Picture it: It’s July 15, 1928. You’re walking hand in hand with your high school sweetheart through Whittier Square Shopping Center. Excitement is flowing through the warm Tulsa air. You’re on your way to the biggest event of the night, the opening of Circle Cinema – the city’s newest movie theater.
Since that summer in 1928, Circle Cinema has created years of memories for the citizens of Tulsa. The theater sits in the Chilton Building, located at Tulsa’s first suburban shopping center, Whittier Square, in what is known today as the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood, just east of downtown. According to an official history compiled by Lee Anne Zeigler, of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, and Cynthia Savage, the Circle was a community hub that was popular with neighborhood youth who flocked to the theater for feature films and serials such as The Green Hornet. You could also get a cone of peanuts and cup of orange juice for a nickel. The theater saw major refurbishments in 1963 with its conversion to a first run movie theater, but by 1978 the Circle had closed and reopened as a theater specializing in adult films. Later, another owner showed Spanish language films for the area’s growing Hispanic community, but the Circle ultimately closed its doors in 1993.
Clark Wiens purchased the then-dilapidated building in 2002, founding the nonprofit Circle Cinema Foundation. In 2004, Circle Cinema reopened, showing independent, foreign and documentary films in a 105-seat theater next door to original building, and plans began to restore that structure to its former glory.
Now, as the theater celebrates 85 years, Wiens and other supporters are set to unveil the new Circle, which includes an additional 250-seat theater and a 125-seat theater and a new lobby. The building’s façade and marquee are being restored to 1950s-era condition. A fourth theater, called the Quad, is a smaller facility for events, screenings and programs.
The Circle Cinema will show off all the hard work and transformations at its grand reopening. The theater will host six days of film and entertainment; many of them happen to be free. Thursday, July 11 starts the first day of the opening celebration. Circle Cinema pairs with the Tulsa Girls Art School to showcase an art exhibition starting at 5 p.m. Works from these students and students from the Janada L. Batchelor Foundation for Children in Africa will be shown.
Friday, July 12 through Tuesday, July 16 is full of great films and Q&As with actors and filmmakers. Monday, July 15 marks a special day: the 85th birthday of Circle Cinema. The ribbon cutting ceremony starts at 5:30 p.m followed by the Sterlin Harjo Walk of Fame dedication. Complete the night with films, shorts, Q&As and videos. At 6:30 pm, Circle Cinema highlights and history films will be showing. The theater is also hosting a student shorts program with short films created by students from Tulsa University, Rogers State University and Jenks High School.
These events not only celebrate the Circle Cinema, but it also celebrates the neighborhood as well. This cinema looks to continue to be a vehicle in the growth of Kendal-Whittier. New stores and apartment complexes are being introduced frequently to the district. Wiens is a firm believer of the theater’s important role in bringing new people, amenities and economic drivers to the area.
“We would like to go another 85 years,” says Wiens. He credits the theater’s success to working for the goal of what he calls “community consciousness through film.”
“We want to educate the community through our films,” says Wiens.
For the full list of Grand Re-Opening events and to learn more about Circle Cinema, visit www.circlecinema.com.