Vinegar Hill Theater Sold

Vinegar Hill Theatre has been sold to a Staunton business, and will remain in operation much as it is now, Liz Nagy reports for NBC-29. They’re shutting down for two weeks, beginning November 3rd, to replace the pair of Century 35mm projectors with a platter system. The Market Street single-screen theater, known for showing art films, was opened in a former auto showroom by Ann Porotti and Chief Gordon in 1976.

2 thoughts on “Vinegar Hill Theater Sold”

  1. Her New England directness notwithstanding, Ann Porotti was easily the most beautiful film exhibitor on the planet. Hope the art-house philosophy survives the passing of her ownership.

    From the beginning, Vinegar Hill Theatre brought many wonderful films to Charlottesville, which was then (1976)—with the exception of Walter Korte’s film classes at UVa.) a cinematic backwater. For example, thanks to Ann, I was fortunate to be among a couple of dozen locals, who got to see, despite record low attendance, Bergman’s “The Serpent’s Egg.” Those of us who shared the experience of watching what is quite possibly the most depressing film in the English language (it opened with a suicide and, incredibly, the mood continued to sink as the reels turned), may remember entering the theater around sunset on a clear evening; inside, a constant rain fell on screen during this dark, dark movie. Eventually this beautifully-crafted film ended with a German scientist watching, with a hand mirror, his own suicide. After the lights came up, the two or three of us, who’d made it through the screening, exited via the side door into the night and a very real cold rain.

    I’ll miss Ann and how much she enjoyed sharing her love of cinema. In the early years of the theater, many of us often brought bagged dinners to keep our energy up during typical, and often crowded, double and occasional triple features(Kurosawa comes to mind). We also looked forward to the annual February screening of “The Big Sleep,” which remains one of my favorite films.

    Once, after a screening of “The Thin Man,” Chief Gordon and I got Fellini’s bartender Kerry Monihan to mix a “Bronx,” while Chief did the William Powell bit about shaking a Manhattan to a fox-trot, a Bronx to a two-step, “but you always shake a Martini to waltz-time.”

    I noted in my journal on July 26, 1980, that some friends and I had seen “Picnic at Hanging Rock,” that evening at Vinegar Hill. We went around for a couple of weeks waxing Australian, with the movie’s best line (we thought), “There it is, girls, ‘Angin’ Rock!” Thanks to a favorite picnic spot off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the line soon became, “There it is, girls, Drippin’ Rock.” I took in a screening of “two women’s films,” a week later. Sadly, I failed to note the names of the movies.

    The theater was once so popular that a larcenous film buff broke in one night and stole all of the discount punch cards. Ann was forced to print new cards, using a different color stock.

    For much of its existence, Vinegar Hill was managed by documentary filmmaker Reid Oechslin, who was also one of the best projectionists, who ever made a change-over. He and Alex Searls started the late-and-lamented Vinegar Hill Film Festival, which I hope the new owners will revive.

    To tantalize you with how different our Downtown Mall movie experience might have been: before their divorce, in 1980, Ann and Chief were planning to buy the Jefferson Theater. Knowing that I’d been a union operator (IATSE, Charlottesville Local 711), they asked me if I’d run the Jefferson’s Simplex E-7 projectors, until they could hire another projectionist. The deal evaporated along with their marriage. Pity—I could have used the extra paycheck.

    In June, 1984, my wife and I took our new-born daughter, Virginia, to her first film—at, of course, Vinegar Hill. It was “The Grey Fox,” starring Richard Farnsworth. Happily, the drone of the Century projectors’ intermittent sprockets kept her tranquilized throughout and my wife and I were able to enjoy our first postpartum outing. To this day, Virginia loves movies. The two of us sat behind John Gilbert’s daughter at a Vinegar Hill screening of “The Big Parade,” a few years back.

    Our son Will, the rock fan and guitarist of the family, joined me for a showing of “Festival Express,” a couple of years ago. I remain grateful to Vinegar Hill for providing this wonderful bonding experience for fathers and sons (we noticed several at our screening). The whole family attended Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

    One of my proudest moments came last year at Vinegar Hill, when First Film screened my silly send-up of Al Maysles. Not exactly a slick production, but it WAS shown on the Vinegar Hill Theatre’s fabled screen. I hope the new owners will continue to make Vinegar Hill’s screen available to local filmmakers. Ann should be given free admission for life. The theater is dead. Long live the theater!

  2. Regarding Vinegar Hill Theatre, It is an iconic treasure within Downtown Charlottesville,VA. it has withstood the test of time long before the likes of the multiplex cinemas which are highly overcompetitive with the little indie cinemas that specialise in foreign, new wave & various films not linked with Hollywood. I was a 28 year employee as a morning clean up person. I do wish the best for the theatre.

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