Chase City native hopes to revive abandoned Mecca movie house
Beverly Wood didn’t grow up in Chase City in the 1960’s expecting to move to Hollywood and work with some of the biggest names in the motion picture industry. She didn’t expect to come home with hopes of taking the long-abandoned movie house and turning it into something new and different.
That’s how things worked out, but it wasn’t what she expected.
“My father, Arnold Garrett Wood, was the first African-American bank teller in Chase City,” remembered Ms. Wood. “That was at People’s Bank and Trust. My mother was Lillian Wood, and they both had multiple jobs. We cleaned churches in the area. We always had stuff to do as a family. We worked on our little farm. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich. Chase City was a nice place to live. Our parents kept us close; they talked about the importance of getting an education. It was all important.”
The admonishment to “get an education” took hold with Beverly, and she became a self-described bookworm.
“I was an avid reader from elementary school on,” she laughed.
There was time for other pursuits, like sports and, especially, movies.
“My cousins and I would all get together and go to the Mecca on Friday night,” said Beverly. “That was where you went on Friday, and if there was a new Elvis movie, we were in Heaven.”
This was during the Civil Rights Era, and at that time, segregation was still the order of the day. At that time, blacks watched the movies from the balcony while whites watched from the main floor.
“There wasn’t any friction,” said Beverly, “people went in and watched the movie. My parents kept us abreast, aware. Our parents did a great job of explaining, but it didn’t cripple us or keep us from getting along.”
As a bonus, the movies helped open a new world to Beverly.
“No,” she laughed, “it never dawned on me that that movies could be a career. But, movies made me aware that there was a whole world outside of Chase City.”
Her interest in movies and entertainment got another boost when her father replaced the old black and white television that only picked up one channel with a new color model that picked up several.
“I didn’t know there were more channels,” she laughed. “I couldn’t believe all the stuff to watch. I loved that make-believe world and where it took me.”
Chase City’s longtime movie house, the Mecca, and a new color television weren’t enough to push her into movies, and Beverly pursued a less glamorous field. She attended Mary Washington College where she received a B.S. in chemistry and then attended the University of Georgia for a masters in analytical chemistry.
She had expected to land a position at an oil company, but instead her knowledge of chemistry landed her a position working for Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., where she worked in the Motion Picture Division.
A year later, she was transferred to San Francisco, Calif., to work as field engineering representative. She established herself, working with smaller and then major film labs. During that time she met and got to know some of the most highly regarded cinematographers and filmmakers in the world.
In 1989, she became the director on engineering for Metrocolor, MGM’s famed film laboratory. Six months later it was announced that the lab was being closed, but Beverly was retained to oversee the closure of the Hollywood legend.
Beverly then started her own production company, becoming one of the few people in the film business to work in all sides of the movie making process of film manufacturer, lab and production and post-production.
In 1993, she joined Deluxe Laboratories where her work on the film Se7en brought her a reputation for delivering “the look” the filmmaker wanted.
“Filmmakers always know what they want, when they see it,” said Wood. “It is great to help them find the look of a film.”
That breakthrough film led to her involvement with projects such as Alien Resurrection, Sleepy Hollow, George Wallace, Ronin and Reindeer Games.
She went on to do approximately a half dozen films with Quentin Tarantino, including Kill Bill 1 and 2, Ron Howard, Conrad Hall, Roger Deakins, famed cinematographer possibly most famous for his work on The Shawshank Redemption, the Coen brothers and more.
She also offers high praise to often controversial actor, producer and director Mel Gibson.
“I don’t care what people say about him. He’s an amazing filmmaker,” said Beverly.
In 2001, Beverly became an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). In 2013, Beverly was given the Bud Stone Award of Distinction by the ASC.
She became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a member of the Science & Technology Council.
Beverly and her husband, film composer Brian Holt, decided not too long ago that it was time to start taking things a little easier and spending less time in Los Angeles.
“We had talked about coming back to Chase City,” said Beverly. “My husband loved the farm, and we started talking about it. When my father passed away, I was still on the kick to retire and decided to do it. I felt like in my job I had been a servant to the motion picture industry — I wanted to spend the next 20 years being of service to others.”
A project at the heart of that desire was the old Mecca Theater in Chase City.
“I thought about the Mecca a lot,” said Beverly. “It’s been a dream for at least 10 years. I said, ‘Wait till I get there.’ Think of all the wonderful times people had in that place. Yeah, people watch movies at home, and it’s not the same thing.”
Her goals for the old movie house are not unlike what others have done with old movie palaces.
“I’d like to see it turned into a nonprofit, second-run theater. We could show movies, hold music events. And,” she added, “I’d like to turn the balcony into a museum with teaching wings.”
Brining up once more how she had never realized should could build a career in films, she said she wants to make sure Chase City’s young people today know that option exists and is not beyond their reach.”
Beverly said she does not believe the Mecca has to be lavishly restored, but it needs to be preserved.
“We went to keep it intact. The original projectors are still there,” she said in amazement. “It should be a nice, clean place where you can go watch movies and see performances.”
Beverly, who has toured the long-abandoned building, said that while the building has been vacant for years and the seats have been removed, the building itself is basically sound and most of the repairs would mostly be cosmetic.
“I’d like for there to be a digital screen on the first floor, restore the old sign outside, have a lavish lobby with old movie posters,” she said.
She added that by establishing the theater as a nonprofit, funding and grants would be more readily available.
Speaking on Saturday, Beverly said that she has discussed purchasing the old property but there is no timeline for the project.
“I hope that before the year is over something will happen,” she said.
She added that talking with some of her Hollywood friends, she has been assured of support from some of the “names” she worked with and said that it would be likely to see some of them visit to conduct question-and-answer sessions about their films and their work.
“I think this could be a good thing for the community,” she said. “Any way I can help make it happen, I want to make it happen.”