Return of the Dundee

Film Streams hopes to renovate and reopen the Dundee Theater by the end of 2017.
In addition to reviving the 300-seat screen, the building will boast a few new coming attractions: a restaurant, a bookstore and a second screen.
Here's what it will look like, and here's what it could mean for Omaha.

A rendering of the Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture design of the Dodge Street side of the Dundee Theater.

By Micah Mertes / World-Herald staff writer

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Layout of the Dundee

Click the image to see a detailed layout of the plans for the renovated Dundee.

'Downsizing' at Dundee

Alexander Payne and Film Streams are hoping that the timing will work out to play Payne's next movie, "Downsizing," at the opening of the Dundee Theater. Read more

Dundee: the sequel

The Dundee Theater is getting a long-awaited sequel.
And like many sequels, this one aims to be faithful to the original while also offering something new. And something bigger. Much bigger.
Film Streams’ multimillion-dollar project, with construction to begin Feb. 1, will expand the theater into the space formerly occupied by Old Dundee Bar and Grill, making room for a larger lobby and some previously unannounced features: a restaurant, a bookstore and a micro-cinema: a 25-seat auditorium that will be used to play more offbeat fare.
A representative of Film Streams said the cafe, which will be named in the coming months, will be a satellite location of an Omaha restaurant.
The outside of the Dundee will be getting some drastic changes as well, including a new vertical marquee similar to the 92-year-old theater’s original signage.
The Dodge Street entrance (with the perilous scarcity of sidewalk in front of it) is being limited, with a windowed facade put in its place. The best way into the new Dundee will be through the old back. The new north-side main entrance will open into a landscaped patio area — which, Film Streams director Rachel Jacobson hopes, will serve as a communal hub at the heart of a revitalized block.
“We wanted to create a place,” Jacobson said of the restored theater. “This is a special place. And people have a heart for it, and they have a heart for the Dundee as it was. We’re going to be really careful and thoughtful about this, and we’re going to make it great.”

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A rendering of the Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture design of the new north entrance of the Dundee Theater.

Dundee details

Dundee Theater costs
The renovation will be a multimillion-dollar project made possible by gifts from the Film Streams board, a grant from the Peter Kiewit Foundation and, of course, the Sherwood Foundation, which will donate the property. A Sherwood affiliate, RH Land Management, paid about $4 million for the Dundee and some surrounding properties and an additional $565,000 for a nearby apartment building that will be torn down for parking. The theater will launch a public campaign this spring to raise the remaining money needed for the project.

How membership will work
Film Streams membership will count for both the Ruth Sokolof Theater and the Dundee Theater once the latter is open. For more info on membership, go to

How programs will work
The biggest box-office draws will play on the Dundee’s big screen: films like “Manchester by the Sea,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” or Alexander Payne’s latest film. Depending on the length of engagements, films playing at the Dundee might later play at the Ruth Sokolof Theater. The four screens and their variety of sizes will mean more flexibility for Film Streams and more movies for Omaha.

About Film Streams

Ruth Sokolof Theater opened
July 2007

Attendees since then
About half a million

Film Streams members
About, 3,000

Programs presented
More than 1,500, including 450 first-run films

Previous special guests
Laura Dern, Debra Winger, Steven Soderbergh, Jane Fonda, Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, David O. Russell. Film Streams’ seventh Feature event is slated for this spring, with the guest to be announced soon.

24 employees, 13 of them full-time; nine administrative staffers. Film Streams expects to hire eight to 12 more employees in 2017 with the reopening of the Dundee. This does not include staff hired by the Dundee’s unnamed cafe partner).

Annual budget
$1.9 million in 2017 and an estimated $2.4 million for 2018 (up from $890,000, the annual budget of its first year).

Film Streams will reopen the theater, closed since 2013, late this year or early next, following the full restoration. Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture designed the renovations, and Lund-Ross Constructors will do the construction.
One goal for the Alley Poyner team designing the renovations has been to stay true to the building’s legacy while also accounting for its future as a modern movie house.
“The theater has a really long history,” said Megan Lutz, Alley Poyner architect and the project’s manager. “But it’s been renovated a number of times, which gives it a little bit more freedom for us to adapt it while also respecting its history.”
Once construction has begun, RH Land Management Co. — which is affiliated with Susie Buffett’s Sherwood Foundation — will give the building (and the former spot of the Old Dundee Bar and Grill) to Film Streams. Sherwood purchased the entire block of properties for $4 million from longtime owners Denny and Janet Moran in January 2016. The group will continue to be the landlord for the surrounding properties, all of which have tenants.
Representatives with Sherwood declined to comment on the project.

Photo gallery

See more photos of the Dundee then, now and soon.

Eric Franz, a bartender previously at the Old Dundee, said employees and patrons were disappointed when the bar’s lease wasn’t renewed, but remaining tenants who spoke to The World-Herald are mostly thrilled about the Dundee’s restoration.
Michael Heaton, owner of Legacy Art and Frame, said he’s excited for the new clientele the theater will bring and is happy to see that his new landlords are locally minded. Carrie Rollins, owner of Dark Horse Salon and Spa (formerly Matt Wayne Salon), said the increased foot traffic should liven up the area, though she’s not looking forward to the parking problems that could emerge. “The parking is already a nightmare,” she said.
RH will continue to own the parking lot surrounding the theater, and the spaces will be shared by all the businesses.
Jacobson said RH officials are figuring out how to remap the parking to make it more functional. “I don’t know if there’s going to be significantly more spaces,” she said. “So there’s still going to end up being street parking.”
RH will make some room for parking by removing a seven-unit apartment building north of the theater. The 99-year-old building at 115 N. 50th St. — purchased by Buffett’s group last fall — will be demolished later this year.

