Almost two years after its screens went dark, Columbia City's movie theater is reopening sooner than expected this weekend with a "Lord of the Rings" movie marathon.

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Almost two years after its screens went dark, Columbia City’s movie theater plans to reopen sooner than expected this weekend with a “Lord of the Rings” movie marathon.

New operator David McRae is opening the beleaguered three-screen neighborhood cinema as Ark Lodge Cinemas on Saturday. The weekend will feature the fantasy trilogy.

Then, starting Dec. 14, the theater will show a first-run movie, “The Hobbit,” on its two downstairs screens. A third, larger theater upstairs is undergoing renovations and won’t open until after the first of the year, he said.

McRae said the early opening will help him get some cash flowing.

“The main thing is, we wanted to have something special for the neighborhood in time for Christmas,” he said.

Columbia City Cinema closed in spring 2011 after years of running low on money. When its former owner, Paul Doyle, decided to shut its doors, he was facing a shutdown from the city because he didn’t have proper sprinklers and fire escapes.

McRae, who grew up in the movie business and built his own career transitioning 35mm movie houses to digital equipment, is making improvements to the cinema, an old Ark Lodge, and updating safety equipment to comply with city codes.

He praised the city — especially the mayor’s office — for helping him open ahead of schedule.

Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith, who lives in the neighborhood, said he helped McRae get in touch with the right departments, eventually pushing for a temporary use permit so the cinema could open before Christmas.

“Word is traveling fast,” Smith said of the cinema’s reopening. “A bunch of us will probably be there.”

The “Lord of the Rings” marathon starts at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and you can see the whole 12-hour trilogy for $25.

The cinema, at 4816 Rainier Ave. S., has a Facebook page with additional information and can be reached by phone at 206-721-3156.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or

On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.