Saturday, February 28, 2009

Visit Narnia at the Franklin Institute

PHILADELPHIA, PA - One of the oldest science and learning centers in the United States is still one of the best places for a field trip, with school or family. The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania will celebrate its 185th anniversary this year. One of the reasons for the success, and staying power, of the Franklin Institute is their ability to change with the times. Their passion for learning keeps the exhibits fresh and interesting and their expertise in a number of areas incorporates the latest technology for engaging people of all ages in learning about our world.

Currently the Institute is made up of three divisions; The Science Center, the Center for Innovations in Science Learning, and the Benjamin Franklin Center. No matter how they divide the institute, there is a lot going on all the time, everywhere you turn. We recently visited the Chronicles of Narnia exhibit, which runs through April 19, 2009.

Follow Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy through the wardrobe for a look at the science of Narnia. For those who have seen the movie this traveling exhibit looks behind the scenes at many of the props, costumes and characters that make up C. S. Lewis's famous book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Even if you haven't seen the movie, the exhibit creates a learning experience that, like the movie, goes beyond the expected. Walt Disney and Walden Media have created an educator's guide for the Narnia exhibit that highlights learning opportunities from global warming (remember the ice queen), to researching the habitat needs of four Narnia mammals. Find out if animals can communicate with humans. The free educator's guide is available through the Franklin website. One of our favorite leaning experiences and an exhibit that caught us by surprise was the working catapult that launched a boulder a few times each hour.

The Chronicles of Narnia traveling exhibit is only one of many throughout the year that are booked at the Franklin. In the past, there have been the Titanic exhibit, Star Wars, and King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs. All have been a success. Many are limited in where they appear in the United States, which speaks to the quality of exhibit space and curators at the Institute.

The Giant Heart - One of the most enduring exhibits is the walk-through heart, which to my amazement has been on display since the mid-1950's. It has been upgraded and is a favorite for children and adults alike. The Giant Heart is booked as "A Healthy Interactive Experience" and is part of a large, 5,000 square foot exhibit that covers Heart Anatomy, Health and Wellness, Blood, and Diagnostics and Treatment displays.

The Franklin Air Show - If you're into flight this indoor air show has over 20 interactive devices to keep your aviator busy. There are also full size jets and stories of famous aviation pioneers. If aviation isn't enough check out Space Command with its interactive displays that let you explore space like the astronauts.

One of my favorite areas is the Train Factory where you can board a full size Baldwin 60,000 steam engine and move it forward on the indoor tracks. Granted it doesn't go very far but you hear the whistle, see the coal bin and even get a chance to operate the controls on the train's short journey.

If you need a break from all the walking, be sure to take in an IMAX film in their dome theater or gaze at the stars from the Franklin Institute's Joel N. Bloom Observatory. Here you can experience day and nighttime viewing through the 10-inch Zeiss refractor and four Meade 8-inch reflector telescopes. Another alternative is to visit the nation's second oldest planetarium, the Fel's Planetarium at the Institute; I told you this place was huge. While it is one of the oldest planetarium's in the United States, it has the newest equipment for presentations. The dome measures 60 feet across and is four stories tall with all digital projection equipment.

All in all, a trip to the Franklin will have you coming back for more.

Hours: Science Museum 9:30 AM - 5:00 PM Daily The Tuttleman IMAX Theater 10:00AM - 4:00 PM Daily

The Franklin Institute is closed annually on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Franklin Awards Day, April 23.

Science Museum exhibits, live show, and one planetarium show $14.25 Adults, $13.25 Students and Military and $11.50 for children. There are other admissions for special programs or simulators.

Chronicles of Narnia and admission to the Franklin Institute:

Daytime Tickets *
Adults $22.25 w/ID: Seniors (62+), Students (12-25) and Military $18.50
Children (4-11) $17.50

* Valid for exhibit entrances between 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, includes admission into The Franklin Exhibits and One Fels Planetarium Show. Check Theater schedule for Planetarium show times.

