Scott Zaremba admits he’s always got something going. Another idea, another project that’s already in the works. Zaremba, a local businessman who also has ventures in Lawrence, owns the Plaza Cinema, a hidden gem on Main Street in downtown Ottawa.
The grand dame has the distinction of being the oldest operating purpose-built cinema in the world, and Zaremba is doing everything he can to restore her to her former glory. After purchasing the building six years ago, he became its sole owner last summer. In that time, Zaremba has automated ticket sales, giving moviegoers the flexibility to purchase tickets online, along with gift cards and movie posters.
Up next for Zaremba is installing reclining chairs to enhance the cinematic experience for ticket buyers. That could happen within the next 90-120 days. Once the chairs are installed, moviegoers can reserve their own seat as they’re purchasing a ticket.
Another big project Zaremba is working on is the addition of two Air BNB Rentals on the second floor. Each rental features a full kitchen. He’s also renovating the viewing area, which eventually can be rented for private viewings.
On Thursday, he hauled out 8,000 pounds of plaster. On another day, it was 1,300 pounds of steel and metal. There’s also been exterior facelifts, including restoration work on the marquee.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of different things in my life, but one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most is restoring things,” Zaremba said. “Whether it’s a (vehicle) or a building, I want to be able to restore and repurpose it. You know, it’s either in your blood, or it’s not.”
One of his more recent projects involved the purchase and renovation of the former post office building.
At the time it was purchased, the building sat vacant for 18 years. Today, it’s an event center.
“I always see something interesting when renovating a historical building,” he said. “I want to be able to preserve these buildings so (future generations) will be able to enjoy them. I hate to see historical buildings torn down. I love to see them rebuilt and repurposed. When things like this building are built well, they’ll last for years if we maintain them.”
The Plaza Cinema opened in 1907 at 211 S. Main St. but was originally named The Bijou. It was also called The Yale and The Crystal before opening as The Plaza in 1935.
In the beginning, tickets were a nickel, and usually included two moving pictures and a song performed live.
The Plaza also features the Movie Memorabilia Museum, which includes one of the earliest motion picture projectors as well as other exhibits, including movie scripts, posters and props. Zaremba hopes to have a self-guided, audio tour soon. He also has plans to eventually broaden the tour to include much of downtown Ottawa.
“I think something like this can be a boon to the community,” he said. “There’s nowhere else you can see this, and I think it’s a big deal.”
“…And we’re trying to put something together as we speak – so we have a larger tour, featuring our historic downtown. I want to make it big enough where it draws people to stay in community and then go home and tell their friends.”
Movies aside, the cinema can also be rented for birthday parties, reunions and other events.
“With the technology we have, we can show anything,” he said. “We can play home movies. It’s a 112- year-old theatre with the latest technology. It’s kinda the people’s theatre.”