Cassie Gratton knows how to open a Laemmle theater. The general manager of the Newhall Laemmle, which will open its doors with a ribbon-cutting this Friday, also helped to open Laemmle’s Glendale and Claremont locations.
“I feel pretty privileged that they asked me to open this theater,” said Gratton, a 20-year Laemmle employee who worked her way up the ranks of the family-owned theater group.
When The Signal met Gratton on Wednesday for an early look at the new, spacious theater, she was training her new team.
“I don’t have another theater to train my staff,” Gratton said of her team, which started preparing for Friday’s grand opening Monday. Before the pandemic closed theaters, staff would receive training in an open theater.
Despite the atypical circumstances created by the pandemic, Gratton said she trusts her team.
The team is preparing to operate a fully digital theater, a feature that becomes clear to moviegoers shortly after walking into the theater.
Behind the front desk, a tall dark tower with small flashing lights houses sound processers that control the viewers’ experience in the theater’s seven auditoriums, which range from 31 to 120 seats.
The two-story theater features two auditoriums on the first floor and five on the second floor, which also includes an outdoor space. All auditoriums are equipped with an overhead 4K projector and JBL 7.1 surround sound speakers.
Gratton said the theater is taking various measures to ensure moviegoers’ safety.
Her team is equipped with sprays to disinfect auditoriums before and after showings. In addition, Gratton said sanitizing wipes will be available for patrons who want to wipe down their seats, while hand sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the theater.
The theater will provide face masks to any moviegoer who doesn’t have one and the structure’s heating and cooling system is equipped with air filters recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Gratton.
“We’re operating at reduced capacity,” said Greg Laemmle, who runs the chain of art-house theaters bearing his name. “And whatever the state guidelines say in terms of percentage of seats can be filled, the reality is we also need to provide distancing between groups.”
While the state currently permits theaters to reach 50% capacity, Laemmle said, “We actually can’t get to more than 25% because we’re providing 6-foot spacing between groups.”
Providing that adequate distancing will mean moviegoers will need to reserve their seats in advance, a practice that is new at Laemmle, which will reopen five other locations on Friday. Additionally, the theater will not feature late shows.
Laemmle described the opening of Laemmle Newhall in three words. “It feels awesome,” he said of the project, which began taking shape in 2016 as part of the Newhall Crossings development.
Theater construction, located at the intersection of Lyons and Railroad avenues and anchoring Newhall Crossings, faced several delays.
“These are the kinds of things that happen when you have a complicated project, and this was a complicated project,” Laemmle said. “But we made a commitment to the city and citizens of the Santa Clara Valley to get this project done and we did it.”
Among the first movies being screened at Laemmle Newhall is “Kong vs. Godzilla.” The theater will also show art films, according to Laemmle.
“These are just entertaining films,” Laemmle said. “They might happen to be documentaries. They might happen to be in a foreign language. They might happen to not feature big-name actors. But they’re still entertainment. And it’s still just a night out at the movies.”
A night out at the movies starts with Friday’s in-person ribbon-cutting at 11 a.m. at the theater. While the event is open to the public, Laemmle encouraged those wishing to observe the occasion to do so through a livestream on the theater’s Facebook page.
“It’s going to be outdoors, but even then, we still have to be careful about numbers,” Laemmle said, citing the need to maintain social distancing during the ribbon-cutting.