End of an Era: Historic Pioneer Theatre Goes Digital

Posted By on April 6, 2012

The digital revolution arrives today at the 94-year-old Pioneer Theatre in Manteo.

Owner H.A. Creef Jr. threaded up the final film ever shown on the old projector at the historic theatre on Thursday, March 29, 2012, and only OBX Entertainment was there for the last show.

The original Pioneer Theatre was built in 1918 by George Washington Creef Jr. and showed silent movies in downtown Manteo.

George Creef’s son, H.A. Creef Sr. later built the current location of the local landmark in 1934. When it re-opened with ‘talkies’ (non-silent movies), it was probably even more revolutionary to audiences of that time than even this week’s historic digital upgrade.

The last film shown that night was the action comedy This Means War starring Reese Witherspoon, but that’s beside the point, as anyone who has been to the vintage cinema house at 113 Budleigh Street knows that the experience of The Pioneer has little to do with what is showing on the big screen.

In fact, it’s the extra large (by today’s non-IMAX standards) screen itself, the unusally large auditorium that seats almost four times that of any other movie theater in Dare County, and the overall vintage charm of buying a movie ticket, popcorn, drink, and box of candy all for under $10 that together make the experience of The Pioneer bigger than the movie itself.

In the end, the decision to upgrade to a digital  projector came down the larger question of whether or not to keep showing movies at the Pioneer at all.

H.A.’s son, H.A. ‘Buddy’ Creef III told OBX Entertainment that the building could be converted into a concert hall or restaurant, but if they want to keep showing movies (which they do), going digital is necessary.

“In the next two to three years,” Buddy told us, “Hollywood just won’t be putting out anything on film even as an option. So we don’t really have a choice if we want to keep showing movies here.”

Creef said the new projector can put out almost three times more light power than the digital projectors currently being used at other local theatres. He’s not bragging, it’s just that the Pioneer simply needs that much extra power in order for the light to travel the unusually long distance from the projection booth to the screen.

Buddy Creef added that the biggest noticable difference to regular viewers may be the new surround sound speakers that were also installed behind the screen during the digital upgrade. He said the soundtracks to some of the film movies often did not sync up correctly under the old system, but now audiances will experience the full 5.1 digital surround sound the way the filmmakers intended it to be.

 H.A. Creef Jr. recalls being informed by an official from California some years back that industry insiders nationally recognize The Pioneer as the oldest movie theater in the country to be continusouly owned and operated by the same family – yet another distinction connecting the Land of Beginnings to the land of Hollywood.

The Pioneer Theatre re-opens tonight, April 6th, with the hit comedy Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (rated PG), starring Danny DeVito (Batman Returns), Zac Efron (High School Musical), Betty White (TV’s ‘GoldenGirls’), and country music sensation Taylor Swift.

As always, showtime at The Pioneer is 8pm nightly.

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[photos: Artz Music & Photography]

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Posted by Matt Artz

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