THE MADISON'S SINGLE-SCREEN ERA GOES DARK

MIKE HUREWITZ Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Monday, January 30, 1995

ALBANY They came to pay tribute to the end of an era, the movie lovers, nostalgia buffs and other dreamers and poets who made a pilgrimage to the Madison Theater on Sunday to witness the finale of the last big-picture show in Albany.


Today, the once-opulent movie palace is to begin a 60-day renovation and is scheduled to emerge from its construction cocoon April 1 as a five-screen theater, akin to its successful competitors in the Capital Region's malls. But most of the several dozen people interviewed Sunday, part of about 700 who attended the final five showings, said that while they understood why change had to come, something valuable is being lost forever. A few came alone, a few reunited with neighborhood friends, and more than a few brought offspring to see what movie screens used to be like.


They came to pay homage to Hollywood and childhood and times when everything was larger than life and movies seemed the largest of all.


Chuck Miller, 31, of Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood remembered sneaking out early from school to see his first PG-rated movie at the Madison, and watching a succession of films there that he has considered classics.


``For a movie lover like myself who likes to see films in the wide-screen aperture, I would say something is being lost,'' said Miller. ``Every part of Albany has a Price Chopper. Every part of Albany has a CVS. For Pine Hills, we had a motion picture house and it didn't look like a bunch of seats in a garage with a big white wall up in front.''


But Miller, a word processor in a law firm, is glad that the theater will continue to operate, and plans to bring his wife and kids to see the grand opening, just as he brought them Sunday to see the final show.


``It makes much more sense to keep a theater in Pine Hills rather than let it stand as a very expensive eyesore.''


Tracey Wilson, 27, of Guilderland, a graduate student in psychology, was meeting friends for a finale theater party of sorts.


``This was one of the things that had remained stable since I was a kid,'' Wilson said. ``I remember coming here with my family when I was younger, and with friends as I was growing up.''


She described the Madison as ``a nice and quiet place to relax for an afternoon,'' and a contrast to theaters in the region's bustling malls.


Betty Brzezowski of Pine Hills, an assistant manager at Fleet Bank, knew the end of the old Madison was near and stopped by to find out when. When she learned that Sunday would be the finale, she quickly changed her schedule.


Brzezowski, working toward a master's degree in business administration in evening school, said she would postpone her planned evening's studying to fit in a final show.


``Maybe you don't have to have a movie theater quite this big,'' she said, ``but when you walk into some of the cinemas in the mall . . . it's really long, and narrow, sort of halfway between watching it on your TV set and going to a real theater like this.''


Janice Burriesci and her friend Jill Baboulis, both of Delmar, brought their children to the Madison for the first, and perhaps last, time.


``I grew up in the Bronx,'' said Burriesci, ``and all the theaters were like this. I wanted the kids to experience it one time, because this could be it.''


Recalling some of the movie palaces of her youth, she said she missed ``the opulence, like going to Proctor's (in Schenectady) and seeing the old theater, and all the carvings. Things like Loews Paradise that had a whole scene of the sky and a balcony. They don't have that any more.''


``I wanted to know what it was like when my mom grew up,'' interjected her daughter Andrea, 9.


``In the old days,'' said her mother, finishing her daughter's sentence with a laugh, but glancing at her friend with a look of mild chagrin.


Peg Olsen of Clifton Park, who works for the Nature Conservancy, came for the ``nostalgia,'' explaining, ``It was nice to have a little bit of tradition left in the city.


``The feeling is there's character to it,'' said Olsen. ``That's what's missing in the places we go now. Everything is standardized, with chain stores.''


Her friend Alane Ball of northern Rensselaer County, also with the Nature Conservancy, said she regularly made the ``long haul'' from her home to the Madison because she liked ``coming to a movie and having it be big enough to feel different than watching TV.''


But she said she appreciated the tradeoffs necessary to keep the theater viable and is glad that it will continue to enhance the neighborhood.


The revamping is an effort to compete with the mall multiplexes, which can hedge their bets if a show bombs and can offer a smorgasbord of cinema for a wider audience. The new design of the Madison, with 702 seats rather than 715, is part of a compromise that preserves businesses in the building complex and sidesteps rezoning problems and neighborhood concerns about parking.


It even includes a plan to restore some of the theater's grandeur by removing portions of a drop ceiling added in 1987 as an energy conservation move.


It is likely that no one in the theater Sunday had seen more neighborhood change than Christine LaRoche, 87, of South Pine Avenue, who began going to the theater shortly after it opened in 1929.


Her daughter, Joy Brass, 59, of Darien, Conn., was upset by the pending conversion, but LaRoche was taking it in stride.


``We have to change, things have to go on,'' LaRoche said in a motherly tone to her daughter, adding, ``I've seen so many changes, and I think this will be good. I'm happy we're going to have movies to go to again and I'd hate to see it close.''