Carrie Rengers

Warren 21 opens with design by ‘Picasso with brick and mortar’

There’s something Bill Warren would prefer you didn’t know about his new Warren 21 theater, which opens to the public on Friday.

He’s OK with saying that the $3 million remodeling project, which is at the east eight auditoriums of his east-side Warren Theatre in the Plazzio development at 13th and Greenwich, mushroomed to $3.7 million as he kept adding features.

He’s fine with offering a video tour of the updated space, which you can see at

He isn’t even hesitant to admit there are a few improvements he realized he could make, which he’ll continue to do over the next several weeks.

Warren doesn’t, though, want you to know that he spent $20,000 on gold dust that was poured into some custom glass entry doors as they were being formed.

“People will just think I’m totally insane,” Warren says. “More insane than they already think.”

Details such as that, though, are “kind of the joy of the thing,” he says.

“Each time I do something, I try to top it.”

Others suggested his entry doors could be made of brass plating or thin brass overlays.

“It wouldn’t have the same feel or look,” Warren says.

“I just wanted the real thing,” he says. “The whole idea is that they’re entering something special. That doesn’t make a bad movie good, but maybe it makes a bad movie a little bit better.”

Brothers Mark and Andrew Hutton, Warren’s friends and business partners of 25 years, are used to Warren changing his mind as he thinks of better ways to do things.

“I never question it because everything he has done … has far exceeded my expectations,” Mark Hutton says. “Bill Warren is a Picasso with brick and mortar.”

Certain Warren touches can’t be found in other theaters nationwide, Hutton says.

“I love the … gold leaf look. I mean, you don’t see that,” he says.

“You don’t see it because its so damn expensive,” Warren says.

“He sees around corners,” Hutton says. “He sees things that other people don’t see.”

New murals in the Warren 21 lobby feature retro Hollywood depictions.

“It’s bringing back the old days,” Warren says.

He says the upgrades are not about making money.

“If it was just the money, we’d be running screen ads,” Warren says.

He says he turns down at least $1 million in profits annually by not allowing any advertising except for previews.

Hutton says Warren’s focus is on one thing: “Is the customer happy?”

That’s why the 21-and-older theater has custom-made lounge chairs with motorized recliners, extra padding and heated seats along with food and a full bar at an expanded concessions area.

The 1,000 seats in the eight auditoriums have been reduced to about 500 seats to make room for the lounge chairs, each of which has individual armrests on both sides of the chair so every person has his own.

The expanded space between rows offers a feeling of seclusion, too.

“I just think we’ve brought it to a brand-new level,” Warren says. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Six newly remodeled auditoriums also are opening at his Moore theater on Friday.

Warren says he’ll take parts of what he’s done to his other theaters here as well.

“This is just the beginning.”

He’ll be shutting some of his west-side auditoriums for “major remodeling” late this summer. They won’t be converted to adult-only theaters, but they will get lounge chairs.

Warren isn’t concerned his other theaters will suffer due to the Warren 21. That’s because evening tickets will be $16. Daytime shows will be $12. While he believes there will be plenty who will find it worth it to pay for that experience, he knows that some people won’t opt for it.

Warren says he’s eager to see what people will say about Warren 21.

“I’m hoping that they’ll think, ‘Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe this.’”

Hutton says Warren truly cares what each customer thinks, and he reads and responds to every comment that comes to his theaters.

Hutton says he finds that remarkable “for someone who has reached the pinnacle of his success.”

Warren says for him, it’s about having the best theater, not the biggest.

He acknowledges that “it’s easy to say that.”

Warren points to Warren 21 as evidence, though, with its myriad small, costly details.

“I think it kind of proves it.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers