Born in a Small Town

June 6, 2014

It was a long way to go to watch a movie, but my trip from the suburbs of Indianapolis to the rural southern Indiana town of Spencer to check out a renovated 1920s movie house made me realize that not every bit of small-town America has disappeared. The spirit that it “takes a village” and that the world does not need to be all Wal-Marts and fast-food restaurants is alive and well there.

Located near Bloomington, home to the massive Indiana University, Spencer sits among the rare rolling hills of this part of the country. It’s no longer the small town aesthetic of Norman Rockwell illustrations or Frank Capra movies, but it seems to have retained that same spirit among its current-day residents.

The story of the AV portion of the renovation is documented in my feature article, but what I didn’t write about was how the project really got started. What I learned from my May visit to Spencer was that the town’s beloved 1920s movie theater, like so many structures from that era, had fallen on seriously hard times. While it was privately owned, Mother Nature had taken hold of the theater to the point of no return, or so it seemed. The community (under the banner of the Owens County Preservation Corporation), pooled together its resources and received a loan from the Indiana Landmarks organization to get the building secured from the outside elements. But that’s as far as they could take the process with their limited funds. Fortunately someone in the town was resourceful enough to reach out to a philanthropic organization called the Cook Group, which already had refurbished the historic French Lick (Indiana) Hotel and Casino, to the tune of $500 million. The Cook family, which makes its fortune selling medical supplies out of its headquarters in Bloomington, is known to support causes that improve the communities in which its employees live.

Obviously that grant was essential to the story, but it was Cook’s attitude toward philanthropy that struck me, for it was so community minded. It also was the way the town respected those resources that made me appreciate this project.

Tradesmen and artists from the area were hired to perform the renovation, and everyone took their responsibilities very seriously. When I interviewed, the AV contractor, Eric Stiening, he noted that he chose a 2K Christie projector even though he could have found the money for 4K. “Our overall goal was to make it as appropriate as possible without going overboard just because we had Cook behind us,” he said.

A year after its grand opening, there is still only one paid employee at the theater, but there are more than 100 volunteers, including Steining’s colleague Tyson Jordan, who is trained as a projectionist at the theater.

Walking into the theater for the first time takes your breath away because it’s not what you’d expect to see inside a small-town Indiana building. It’s a relic of our more ornate past that has been restored and enhanced with modern technology. And the project is the result of a community effort that I used to think only happened in the movies.

Want to read more stories like this?
Get our Free Newsletter Here!


No records found
Photo GalleriesMore Galleries >
Doug Henderson and Joe Atkins

Doug Henderson (left) president of Bowers & Wilkins Group North America, and Joe Atkins, Bowers & Wilkins global CEO, invited consumer and t...

BMWs, McLarens, and Volvos

Upon arrival, guests experienced Bowers & Wilkins Automotive products in BMW, McLaren, and Volvo cars (the Maserati wasn’t available...

Demo'ing the McLaren

Bowers & Wilkins North America president Doug Henderson show demonstrates how to open the door on the McLaren.

B&W Speakers in the McLaren

Bowers & Wilkins speakers in the McLaren.

B&W Vintage Living Room

Bowers & Wilkins North America president Doug Henderson shows off the company’s vintage living room space, which featured vintage ge...

The B&W LP Collection

Part of the Bowers & Wilkins vintage living room space is this collection of LP covers that represent a seminal album from each of the com...

The B&W Museum

Bowers & Wilkins had to purchase much of the gear in its museum because most discontinued products were not kept over the last 50 years.

The Wisdom of John Bowers

Words to live by from Bowers & Wilkins founder John Bowers

The History of B&W

A timeline of Bowers & Wilkins’ product and company history

Andy Kerr and Martial Rousseau

Senior product manager Andy Kerr and head of research Martial Rousseau from the U.K. Bowers & Wilkins office. They were showing off the ne...

Turbine Head

  The turbine head for the 800 D3 houses the mid-range speakers.

Andy Kerr

Senior product manager Andy Kerr holds up the very heavy solid-body turbine head.

Historical Flagship Products

A look at the company’s flagship products through its 50-year history

The Legendary Diamond Tweeter Dome

To show off the company’s legendary diamond tweeter dome, one was encased in plastic to protect the brittle material. The tweeter domes ...

Demo'ing the 800 D3 Speakers

Bowers & Wilkins’ new demo room showcases its new flagship 800 D2 speakers, which are the outcomes of one of the company’s mos...

800 D3 Close Up

The silver 6-inch FST midrange drive unit of the 800 D3 uses Bower & Wilkins’ new proprietary Continuum woven material. Developed af...

In-wall Demo

Bower & Wilkins’ showcases its in-wall speakers in this space.

The B&W Nautilus

Bower & Wilkins’ legendary Nautilus is 17 years old but just as contemporary now as it was then.

Nautilus Pricing

A wall plaque in the “Nautilus demo room” itemizing the price of the system

Theater Demo

A theater demo showcasing the flexibility of 800 D2 speakers