Film buff gives Columbia City theater an encore

When the Columbia City Cinema closed in 2011, many worried the neighborhood theater was gone for good. But just as the building was about to be leased for storage space, a good guy burst onto the scene to save the day.

In only three months, David McRae has brought the building up to code and replaced old movie reels with new digital projectors. All three screens of the new Ark Lodge Cinemas are now open and screening new releases including “Les Miserables” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

The “film bug” runs in the family, says McRae, 52. He grew up helping his father run the Cine-Mond theater in Redmond in the ‘70s, before multiplexes became popular, and he spent the past two years doing film-to-digital conversions in theaters throughout the country.

McRae wants Ark Lodge to be a magnet for the diverse community of Columbia City. In addition to box-office hits, he plans to show independent films and even silent movies. And though he took a risk to get the theater up and running again, he says he’s in it “for the long run.”

The historic Ark Lodge, built by the Masons in 1921, still retains most of its character.

McRae has seen the transformation of the movie theater industry first hand. Films that used to be delivered in heavy boxes full of movie reels now come inside a hard-drive that he plugs into the projector. “You push play just like a DVR,” he said. In the sketch, McRae checks the show times programmed for “Promised Land.”