bulthaup draw his 200-member staff from the Naperville-Aurora area, he plans to mine the area for much of his audience stressing the strength of his repeat business in Woodridge.

"We draw more at Woodridge than the Bears at Soldier Field," he said, "We have people tell us, ‘We don't go anywhere else."

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