The first time I ever set foot inside an actual movie theater’s film projection booth was when I was 10 years old during a screening of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas in 1993. It was at a local small town Elk Rapids movie house owned and managed by former Elk Rapids mayor Joe Yuchasz, a man who is a musician, mentor, teacher, worked in the Navy Reserves and above all remains the greatest contributor to Elk Rapids the community has ever known for the past forty five years! Being the young film fanatic in gestation that I was, being allowed inside the real projection booth with the spool of film on the platter running through the projector while watching the trailers through the glass window was truly an out of body experience for me. In the years since Mr. Yuchasz took over the near century old theater, built in September 1940 and managed by Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Loomis with what is still the largest black light mural theater ceiling in American contained therein, the now seventy five year old Mr. Yuchasz took over the theater in 1973 and has since transformed the small but historically significant venue into one of the hottest tickets the local town has ever seen!
Walking distance from the Elk Rapids Beach, the local library and a litany of small town novelty stores and restaurants, the theater has its share of devoted residents as well as visitors like myself who enjoy a good $5 matinee movie and $1 popcorn as much as chatting with the hero himself! The site of many awards and unique film and music opportunities including winning the Business of the Year Award at the Community Stars Award Dinner, stepping into the auditorium is truly a step back in time while sporting new seating, digital projection while hanging onto the trusty 35mm projectors and a newly rendered ceiling mural depicting blue skies and trees. While a one-theater screen, the sound and image is top notch and steeped in history over the many decades the theater was in operation. Also in the lobby are two moving shelves containing tons of CDs and sheet music, along with a piano seated on the other side of the entrance. Each year I take a summer vacation, I always drop in and usually wind up purchasing a classical music CD or a soundtrack and during my last visit the theater played a brand new 35mm print of West Side Story!
With the recent success of Michael Moore’s Traverse City Film Festival compounded with the restoration of the Traverse City State Theater as well as the renovation of the old Traverse City Zoo into the Bijou by the Bay Thater, the Elk Rapids Cinema has seen both boosted sales and shared programming during the festival. Just recently the Elk Rapids Cinema had it’s very own 75th Anniversary Film Festival which played a week long ‘Nostalgic Festival of Film’ including Fiddler on the Roof, Smokey and the Bandit and Mrs. Doubtfire. As the years press on, the Elk Rapids Cinema continues to be a favorite theater of mine and it wouldn’t have the spirit, drive and small town charm it’s become beloved for without the painstaking and dedicated efforts of Joe Yuchasz. If you’re in the Traverse City area or are taking a small summer break to enjoy the festivities of Lake Michigan and the freshwater lakes of Elk, Round and Torch Lake, the Elk Rapids Cinema is a delightful pit stop and a bona fide Golden Age of Cinema movie house that continues to thrive today and remains one of the best movie theaters in the upper peninsula!
- Andrew Kotwicki