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» Cinematour Forum   » Cinema Yak   » 'Bat Caves'

Author Topic: 'Bat Caves'
Paul Rosenberry
New Member

Posts: 11
From: Wallingford, CT
Registered: Nov 2004

 - posted December 15, 2004 06:11 PM      Profile for Paul Rosenberry   Author's Homepage   Email Paul Rosenberry         Edit/Delete Post 
Something I've noticed over the years is that many cinemas have what I call a 'bat cave'... A hidden area that almost nobody knows about. Here are some examples of bat caves I've seen in different theaters.

A mall cinema with a metal hatch in a mezzanine wall. It's there to provide access to the accordion-door that closes the lobby off from the mall. Once inside however, you can walk the beam over the accordion-door to the other side of the building, walk the studs to the ice-room or office. Going the other direction, if you're thin enough, you can squeeze through a gap that lets you climb over the main entrance to the mall, over the hall, and down into stores on the other side of the mall's wing.

A janitor's closet then has a loose wooden panel. When removed, there is a lighted room behind it that has no windows or doors. It has old debris like paint cans and junk, and curiously a porcelain toilet. Also in the same building, a hidden door that opens to (surprise) another toilet.

A cinema where if you climb through the ceiling of almost any support room, you can walk beams across the entire building. Also same theater, you can climb the frame for the curtains and you'll find a miniature wooden room, like a tree-house, some 30' up above the screen.

Hatches that provide access to unused areas underneath stadium seating.

One more... not really a bat cave but.... An old cinema that has a lighted glass-brick wall around a water fountain. To change the bulbs you have to open a tiny door in the side of the staircase to the balcony, slither on your belly under the stairs, through a small hole, around a corner. You have to slither about 15 feet in total. I say slither because if your belly lifts off the ground you won't fit.

Does anyone have stories of similar 'bat-caves'?

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Joe Vogel
New Member

Posts: 12
From: Paradise, CA
Registered: Jul 2005

 - posted August 14, 2005 08:51 PM      Profile for Joe Vogel   Email Joe Vogel         Edit/Delete Post 
You might be interested in seeing Palace of Mold, a set of ten pictures by photographer Suzy Poling. They depict out-of-the-way corners of the decaying Congress and Uptown Theatres in Chicago, including the areas above the auditoriums. I wouldn't be surprised if there actually were bats up there.

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Jim Rankin
(Jim passed away in December 2006)
Posts: 123
From: Milwaukee, WI
Registered: Oct 2003

 - posted August 15, 2005 07:05 AM      Profile for Jim Rankin   Email Jim Rankin         Edit/Delete Post 
Virtually any theatre of any size has such "service access" areas and many of them are windowless, dark and erie spaces. Oftentimes, if one peruses the blueprints of a place, he will notice areas on the prints of obvious space, but totally inacessable to the public --and sometimes not open to the staff either! Such areas are called "voids" by the architects and result from the many different levels designed into a multi-level theatre with its balconies and stagehouse creating a large, cavernous attic as well as inner balcony spaces which are often of such a shape or elevation that they cannot be readily used for anything. I remember a void on the plans of one movie palace that could have held a two story house of goodly size, but it was in a position in the splay of the proscenium that could have not accomodated anything else without expensive access changes to the layout.

Many people are also unaware of the Plenums (air tunnels) that underlie many of the seating floors of theatres, usually as the return air flow to the basement fan rooms, along with shafts sometimes six feet square that form risers in the walls to join the upper ducts to these plenums. They weren't supposed to store anything in plenums due to the fire potential, but if one crawled through the often lone access door, there was always something down there that they couldn't find room for elsewhere. And, yes, there were always things dropped down there through the "mushroom" ventilators under the seats, such as jewelry and gloves as well as the inevitable tickets and programmes. With perhaps a light bulb every 60 feet, it was always an erie and musty trip with enough dust to make you wish you had never opened the little steel door in the concrete wall (and hoped against hope that that little steel door did not somehow get closed and locked behind you lest that concrete plenum become your tomb).

As erie as these subterranean trips were, so were those up inside the walls and attic of a large theatre, where in the movie palaces there were many such odd spaces created with sometimes just wooden ladders to reach the thousands of colored light bulbs hidden in the wall coves and ceiling domes and behind grilles and niches. The architects weren't too concerned about bulb replacements since they would never have to do that, so they just drew on the drawings skimpy suggestions about access to such areas, often with just the word "catwalk" to designate a rickety wooden ladder by some contractor that some hapless maintenance man would have to negotiate every few months, given that tungsten light bulbs rarely lasted more than 700 hours burn life back then. In a few of the larger theatres, such as the former WARNER in Milwaukee, there were actually poured concrete catwalks in the auditorium attic, but I recall one stretch there where the concrete had cracked into dozens of pieces and we all gingerly stepped around that stretch while hanging onto the rusty steel strap 'railings' along the sides for some security! Climbing up or down rusty, simple flat steel ladders to get to other points was always a dicey game as we hoped that their simple rebars welded together would hold our weight after so many years; you can imagine how we felt when on antique wooden ladders like this where every creak and goan could mean the old, dried-out wood was going to give way.

No, there weren't always bats (but often pigeons found their way through holes in the roof!), but it was still an adventure, especially when we hadn't found the light switch to the attic lights and had there crawled up three stories on a steel open-back flat ladder till reaching the catwalks in the attic using only a flashlight as sole unreliable means of knowing where in the three story high attic we were going --also knowing that one misstep could mean our going off the catwalk and plunging through the metal lath and plaster of the auditorium ceiling and falling to our death some four stories below (as happened to a guy at the SOUTHTOWN in Chicago)! If the lawyers for the owner had known of our little forays in such areas, they would have raised a holy ruckus over the insurance risk we posed to them in theory. There weren't always bats, but there were plenty of other risks in the many 'caves' of a vast theatre!

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Jeff Arellano
Senior Member

Posts: 685
From: Monterey Park, CA
Registered: Jun 2003

 - posted August 15, 2005 04:55 PM      Profile for Jeff Arellano   Email Jeff Arellano         Edit/Delete Post 
AMC Media 8 in burbank has in projection room 2 a hatch in the floor that takes you to a room that is used maily for storage. This goes under the auditoriums here, and out under the hallway.

AMC Covina 30 really had no hidden rooms, but does have a hidden patio in the back of the theatre, complete with benches and poster cases, no one ever went back there, and the only way you can get there was through a couple of the theatres.

Other theatres I worked at really had nothing interesting at all.

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Amanda Jones
New Member

Posts: 14
From: Indianapolis, IN
Registered: Aug 2005

 - posted August 19, 2005 11:34 PM      Profile for Amanda Jones   Email Amanda Jones         Edit/Delete Post 
The theater I currently work for has a cave so to speak. We have live walls in our lobby (big preview screens) They are right over our concession stand. Well behind the screens is a big room where the projector for the screens is located. No one knows that it exisits except for management. It is a pretty decent sized room but it is all dusty and dirty. If it wasn't so hard to access (you have to climb a ladder located upstairs to reach this room) then it would make a good hide out for management when we take a break and don't want to be bothered.

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Bob Allen

Posts: 79
From: Toledo, OR
Registered: May 2003

 - posted September 28, 2005 10:38 AM      Profile for Bob Allen   Email Bob Allen         Edit/Delete Post 
I worked an "all day" theatre in Sacramento back in the 60s that was literally a "bat cave". I don't remember the name of the place. It had bats in the attic and I had to wear coveralls in the booth to save my street clothes because I smelled like bat guano when I got home.

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