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The Rise An Fall of Mann Theatres

August 18th, 2009 by ccrouch

These days, the Mann Theatres chain exists as a mismanaged handful of leases, in search of new operators. Yet, in the not so distant past, Mann was a major player in the exhibition industry; for a time, the nation’s largest independent chain. 

Mann’s story begins with the chain’s namesake, Ted Mann. Born on April 15, 1916, Mann first became interested in cinema while working as a theatre usher, during his teen years. Parlaying his early interest in to a career, Mann leased a theatre in St. Paul Minnesota, for $100 a month, learning the ins and outs of the business through a period of “hands on” trial and error. After earning enough money to purchase the theatre he was leasing, Mann expanded his cinema interests in to a twenty-eight venue, Minnesota based, chain, by the time he was forty. After moving to California in the late 60’s, Mann sold his Minnesota theatres to the General Cinema Corporation in 1970 and pursued a side career in film production.
In 1973, Mann returned to the film exhibition business, purchasing the struggling National General Theatre chain (the descendant company of Fox, Fox West Coast, and National Theatres)  for $67.5 million; re branding the collection of 240 aging cinemas, Mann Theatres.The upstart Mann Theatres quickly gained notoriety (perhaps infamy) for “modernizing” many of National General’s classic cinemas and renaming the iconic “Grauman’s” Chinese, “Mann’s” Chinese. While controversial, from a historical perspective, these early efforts proved to be keen business moves, as the chain’s holdings began to fall in line with a modern business model; turning a formerly dying chain in to a viable competitor, within a few years. 
By the 1980’s, Mann’s remodeling and restructuring work transitioned in to the creation of a multiplex oriented chain. Casting off older, under performing, sites, the company began an aggressive expansion of new builds; growing from 276 screens in 1973, to 450, by the close of the decade. As with most multiplex chains of the time, Mann’s initial generation of new theatres were a far cry from the grand palaces the company had inherited; typically modest four to six screen cinemas which were designed with more of a focus on low cost efficiency than opulence. However, Mann’s redirection ultimately built the chain in to the nation’s third most profitable exhibitor.
Flush with success, Mann garnered the attention of the Gulf & Western Corporation, to which Ted Mann sold controlling interest in 1986. Mann remained chairman of the company until 1991, overseeing an expansion of higher quality theatres, which reached 510 screens by the time of his departure. In 1997, the chain, changed hands once again, selling to Westar for $165 million. Unfortunately, the Westar sale also marked the beginning of Mann Theatres’ slide in to irrelevance, as the chain wilted during the megaplex era. Unable to keep pace with the era’s building craze, Mann was forced to sell or close it’s ever dated sites, shrinking to 351 screens by the new millenium; parent company, Westar, mismanaging their investment to the point of filing for bankruptcy, in September of 2000. Ted Mann, long removed from the mess his former chain had become, passed away in 2001.
WF Cinema Holdings (a limited partnership between Warner Brothers and Paramount) purchased the remnants of Mann, out of bankruptcy, for $91 million, in 2000; the partnership had previously owned the chain, as Gulf & Western descendant, Cinamerica, and had been the selling party three years earlier. Despite this return to an ownership that had experienced great success with Mann Theatres, the chain never managed to regain it’s former glory. The one time “king of independents” continued to implode under mismanagement, declining from 53 venues to the handful of questionable leases that are currently on the market.

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