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Last picture show ends theater's run

After the 9:30 showing of Runaway Bride, the Pasco Twin Theatre will close its doors forever.

The pleas and petitions and protests weren't enough. The Pasco Twin Theatre hosts its last picture show tonight.

The theater is set to come down and make room for a new branch of the Community National Bank. The pending demolition has attracted some local protests and a petition drive, but even the more than 1,000 signatures supporters said they collected weren't enough to save the cinema.

Philip Smitley, an assistant vice president and controller at Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas, on Wednesday confirmed the company was closing the theater tonight. The last movie scheduled is the 9:30 p.m. showing of Runaway Bride, starring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.

Inside the little theater Wednesday, longtime staff members were stunned by the news. Although it has become common knowledge around town that the owners planned to sell the theater, veteran manager Ada Smith thought she would have a little more notice.

She said she was told of the closing Wednesday afternoon.

Smitley said he did not know when contractors would start dismantling the building, but City Manager Doug Drymon said he has heard that Friday and Monday are possible demolition days.

Smitley said his company typically takes all it can salvage from doomed theaters to be refurbished and used in other cinemas. Drymon said the company offered to let the city have the seats for the Crescent Theater renovation project, but the city has nowhere to safely store such a large number of seats while work is done on the Crescent.

Mayor Charles McIntosh said the city could have used other fixtures from the theater for the renovation, but said the seats likely won't be of much use, since the Crescent will be a multi-use building, requiring the seats to be moved out of the way when they aren't used.

McIntosh said he was sad to lose the downtown movie house, but vowed to press on with the Crescent Theater project as quickly as possible.

He also promised to push for a public swimming pool, possibly in Price Park along Meridian Avenue, as an alternative for the young people of Dade City.

"I'm quite serious about that," he said. "I believe we can find the funding for it. I'm very concerned about the young people and the number of things for them to do."

The mayor said he will bring the swimming pool idea to the City Commission.

Outside the Pasco Twin Wednesday, handwritten signs told passers-by, "The Last Show. Thursday. Say No. Call City Hall."

Drymon's office got a few calls, he said, but nothing overwhelming.

The city, Drymon said, would do anything it could legally to halt the demolition or encourage a solution, but there is nothing officials can do, he said.

McIntosh said the idea of an emergency commission meeting was discussed, but would do no good.

"They drew a demolition permit, and the permit was issued," McIntosh said. "We can't deny them a permit. We have no reason to deny it. They own the building. . . . We checked with the county, and the county couldn't help us either. We're just between a rock and a hard place. We can't interceed and keep them from doing what they want to do with the building."

Preservation activist Eileen Herman, who helped lead the fight to save the theater, said she was still trying everything she could think of Wednesday.

"I'm not going quietly," she said.

She presented the petitions to City Hall. She asked bank officials to consider donating the facility to the Boys and Girls Club, or even as a last resort to simply renovate the existing building and make it into their bank, leaving the outside the way it is.

Herman said she had even been contacted by real estate agents from Tampa who had clients looking for an old cinema to turn into a dinner theater, but the thought of a new buyer didn't sway the bank.

Community National Bank president Bud Stalnaker said last week that his bank plans to open a branch at the site of the theater by early next year. He promised the branch would be designed to compliment downtown's architecture and maintain the charm of the city.

But no matter how attractive the new building may be, it won't replace the theater for Smith and her crew.

Smith, who started working at the front window selling tickets at the same theater in 1960, wiped her eyes as she fought back tears Wednesday.

"I don't know what I was thinking, that maybe we'd finish the summer, or even the year before they tore it down," she said. "Two days' notice. That's not a lot."

Smith said she would probably retire from the business after a career in managing theaters _ running nine at once in west-central Florida at one time.

The owners of the Joy-Lan Drive-In, now the only show in town, offered her a spot over there. Twelve-year veteran theater employee Jane Young said she might take them up on their offer.

Barry Hempstead, who has worked at the theater for seven years, said he's planning to continue working for Carmike at their Plant City theater.

And 17-year-old Bruce Connell, who got his first break in show biz when he landed a job behind the counter three weeks ago, said he doesn't know what he'll do next.

"I guess I'm looking for a job," he said.