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Santa Barbara’s Riviera Theatre Reopens with Brand-New Lease on Cinema Life

$5 million project of Santa Barbara International Film Festival gives historic site an impressive, state-of-the-art future

The newly renovated Riviera Theatre was officially opened last week with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included, from left, Santa Barbara International Film Festival executive director Roger Durling, benefactor Bruce Heavin, Mayor Helene Schneider, SBIFF board president and benefactor Lynda Weinman, and City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss. Click to view larger
The newly renovated Riviera Theatre was officially opened last week with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included, from left, Santa Barbara International Film Festival executive director Roger Durling, benefactor Bruce Heavin, Mayor Helene Schneider, SBIFF board president and benefactor Lynda Weinman, and City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss. (Will Conlin photo)

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival has opened its new site at the Riviera Theatre, a location offering year-round cinematic arts education in Santa Barbara and a multipurpose hub for all aspects of film.

The $5 million project at 2044 Alameda Padre Serra includes a renovated 328-seat theater in the 1920s-era building, along with acoustical upgrades, improved ventilation, structural fixes, enhanced lighting, remodeled concession stands, and a new screen projector and projection and sound systems.

The viewing experience is complemented by a Dolby Vision laser projector and audio with the Dolby Atmos sound system.

The theater had eight speakers before the restoration project. Now, it boasts about 50 speakers inside the room, SBIFF executive director Roger Durling said.

He said the Riviera Theatre is one of just 26 theaters in the country with the state-of-the-art technology, and is the only nonprofit theater equipped with the technology.

“This was a labor of love, and a gift to our city,” Durling told Noozhawk. “We wanted Santa Barbara to raise the bar when it comes to the cinema-going experience.

“The Riviera Theatre was always a jewel in our city. Now, it’s shining brighter than before.”

The upgrade resulted in a reduction of about 100 theater chairs, but the new seats are wider and come with plush upholstery.

“It used to be narrow,” Durling said. “There’s more leg room and the seats are more comfortable.”

The nonprofit SBIFF is the 30-year leaseholder, having taken over from Metropolitan Theaters after its board unanimously approved the move in 2016. The project’s vision was made possible with the support of the SBIFF and in partnership with Santa Barbara philanthropist Michael Towbes, who died earlier this year at 87.

The new Riviera Theatre is one of just a handful of theaters in the country featuring a Dolby Vision laser projector and a Dolby Atmos sound system. Click to view larger
The new Riviera Theatre is one of just a handful of theaters in the country featuring a Dolby Vision laser projector and a Dolby Atmos sound system. (Will Conlin photo)

“The place was special for Michael,” Durling said. “He liked the idea that we would be doing educational programs, and how it would impact the community. Michael was particular that the place was restored.”

A.R. Mays Construction was selected to complete the theater improvement project.

“It’s dramatic — the change that has gone into it,” Durling said.

The new theater operates seven days a week. SBIFF hired eight employees from the community to help run the day-to-day operations. The annual two-week Santa Barbara International Film Festival will take place at its traditional downtown venues.

Durling, along with Mayor Helene Schneider and SBIFF board president Lynda Weinman, led the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony at the site last week.

Weinman and her husband, Bruce Heavin, the co-founders of Lynda.com, donated $2.5 million to the renovation campaign. The theater has been renamed “Lynda & Bruce’s Riviera Theatre.”

To date, $355,000 remains of the campaign goal. Click here to make an online donation, or contact Cindy Chyr, SBIFF director of advancement, at [email protected] or 805.963.0023 x809.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

The Riviera Theatre’s new seats are wide and plush. “There’s more leg room and the seats are more comfortable,” says Roger Durling, executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Click to view larger
The Riviera Theatre’s new seats are wide and plush. “There’s more leg room and the seats are more comfortable,” says Roger Durling, executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. (Will Conlin photo)

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