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VOL. 131 | NO. 171 | Friday, August 26, 2016

Cossitt Series Kicks Off With 1980s Games, Films

By Bill Dries

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The city’s first public library is not closed. It’s something Memphis Public Library director Keenon McCloy has to keep telling people. And she’s taking steps to do more than just show the Cossitt Library is open, including fielding and testing out ideas for the second floor of the library.

Memphis Public Library leaders are testing ways to activate the upper floor of the Cossitt Library, 33 S. Front St. The Pandemonium Cinema Showcase kicks off there Saturday.  

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“One of the things that we’ve done in the past year or two is clear out the second floor,” McCloy said. “It was not in active use. The lower level is the only space that is in active use.”

But that is changing.

The Cossitt kicks off the Pandemonium Cinema Showcase, a free monthly interactive film series, on Saturday, Aug. 27, by transforming the building’s upper floor into an ’80s gamer’s paradise for what is being billed as a “video game movie meltdown.”

Atari, PlayStation and Nintendo technology is being resurrected with help from Black Lodge Video and Memphis film producer Craig Brewer and with funding from the Downtown Memphis Commission and the Civic Commons project.

The setup also will include a pre-“Pokemon Go” Game Boy battle station for “Pokemon Red and Blue,” and vendors will have some of the retro games and technology for sale.

The gaming starts at 4 p.m. Saturday with a selection of gaming-themed movies shown throughout the event.

The five films to be shown are “Wreck-It Ralph,” “The Wizard,” “Tron,” “King of Kong” and “Super Mario Bros.”

Between them, episodes of TV series “The Legend of Zelda” and “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show” will be shown along with video game commercials from the era.

And there will be a costume contest with prizes for anyone in gaming cosplay.

The Pandemonium Cinema Showcase series continues with a roller derby-themed event in September, a “Monster Mash” in October and a Willy Wonka themed event in November to mark the 45th anniversary of the film “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.”

“They all have different themes, but they also have great opportunities for people to interact with cinema,” McCloy said. “It should be really fun and branching out not just for the Cossitt Library but the Memphis community.”

McCloy and her staff are still looking for a plan to better use the upper level of the Cossitt, located at Front Street and Monroe Avenue. That included a free performance of the gospel musical “Mahalia” by Hattiloo Theatre in April. A row of multicolored lights was added to the Cossitt’s upper-floor exterior earlier this year, meant to highlight the building after dark.

“We haven’t closed,” McCloy emphasized. “We’ve gotten new eyes looking at old issues. So many people are not aware of the space. We’ve gotten probably thousands of people upstairs to check it out. This is one more opportunity to get feedback from the public about what the Cossitt should be in the future.”

The Front Street courtyard, which sits mostly below street level, once featured a fountain that since has been filled in. In the courtyard is a sandstone tablet sculpture that served as the original building’s cornerstone, noting the founding of the city’s first public library in 1893 by Frederick Cossitt, a merchant from Connecticut who set up shop in 19th-century Memphis. Cossitt directed his heirs to donate money to help build libraries in Memphis and his hometown of Granby, Connecticut. The heirs donated $75,000 to build the Cossitt, which had the look of a red sandstone Romanesque castle complete with a tower and columns.

The front part was replaced in 1958 with the courtyard and midcentury modern “box,” as some critics have called it, across the second story.

The design of the new front stands in contrast to the building’s 1925 addition, which added architectural flourishes that are a reminder of the original library.

The older Cossitt elements overlook the city’s riverfront with a view from beneath several large trees. And McCloy has worked to open the area during the lunch hour, adding tables, chairs and Wi-Fi access along the rear of the library and the neighboring University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

“I think its future is extremely bright,” she said. “It will be great to have some people who haven’t been in there in a long time, if they’ve ever been in there, take a look and share their thoughts about what it could become. So many people care. People are coming out of the woodwork to support any effort that we have.”

The Cossitt efforts have also been part of a broader Civic Commons effort across that part of the riverfront that earlier this month included the kickoff of “Fourth Bluff Fridays,” a pop-up beer garden series with live music and food trucks in Memphis Park.

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