By Dan Greeson
As a U.S. Army tank rolled through the opening scene of the movie “American Sniper,” one viewer in the audience could be forgiven for feeling nothing but relief. Sitting in a leather club chair in an underground movie theater, Chris Rhodes, co-owner of Soda Mountain Construction and general contractor, was pinching himself after he and his team had pulled off the biggest project of his career.
“It was, bar none, the hardest project we’ve ever done,” says Rhodes of the construction of a 28-seat, underground movie theater. In 12 months beginning in May 2014, 100 craftspeople with skills ranging from fine carpentry to technical installation toiled together. “The biggest thing beyond the short one-year timeline was that everything is custom-made,” Rhodes says.
The theater is the brainchild of local architect Joe Patrick Robbins, who was enlisted to redesign recreational space in the basement. Robbins was responsible for the original floor plan of the home, which he designed 20 years ago.
The owner, a self-proclaimed sports fanatic, wanted a place family and friends could watch a game or chill out with a movie after a day’s skiing.
“The design challenges presented by this project were many,” Robbins says. “The objectives were to preserve the front lawn and create an addition that would not interrupt the view from any area of the house.” The solution was to go underground.
Beyond the sheer scale of excavating the site, the biggest obstacle was the movie screen. Stewart Filmscreen produced a StarGlas rear projection screen 18.5 feet wide by 10.5 feet tall. At first they said it would not be possible, reneging their decision a week later. It was the largest piece of StarGlas ever made in the United States.
An 18-wheel truck delivered the 1,400-pound screen, which was lifted by crane into the theater, before the roof could be added.
Rhodes and his team fabricated a wheeled platform for the screen to rest on, allowing them to move the screen around while they worked. A Christie Digital CP4220 commercial projector, used in large theaters, was installed. The projector has the capability of projecting any picture, in any format, onto the screen.
The interiors, including six custom-made leather flatbeds for the front row, were ordered from Cinematech.
Rhodes’ team built a sweeping stone staircase leading down from the recreation room, where they built a bar – complete with popcorn machine. The walls are lined with six display boxes, where the owners can now rotate their collection of 60 movie posters.
“We have designed many home theaters, but none to this high commercial standard. It was fun coordinating this project with practitioners at the very top of the trade,” says Robbins.
Regardless of the movies or programs that will be viewed in this theater in years to come, top credits go to the 100 people that brought this vision to life.