Arts & Culture News

The Violet Crown Will Rule the Former Space of the Shuttered Magnolia Movie Theatre

Twenty years ago, Bill Banowsky founded film distributor Magnolia Pictures, which led to the opening of The Magnolia Theatre movie house in Dallas' West Village in 2002. The Landmark-owned cinema closed just a couple of years shy of its 20th anniversary when the coronavirus shut down most movie theaters.

Banowsky now gets the rare opportunity to come back to his former company's flagship theater to support his newest movie-going venture.

"It was a dynamic location when we built the theater 20 years ago and for the last 20 years, the area has grown up," Banowsky says. "It's super full of activity and great density and a great demographic. It's the best location in this market for what we would want to bring to Dallas."

Banowsky launched his newest movie theater company Violet Crown in Austin in 2011 with a four-screen art house located in the city's downtown area. The Violet Crown will open its fifth location in Dallas in the former home of the Magnolia.

Banowsky says his company signed the lease for The Magnolia Theatre's uptown space last month and plans to reopen as a Violet Crown cinema in the spring.

"Our first movie theater was The Magnolia Theatre at this location where we're building the Violet Crown," Banowsky says. "It's come full circle for me with a location I'm quite familiar with and maintained good friendship. When the space became available, we began having conversations about us going in there and renovating the cinema and bringing it up to current standards."

The new Dallas Violet Crown theater will adopt the chain's standards for movie screening and food service. Banowsky says the theater will take "a boutique cinema approach" offering a mix of mainstream and independent films, a full restaurant and cocktail bar and seating that focuses on quality over quantity.

"This location will have large reclining chairs and foot rests," Banowsky says. "Each auditorium except for the large one will have 50-60 seats, which is consistent with the approach taken with other locations."

The theater will offer a full menu but will require guests to bring their food and drinks into the theater with them rather than have wait staff walking into theaters during the movie.

"We're bringing a higher style to the Dallas location certainly than most other movie theaters," Banowsky says. "I think about it more like a high design restaurant that you see in Dallas and many other markets similar in size as opposed to a formulaic design for a chain of movie theaters. We don't even think of ourselves as a chain. We think of ourselves as this stylized experience that delivers a more hospitable experience. Hospitality is not something one thinks about when you think about the movie going experience."

The experience starts as soon as guests enter the theaters. Design plays a key element in each of Violet Crown's locations, says interior designer Veronica Koltuniak, who designs the chain's movie theaters.

"This one feels like I get to really express the Violet Crown brand," Koltuniak says.

"We don't even think of ourselves as a chain. We think of ourselves as this stylized experience that delivers a more hospitable experience. Hospitality is not something one thinks about when you think about the movie going experience." – Violet Crown founder Bill Banowsky

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The name Violet Crown is a term coined by writer O. Henry in his 1894 short story "Tictocq" to describe the sight of Austin at dusk from the view of the "drawing-rooms of one of the most magnificent private residences in Austin," according to the Austin History Center.

"Carriages line the streets in front, and from gate to doorway is spread a velvet carpet, on which the delicate feet of the guests may tread," Henry wrote. "The occasion is the entrée  into society of one of the fairest buds in the City of the Violet Crown."

Koltuniak says the Violet Crown chain places great value in the look of their locations, most notably its Santa Fe, New Mexico, location that was built in a historic rail yard. The theater's decor includes a reddish-brown metallic exterior and a boxcar that hangs over the main bar area.

The Dallas location's look will include soft sunset tones reminiscent of Henry's colorful descriptions of the company's namesake, with terrazzo floors, a film sculpture light wall, minimal signage and soft hues "that evoke a calmness," Koltuniak says.

"What I want to do with the design is when they come into the space, it's like walking into a cocoon of safety," Koltuniak says. "It's a space you can relax in and enjoy and be taken care of.

"Coming out of COVID, the movie theater industry was hit very hard," Koltuniak adds. "They were the first to close and the last to open, and I think opening a cinema at this time speaks to this brand and the strength of Banowsky's vision."

As for the films, Banowsky says they want to reach movie patrons who can appreciate the high artistic and entertainment qualities of a film whether it's from a major studio or an independent one that's just doing its own thing.

"We're going to be playing movies that are well reviewed critically," Banowsky says. "That's kind of the measure we look to. Some of these best box offices are kind of dumbed down for a wide audience and don't review well. Those are the movies we're going to be playing. This is for people who enjoy good film."