Local Coverage

Aug 22, 2012 10:55 PM

Cinema Owner Determined to Rebuild in West Liberty

For five months, ever since a devastating EF3 tornado tore through West Liberty in Morgan County, the town has been without a movie theater. The Towne Cinema, a major gathering spot for 40 years, and one of two underground theaters in the country, was destroyed. But the owners are determined to raise enough money to rebuild.

"We sold entertainment. We sold memories," says Towne Cinema Owner, Chris Ball.

In West Liberty, for the price of a movie ticket, your story began at the bottom of the stairway to the underground Towne Cinema.

"I can't think of how many people said they had their first date here. Grandparents meeting their grandkids. We've heard a lot of stories," says Ball. "I had my first date here."

And Chris Ball went on his first date with his future wife at the Towne Cinema. For the past three years, they ran it together. That is, until March 2, 2012, when the cinema owner felt like he was in a movie.

"It's just like Twister. You're watching it happen. Your eyes are the camera lens," says Ball.

The movie "The Vow" was supposed to play that night, but Ball wisely closed the theater earlier in the day. He was home as the tornado tore through town, tearing the roof off the theater.

Five months later, it's eerie inside. Many things are untouched since the tornado. Near the concession stand are empty popcorn buckets and candy boxes. The projector has been removed.

"We've had so many people joke and say 'what's playing at the movies this week?' and I say we're showing Twister and 2012 on the double feature."

But Chris and his wife are determined to make this a new beginning, not an ending. They are trying to raise the funds to rebuild. Chris Ball says Sony has agreed to sell the cinema screens for a fraction of what they usually cost. Also, TK Architects of Kansas City, Missouri have donated blueprints for a new theater. Now, what they need are the funds to set up in a new building.

"That's what our community needs, is a place to go to the movies," says Chris Ball.

It will cost the Towne Cinema about $750,000 to rebuild everything, but they say every little bit helps.

If you'd like to help, visit the Towne Cinema page on Facebook or email thetownecinema@gmail.com.

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