The Laramie Film Society was established as a Wyoming not-for-profit corporation in September of 2000 after the Wyo closed. It held its first general meeting and appointed a Board of Directors, with well-known Laramie film critic and writer Robert Roten as Chairman. The LFS was formed both to preserve the theater and to promote the appreciation of cinema in general in Laramie. While the LFS is in no way connected to the current group managing the Wyo Theatre, the LFS was very interested in making sure the theater reopened and stayed open.
Journalist W. Dale Nelson wrote this article about the Laramie Film Society and its first organizational meeting for the Casper Star-Tribune. The article is reproduced with the author's permission here on our Web site.
January 26, 2001 was a busy day. The Wyo Theatre reopened that day (featuring “Charlie's Angels,” “Unbreakable” and “102 Dalmatians”), and the Laramie Film Society showed “All About My Mother” (Todo Sobre Mi Madre) at the Laramie Plains Civic Center that same evening. We talked this over with Randy Pryde, a partner of the company leasing the Wyo. He indicated the theater's opening was a little uncertain at that time (more on the Wyo below), so we decided to go ahead with our movie as planned. The LFS movie, the Laramie premier of “All About My Mother,” winner of the 1999 Academy Award for best foreign film, was a big success. LFS, with the help of four sponsoring organizations attracted 150 people, five times the turnout of our previous feature, “A Christmas Story.” We probably outdrew “Charlie's Angels.” LFS feels the success of this show, despite the competition from seven other movies at the Fox and Wyo, and despite the fact that our movie was already out on video, vindicates our belief that there is a strong market for high quality films in Laramie.
LFS showed “A Christmas Story” at the civic center theater on December 15. The December showing was the first featuring a sound system donated by Dr. Charles Ksir, dean of the UW College of Education. It was also the first LFS film shown at the Civic Center. The sound system worked well, being a vast improvement over our previous sound equipment, but it was generally felt there was too much “boom” in the sound reproduction. LFS technicians reduced the bass and boosted the treble for “All About My Mother.” “A Christmas Story,” also has a number of lines of dialogue spoken by Darren McGavin which are intentionally garbled to indicate he is swearing.
LFS used a rented projector (which did not work well) in its first film and a borrowed projector (which worked very well) for second film. Now LFS owns three Bell and Howell 16 millimeter projectors. Two of the higher quality projectors will be used for showing the films and the third is a backup unit in case of a projector breakdown. New, these projectors cost over $1,000, but most have been devalued because of the popularity of digital video projectors. LFS purchased two newer Bell and Howell 2585 projectors for about $80 apiece from Ebay. During the showing of “All About My Mother” a projector bulb burned out. Projectionist Casey Wood (also a board member) quickly switched projectors, using our spare, and the show went on. The only thing that slowed us down was the burned out bulb. It was so hot we had to let it cool a bit before we could replace the bulb. LFS later purchased a number of spare projector bulbs.
“Duck Soup” and “A Christmas Story” were rented from Swank Motion Pictures for about $125 apiece, not counting shipping. “Duck Soup” was shown at our first fundraising event, “Soup and Cinema,” held Dec. 3, 2000, from 4-7 p.m. at the Alice Hardie Stevens Center. “All About My Mother” cost $400 (from a different distributor) plus $40 for shipping and handling, so we found some sponsors to cover part of the costs. LFS also raised the admission price $1.50 for this film, to cover a portion of the higher costs. We also paid $50 for renting the Civic Center Theater for two hours, so our total costs for showing this film was about $500 (all labor is volunteer), versus about $200 for our first two films. We lost money on “A Christmas Story” due to a low turnout. That was partly due to the fact that “A Christmas Story” is shown a lot on television, there was a snow storm that evening, and the Laramie Daily Boomerang failed to run an advertisement for the movie that day LFS had contracted for.
Since “All About My Mother” was about three times as expensive as the previous LFS film (which we lost money on), we sought sponsors to help us offset the high cost of the film. We thank the sponsors of “All About My Mother.” Sponsors included The Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, custodian of the Matthew Shepard Fund; La Radio Montañesa: Voz de la Gente; University of Wyoming Women's Center, and the University of Wyoming Office of Multicultural Affairs (Hispanic Programs).