Evening Tickets **

Adults $10.50 w/ID: Seniors (62+), Students (12-25) and Military $10.50
Children (4-11) $9.50

** Valid for exhibit entrances between 5:30 pm - 8:00 pm, does not include admission into The Franklin Exhibits or the Fels Planetarium.

Return to the Movie Palace

El Paso, Texas - Imagine entering a large auditorium, the lights are low. You sink down into one of the thousands of plush red velvet seats and have a clear view of the large heavily draped stage. As you look to the ceiling you notice clouds drifting across the deep blue ceiling, white billowy clouds. Just then your attention is taken by the sound of organ pipes. You look to the stage and see a huge multi-keyed organ rising slowly with the music. The lights go dark, except for a spotlight on the organ and player. The music stops abruptly. The spotlight goes out; the room goes black, except for hundreds, or maybe thousands of tiny star lights twinkling from the previously blue, clouded sky above. Suddenly the entire front of the theatre bursts into light as the feature presentation begins.

As I toured the Historic Plaza Theatre in El Paso, Texas recently I was struck by the ornate architecture, the use of innovative "atmospherics", like the clouds drifting across the ceiling, the number of trees and bushes placed on balconies around the theatre, and the sheer size of the auditorium. I was no longer in Kansas and this wasn't one of the small look alike McMovie theaters jammed 24 onto a mall parking lot. No, this is the way it used to be, for our parents and grandparents, every time they went to the movies.

The Plaza is one of hundreds of revival type theaters across the country that have been renovated over the years and returned to their former glory, if not box office sales. The styles are from the 1920's, 30's and 40's and there is no comparing these palaces, that make every night seem like Oscar night on the red carpet, to what we have settled for in today's movie attendance. The theaters of this period where designed in Art Deco, Italian Renaissance, Spanish Revival and other artistic styles to create a fantasy environment to attract moviegoers. Today they are often used for plays, concerts and the occasional special release films.

Many of these luxury theaters were built during our country's worst economic time, the Great Depression. The Plaza opened in 1930 and was known as the "showplace of the Southwest." It was the largest theater of its kind between Dallas and Los Angeles. Even after nearly 80 years just touring the theatre is a memorable experience. Imagine fifty years from now how long a tour would last of one our current movie theaters.

The restoration of the single screen theaters seems to follow a pattern of community involvement over several years. For the Plaza it was in 1986 that plans were made to demolish the building. The community came together and within six weeks, with the help of actress Rita Moreno, raised one million dollars to save the building from the wrecking ball. Thirty-eight million dollars and seventeen years later the Hisoric Plaza Theatre reopened to a sold out crowd for the stage performance Riverdance. The theater has tours every Tuesday throughout the year and is open for limited engagement plays and special performances.

One of the many successful fund raising techniques used in the Plaza restoration, and other historical building renovations, is to name a part of the theater after a key sponsor. The performance hall of the Historic Plaza Theatre is named in memory of Kendle Elizabeth Kidd by her parents, Sharon and Dr. Joe Kidd. A beautiful portrait of Kendle is displayed over the staircase leading up to the balconies. One of the more unusually shaped lobbies is named after Glyn and Karl O. Wyler, Sr. , donors to the El Paso Community Foundation. Their wish was to see the Plaza Theatre re-opened to the public. Throughout the theatre are portraits and names of other prominent donors who were instrumental in raising the needed funds to keep this historic theater open.

Radio City Music Hall in New York, opened in 1932, is the largest and most famous of the movie palaces built in the United States. It held more than twice as many people as the Plaza with 5,960 seats. The backers of Radio City saw the theater as a symbol of the motion picture industry's resiliency during a time of economic depression. Like the Plaza, Radio City Music Hall's popularity as a movie venue waned and plans were made in the 70's to redesign the area into offices. Preservationists, community and commercial interests led to a major renovation that had the building re-opened in 1980. Nineteen years later a major interior renovation project led to a $70 million dollar restoration. Today the Music Hall hosts concerts, stage plays, the annual Christmas Spectacular and other venues to great success.

Perhaps it is time for us to return to some of the simple pleasures of being treated like royalty when we go on a date or take the family out for an evening. Look for one of these historical movie palaces next time your planning an outing and give them the support needed to keep them open.