NOTE: This is a reprint of my article that appeared in the October 2011 edition of Indianapolis Senior Life. My thanks to Mr. Dave Battas for sharing his story of how he secured Star Wars for the Indianapolis market. We are forever grateful.
The Eastwood Theater sat adjacent to the old Ayr-Way anchored shopping center along Pendleton Pike and was known for its curved-screen, free popcorn refills and having the best sound system in the city.
“I saw Tommy there,” said Robert Baker.
The Eastwood was owned by Y&W management Company which owned a number of indoor and outdoor theaters around Central Indiana and when they decided to open their new “road house’ theater on the east side, they asked Dave Battas to book the movies, manage and market the place.
“We opened the Eastwood on September 10, 1968 with Prudence and the Pill with Funny Girl following soon afterward,” he said.
The Eastwood offered their audiences reserved seating and advanced ticket sales of their limited engagement runs such as Paint Your Wagon and boasted uniformed usherettes who showed folks to their seats before the theater later segued to book traditional releases in the 1970’s.
Originally the theater had a flat screen but due to the number of films shot in Cinerama, a curved screen was installed in 1973 and never replaced. Battas booked several celebrity appearances at the Eastwood and took a lot of pride in the theater. After noticing a patron writing on the wall after a showing of Woodstock, Battas attached white paper to plywood boards and encouraged people to leave their mark as they left.
“There were a lot of names, dates, poems and peace symbols,” he said. “I hung those sheets all over the lobby.”
Though The Eastwood was known for a variety of movie offerings, the one that stands out for most movie goers is was the film Battas acquired in October of 1976. A 20th Century Fox representative asked Battas to consider a run of a new science fiction picture that was to be released the following summer. It was a tough sell. The film was made in England on a closed set. The principle actors were unknowns and the director was unproven.
“The working title is called Star Wars,” the representative said, promising Battas a selection of drive-in films if he took the little sci-fi odyssey, agreed to a $50,000 advance and installed a state-of-the-art Dolby sound system.
“We were the perfect theater for the picture because it was shot in 70mm and we had one of the few 70mm projectors in the area,” Battas said, explaining how he scored the exclusive run of a movie that went on to shatter box office records. “I didn’t even see the film until two days before it opened,” said Battas. “When I saw that opening sequence, I laughed because I knew it was going to be big.”
Star Wars proved to be bigger than big, filling the 800-seat theater to capacity at each of the five daily showings. Lines for the movie stretched into the parking lot and past a nearby Dairy Queen which also benefitted from the engagement.
“I guess people were buying ice cream like crazy while they waited,” he said. “To this day, it remains the movie for which the theater is best known.”
Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, the Eastwood became the place to see movies known for their special effects and sound quality such as Grease, Annie and Cocoon, but as multiplexes became more common it was harder for single screen movie houses to compete.
“When you are only showing one film for eight to 12 weeks, you can’t make a mistake in booking,” Battas said. “Multiplexes have an economic advantage.”
The theater eventually segued from movies to a live concert venue before closing altogether in the early 1990’s. Today only two walls of the facility remain as part of the Menards lumber yard but for those who first heard about a Pinball Wizard, learned that Grease was the word or caught sight of that galaxy far, far away, the memories of the Eastwood live on as a treasured piece of the city’s cinematic history.