The Dundee Theater, shuttered since 2013, will be restored and reopened by Film Streams, bringing more independent, foreign and classic films to Omaha.
Film Streams will begin fundraising efforts later this year for what is expected to be a multimillion dollar restoration project, with hopes to reopen the Dundee by 2018.
Rachel Jacobson, Film Streams executive director, said the fit makes perfect sense.
“We’re about film, and we’re about Omaha,” she said. “And the Dundee Theater represents this really important part of Omaha history and film history in this community.”
This will be Film Streams’ second venue. The two-screen Ruth Sokolof Theater, which opened in north downtown in 2007, will continue to be the nonprofit’s home and headquarters. The Dundee will offer programming similar to that of the Ruth Sokolof Theater and will give Film Streams more flexibility and more movies.
Last month, RH Land Management Co., which is affiliated with Susie Buffett’s Sherwood Foundation, bought the theater and the surrounding properties from longtime owner Denny Moran.
The Sherwood Foundation arranged the purchase of the Dundee with the intention of donating it to Film Streams and will hand it over once construction has begun. Sherwood will serve as landlord for the surrounding properties, all of which have tenants.
“We know that the Dundee Theater holds a very special place in the heart of many Omahans and especially the Dundee neighborhood,” Kristin Williams, the Sherwood Foundation’s director of community initiatives, said in a statement. “It gives us great pleasure to know that this historic treasure will be in the hands of an exceptional nonprofit.”
When it reopens, the Dundee will offer feature films, including first-run American independent, foreign, documentary and classic films. The venue also will host various special engagements and help expand Film Streams’ Arts in Education program, which screens movies for area students and teaches them about film culture and analysis.
With more than 300 seats, the Dundee will be Film Streams’ largest theater — the Ruth Sokolof includes a 206-seat theater and 96-seat theater.
In Film Streams’ annual survey of members, the two most common comments are a call for more movies and longer engagements, Jacobson said. An extra screen was the only way to respond to both requests.
“Operating the other theater is going to allow us to expand our programming to a great extent,” Jacobson said. “With two screens, we have run into all sorts of crazy traffic jams where we haven’t been able to play really terrific films that we’re being offered by distributors because we have other films booked for those screens.”
A recent example: This fall, Film Streams wanted to book “Spotlight,” now a best-picture nominee, but had already committed the screens to runs of “Suffragette” and “Room,” another best-picture nominee.
The Dundee’s multimillion-dollar restoration will be led by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture and will include “critical improvements” to the building itself — Moran had last remodeled the theater in 1987. Film Streams plans to share the details of fundraising efforts for the Dundee restoration later this year.
Jacobson said Film Streams and the architects are trying to make the facade stand out on Dodge Street, though exactly how the building and marquee will look is still being decided. The architects’ preliminary rendering shows a sleek marquee across the front of the building and exposes two windows currently behind “coming soon” signs.
“The facade is really important because so many people drive by there, and it’s a big part of Omaha,” Jacobson said. “So to make that really beautiful and engaged is another part of the project that’s kind of exciting. It’s beautifying an important part of the city.”
The Dundee’s fate had been in question since May 2013, when Moran closed it for renovations with plans to reopen it after a few months. But Moran, who bought the theater in 1980, kept running into new expenses, and the reopening was repeatedly pushed back.
After spending more than $200,000 on improvements, Moran still had a lot of work to do, including a new roof, plaster repairs, painting and refurbishing of seats.
The costs became prohibitive. In August 2015, he told The World-Herald that he would be interested in selling the theater. A few months later, The World-Herald reported that the Sherwood Foundation was reportedly trying to buy it.
Following the theater’s sale in January, Moran said the Sherwood Foundation would be able to “return (the Dundee) to its grandeur.”
Moran said he’s thrilled that Film Streams will be the one to run the theater.
“That was my first choice,” Moran said. “We’re really happy for Rachel and them. We think it’s going to be a good thing for Omaha.”
The Dundee was built in 1925 as a vaudeville house, and it was Omaha’s westernmost theater at the time.
The theater has changed hands several times since then. In the early 1960s, it converted to widescreen film (“Spartacus” was the first movie to play on the new screen). Later that decade, “The Sound of Music” became the Dundee’s longest-running title ever, playing in 70 mm for 1,316 performances over 118 weeks.
Film Streams’ most famous board member caught the epic run of “The Sound of Music” at the Dundee when he was a child. Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne grew up in the Dundee area. It was his neighborhood theater. Its survival has always been important to him.
“The Dundee Theater is extraordinary as a surviving neighborhood cinema from the 1920s,” Payne said in an email. “And for nearly 100 years, it has served as a cornerstone to a unique, historic neighborhood and, by extension, to the city at large.”