The Laramie Film Society coasted along for 10 years after the Wyo Theatre reopened, promoting the annual spring and fall film series. Laramie Film Society members Robert Roten, Nancy Sindelar (who also heads of the Wyoming Peace, Justice and Earth Center) and Lynn Hamlin, started a summer film series at the Albany County Public Library in 2007, which has continued to the present. Donations from this group, and donations by attendees at the film series have helped to pay for major upgrades in the library's audio-visual systems.
The owners of the Wyo Theatre discontinued the fall film series in 2011 due to a lack of attendance. LFS offered to sell advance tickets for the next film series in an attempt to revive it. The owners (Rocky Mountain Resort Cinemas) agreed to revive the annual film series if we could sell 500 tickets in advance. LFS sold 1,300 advance tickets for the 2011 spring film series. With this kind of community support, and LFS selling advance tickets, the annual fall and spring film series have continued at the Wyo Theatre.
The Wyo Theatre was built around 1928 according to business listings in the Polk City, County and State directories from that period. The theater, at 309 S. Fifth St. in Laramie, was originally named the Crown Theater. It was one of the oldest continuously operating movie theaters in Wyoming.
J.G. Burbank, the former manager of the old Empress Theater (it was later renamed the Fox Theater) on 112 South Second Street (that building was recently demolished) was listed as the original owner of the new Crown Theater. He owned the theater for many years. In 1950, the name of the theater was changed from the Crown Theater to the Wyo Theatre , according to the web site Cinema Treasures.
When the name of the theater was changed to the Wyo, the exterior of the theater was remodeled. Architect Charles D. Strong drew up the plans for the remodel, giving the building an Art Deco look, according to Cinema Treasures.
The Burbank estate sold the theater to Carmike Cinemas, one of the largest theater chains in the country, in 1996. It was later sold to Trans-Lux Corporation. Rocky Mountain Resort Cinemas purchased the theater in 1999.
The theater operated as a first-run theater for over 70 years showing new films from Hollywood. It was common practice for years in Laramie for movie theaters to show new films weeks or months after they had opened in larger cities. Film rental costs are lower after a film has been in release for a few weeks. That practice changed over time as mass marketing of movies on television made it more profitable to open movies simultaneously all over the country, including in smaller cities like Laramie.
The theater last showed first run films in 1999. The interior of the theater was remodeled that year by the Trans-Lux Corporation especially for the Laramie premiere of the blockbuster film, “Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace.” At that time, the Laramie Boomerang reported that “The theater is now equipped with new, larger, more comfortable seats, a new Dolby® four-channel digital sound system, a brighter projector light, a new screen, new draperies and new carpeting, among other improvements. The sound system has speakers on all four sides of the auditorium, with 13 12-inch speakers behind the screen, along with some 16-inch sub-woofers for a visceral bass sound quality.”
After 1999, the Wyo became a “mid-run” theater, opening films months after those films opened in larger cities, while the competing multiplex Fox Theater in Laramie remained a first-run theater, opening films on the same day they opened in larger cities around the country. Often, the Wyo ran the same movies that had previously been shown at the Fox. The Wyo attracts families with its lower ticket and concession prices.
The Wyo also offered films not shown elsewhere in Laramie, independent, documentary, foreign and “art” films, which are shown on Sundays during annual spring and fall film series. It also had a low-cost matinee film series for children in the summer.
Since 1989, the Wyo has shown over 450 independent, art and foreign films, such as “Billy Elliot,” “Chocolat,” “Love Actually,” “An Inconvenient Truth” and “La Vie En Rose.” These are the kinds of films that most theaters don't bother to show. Often, they are not shown because these kinds of films are not widely distributed and there is no major marketing campaign to support them.
Over the years, the theater was leased by a number of different movie theater companies, including Mann Theaters, the Commonwealth Theater Group, Carmike Cinemas, Trans-Lux Cinemas and finally Movie Palaces, Inc. and the Bijou Inc. partnership of Casper Wyoming.