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Then vs. soon

The Dodge Street signage of the planned Dundee Theater restoration will take inspiration from the theater's original vertical sign.

History of the theater

Architects John and Alan McDonald built the Dundee Theater at 4952 Dodge St. for $35,000. It had “extra large upholstered seats,” a pipe organ and other features. It was Omaha’s western-most theater at the time.

The theater was remodeled for widescreen films. The first show on the new screen was “Spartacus.” The last show on the old screen was “This Could Be the Night,” starring Omahan Julie Wilson.

“The Sound of Music” opened. It remained at the Dundee for more than 18 months, becoming its longest-running movie.

Denny Moran bought the Dundee “to tear it down and put in a fast food restaurant,” but he then “fell in love” with the theater.

Moran remodeled the theater.

May 2013
The theater closed for renovations, its final movie “To the Wonder.” It was expected to be closed for a few months, but unforeseen costs kept setting back its reopening. At the time, Janet Moran said, “We just don’t want to give up. I understand the mentality of new. But there’s just something about an old theater. You can’t build that.”

January 2016
RH Land Management Co., which is affiliated with Susie Buffett’s Sherwood Foundation, buys the theater and the surrounding properties with the intention of giving the theater and the Old Dundee Bar and Grill space to Film Streams.

Expected February 2017
Lund-Ross will begin construction on the theater.

Expected late 2017/early 2018
The Dundee Theater will reopen.

For Film Streams, the reopening of the Dundee comes at a fortuitous time, on the eve of its 10th anniversary. In July 2007, Film Streams opened the north-downtown Ruth Sokolof Theater, which will continue to be the nonprofit film group’s home and headquarters.
The Dundee will offer programming similar to that of the Ruth Sokolof Theater (first-run American independent, foreign and classic films), and its two additional screens will give Film Streams more flexibility and Omaha more movies.
With more than 300 seats, the Dundee’s main screen will be Film Streams’ largest theater — the Ruth Sokolof includes a 206-seat and a 96-seat theater.
“We understood immediately what the big screen could be as far as programming,” Jacobson said. “We can bring bigger first-run films. There’s a lot of good stuff out there, and this will allow us to play more of it.”
With two screens, the Ruth Sokolof Theater occasionally runs into programming bottlenecks, particularly in the months leading up to Oscar season. The 300-seat screen, as well as the 25-seater, will give Film Streams more breathing room for the scheduling of first-runs, repertory screenings and special events.
The 2016 film “Manchester by the Sea,” for which the Ruth Sokolof Theater had a two-week exclusive, was one of the highest-grossing Film Streams titles of the past few years and would have been a clear candidate for a 300-seat screen.
But as the Dundee Theater allows Film Streams to go bigger, it also presents an opportunity for something smaller. And most likely stranger.
The 25-seat micro-cinema, to be installed into the southwest corner of the building, will play a more select selection of films.
“We will be able to program stuff that only 25 people want to see,” Jacobson said. “It could operate like a gallery theater in the sense of some nonlinear, non-narrative stuff playing on a loop. It could be playing Saturday morning cartoons or random 16 mm shorts.”
The space will also serve as a classroom for courses taught by education director Diana Martinez, who was hired last summer.

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A 1925 photo of the Dundee Theater.

The Dundee Theater in December 2016. MATT DIXON/THE WORLD-HERALD

Film Streams director Rachel Jacobson. Courtesy of Nebraska Loves Public Schools.

Alexander Payne in 2013.

Film Streams is keeping the big picture in the frame, too, looking not just at the separate components of the new Dundee but how they all fit together.
Jacobson and Film Streams deputy director Casey Logan said the emphasis will be on the Dundee’s role as a community space.
“It will be a space that people will be able to come into even if they’re not seeing a film,” Logan said. “A place where conversations can happen, where there are opportunities to connect.”
In this sense, the Dundee will be an extension of Film Streams’ mission: to bring people together through film. The expansion into this particular neighborhood holds extra significance for Films Streams.
Among the half-million moviegoers who have attended Film Streams programs in the past decade are many who live in the Dundee neighborhood. Jacobson said 68132 remains the most popular ZIP code for Film Streams members.

Photo gallery

See more photos of the Dundee then, now and soon.

One Dundee native is particularly excited about the Dundee’s return. Hint: He’s an Oscar winner. A two-time Oscar winner, in fact.
Filmmaker and Film Streams board member Alexander Payne grew up watching movies at the Dundee, and he couldn’t imagine a better fate for his neighborhood theater.
What could be better for Omaha, he said, than keeping “a spectacular neighborhood movie palace” open and under the guidance of Film Streams.
“This is the fulfillment of a dream,” he said. “I’m very grateful to the Morans for their years of stewardship and for seeing fit to pass along their jewel to Film Streams. The new Dundee Theater will both connect us to our shared history and fit spectacularly into the new Omaha being born.”, 402-444-3182

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