The theater closed briefly in 2000 after Trans-Lux gave up its lease on the theater. Later, Movie Palaces and Bijou stopped using the theater on May 18, 2001. Rocky Mountain Resort Cinemas (RMRC) bought all the equipment purchased for the Wyo by Bijou-Movie Palaces, and assumed full management of the theater.
The movie theater business model changed in the late 20th century to favor multiplex theaters over single screen theaters like the Wyo. One of the factors in the change was the end of dual projector systems, which required constant operator attention to change film reels, start and stop projectors and thread film through the projectors during the movie.
These dual projector systems were replaced by a single projector system in which all the reels of film were spliced together at the theater, then broken apart again for shipment. The complete film was wound onto a large horizontal rotating platter, about four feet in diameter. The film was drawn off the platter, run through the projector and then fed back onto the platter again. This system required little attention once the film was started. With this system, a single projectionist could run a number of movies simultaneously at a multiplex theater, resulting in reduced labor costs for projection.
With this technical innovation, multiplexes became more profitable than single-screen theaters. Multiple movies could be shown at a single location while labor costs for projection, ticket sales and concessions could be consolidated for cost savings. The old projection worker unions were broken and wages were cut to a minimum. With the advent of digital projection systems, labor costs were cut even more.
Television advertising became the preferred method for advertising films. Years ago, local theaters promoted their films with large newspaper advertisements. Now that national television advertising campaigns dominate the movie business, local newspaper advertising for movies has virtually disappeared. That means local theaters have lost any independence they once had. They usually show movies that are supported by a lot of advertising, regardless of the quality of the movie.
All these changes left the Wyo Theatre with the biggest screen in Laramie at that time, at over 30 feet wide. Laramie's other movie theater, the Fox, was originally a large single-screen theater, but has been remodeled over the years into a multiplex with a six screens, some of them now larger than the Wyo Theater's screen. The Wyo Theatre is over 6,200 square feet in size with 325 seats.
The Wyo Theatre also has the look of an older theater with art-deco trimmings on the outside of the building and murals of cowboys on the inside. The sidewalk in front of the theater was painted yellow and brown, the colors of the University of Wyoming sports teams. The name Wyo Theatre is shared with another theater in Wyoming. Sheridan also has a Wyo Theater. According to the web site Cinema Treasures, there once was a Wyo Theatre in Cheyenne at 1612 Carey Avenue.
Although the Wyo Theatre has a long history in Wyoming, it's future is uncertain. Because of the age of the theater and its obsolete projection equipment, it was feared the theater might close. But the owners of the Wyo Theatre, Rocky Mountain Resort Cinemas, put in a digital projection system which greatly improved the picture and sound quality. Then a new, local owner, WyoLaramie LLC, stepped in to take over the theater and to fix up the building, but it soon closed again, and remains closed.
In late summer, 2019, Laramie's historic Wyo Theatre, 309 S. Fifth St. in Laramie, was donated by its former owner, WyoLaramie LLC, to The Laramie Main Street Alliance, a non-profit corporation. The Laramie Main Street Alliance plans to remodel the historic theater and bring it up to the requirements of the Uniform Building Code so it can be reopened to the public. For more information, read the announcement at the Main Street Alliance's website: https://laramiemainstreet.org/news/thewyo.
The Laramie Film Society may partner with The Laramie Main Street Alliance in the future to raise funds for the remodel and repair of the theater and to help provide movie programming. This is in keeping with the LFS Articles of Incorporation to " ... develop and present on a not-for-profit basis, one or more foreign, 'art' and classic film series to allow the Corporation to rent, operate, and ultimately purchase the historic Wyo Theater, located in Laramie, Wyoming, and to retain and preserve said theater as a permanent cultural resource for the Laramie community."
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Laramie's Community Network and Internet Users' Group.
Photo of movie Wyo Theatre by Robert Roten. Web page design by Robert Roten (E-mail at )