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Cinerama Dome: history

6360 Sunset Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90028 | map |

The News: It's still closed and boarded up. There's no word about a reopening date by Decurion Corporation / Pacific Theatres. But it did get a tiny step closer. They now have the liquor license that they applied for in December 2021. They're planning a second bar location in the complex and anticipate going more upscale with the restaurant. Gene Maddaus had the news in "Cinerama Dome Returning With New Name. Plans For Two Bars and Restaurant." That new name thing, not significant at the moment, was what they called the operation on their license application: Cinerama Hollywood. See the new website: www.cinerama.com

More Cinerama pages: exterior views | interior views | projection | ArcLight Hollywood | the other Cinerama house: Warner Hollywood
 

Opened: The Dome opened November 7, 1963 with a 70mm run of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World." There was a press preview on November 2. The film ran 67 weeks. At 50+ the theatre is still an arresting sight at Sunset and Vine. Note the newer 14 screen ArcLight complex showing at the rear. Thanks to Don Solosan for this 2009 dusk view taken for the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation.
 
Websites: www.pacifictheatres.com - now with just their farewell statement. The site arclightcinemas.com has been taken down. The new site: www.cinerama.com

Phone: 323-464-1478    Email: inquiries@pacifictheatres.com

Seating: 937 originally, 856 at present. 

Owners: The Dome was a project of Pacific Theatres, Inc, a company that was started by William Forman in 1946 and, in its early years, was largely a drive-in operator. Saul Pick was the developer working with Pacific on the Dome project. By December 1963 Pacific had also become the owner of Cinerama, Inc., a firm that once had been controlled by Stanley-Warner Theatres. 

In 1968 Pacific acquired the southern California and Texas assets of that chain, including the other Cinerama venue in Hollywood, the Warner. In 1970 Pacific picked up the remaining 133 theatres of the combined RKO and Stanley Warner chains. After the founder's death, Pacific was operated by his son Michael. Later, the Pacific Theatres and ArcLight brands, as well as the real estate arm Robertson Properties, were rolled into a holding company called Decurion Corporation, headed by Christopher Forman, William Forman's grandson. 

Architect: Welton Becket and Associates. Pierre Cabrol was the firm's lead architect on the project. The Cinerama Dome was the first concrete geodesic dome constructed and was built in just 16 weeks. It's composed of 316 pre-cast concrete panels, most of which are hexagonal, each weighing approximately 3,200 lbs.

 
A 1960 photo of Becket with images and drawings of another of his many projects, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. His firm was also responsible for the Capitol Records Building, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre. The photo is in the Herald Examiner collection of the Los Angeles Public Library.
 

A look at an early version of the Dome. At the time they were envisioning an inner suspended ceiling and were still planning on installing equipment for 3-strip projection. Note the projector near that "3" in the "Charlie" end of the wraparound booth. Thanks to Kevin Charbeneau for sharing the image from his collection. It was included in a post of 61 Cinerama Dome items on the Facebook page Lost Angeles.  Kevin worked at the theatre in the 1980s.
 

A drawing of the Dome and one version of the hotel that was supposed to be part of the project. Here it's envisioned as being south of the theatre. Image: Kevin Charbeneau collection

 
A model of the Dome and another version of the hotel, this time to the west of the theatre. Thanks to Alison Martino for sharing the photo on the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page. The model was stashed away in Becket's office for decades and went on display at the theatre for the 50th anniversary celebration.
 

Even before the Hollywood project, Cinerama, Inc. had been promoting the idea of a dome theatre as a radical new look for their venues. The earliest Cinerama installations had been conversions of existing theatres and the other purpose-built Cinerama projects of the early 60s (including those in Seattle, St. Louis and New Orleans) had all been fairly conventional, boxy-looking structures. Thanks to the Adsausage Archives for sharing this early 1963 trade magazine ad on a Facebook post.


 
An article from the Boxoffice magazine issue of September 9, 1963. The sign says "'It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' opens in 12 weeks." Total construction schedule was 16 weeks. Thanks to Roland Lataille for the find. It's on the Cinerama Dome page of his of his fine site InCinerama.com. Head to our exterior views page here on this site for more construction photos.  

The Dome was designed with a wraparound projection booth to accommodate the three projectors of the original 35mm 3-strip Cinerama process. But by the time the house opened that had been abandoned in favor of 70mm, although still using the deeply curved (and louvered) Cinerama screen. 
 
The first film at the Dome was also the first 70mm film branded as being in Cinerama. "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World" was photographed in Ultra Panavision, a 70mm process which took the 2.21 aspect ratio of TODD-AO and added a squeeze during filming and a 1.25 expansion anamorphic lens during projection to end up with a 2.76 to 1 aspect ratio image. See the projection page for more information.
 
 

An ad for the theatre's initial film. Thanks to Michael Coate for sharing it on In70mm.com, the website devoted to all things 70mm. It's from "It's a Long Long Long Long List," his 2010 article about roadshow engagements for the film.
 
 

Opening night. Photo: Kevin Charbeneau collection
 
 

Ribbon cutting with Mickey Rooney, Stanley Kramer, Ethel Merman, Sid Caesar, Barrie Chase, Phil Silvers and others. Photo: Kevin Charbeneau collection
 
 

Another shot of Phil, Ethel and Sid. Photo: Kevin Charbeneau collection
 
 

Zsa Zsa arrives. Photo: Kevin Charbeneau collection
 
 

The booth's copy of the initial week's schedule. Thanks to Kevin Charbeneau for sharing the image.



Photos of the opening that appeared in the November 18, 1963 issue of Boxoffice. Thanks to Roland Lataille for reproducing the item on his Cinerama Dome page.

Other early runs at the Dome:

"The Greatest Story Ever Told" (February 18, 1965) 43 weeks
"Battle of the Bulge" (December 17, 1965) 27 weeks
"Khartoum" (June 26, 1966) 24 weeks 
"Camelot" (November 2, 1967) 51 weeks -- 70mm, but not advertised as a Cinerama production
"Grand-Prix" (December 23, 1966) 44 weeks
"Ice Station Zebra" (October 24, 1968) 29 weeks
"Krakatoa East of Java" (May 15, 1969) 23 weeks
 
Except for "Camelot," these were all advertised as being "in Cinerama." Thanks to Michael Coate for the dates. See his article "Cinerama Dome - Playdates Chronology - 1963 - Present" on the site In70mm.com.



If you didn't want to buy a souvenir program for the show you saw at the Dome, you could always take home a book of matches. Thanks to Mark Ortiz for posting this matchbook shot on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
 
 

Another more solid souvenir was this cast model of the building. Thanks to Kevin Charbeneau for sharing the photo from his collection. It was included in his 61 item post about the Dome on the Facebook page Lost Angeles. It's unknown how many of these models were made or what the material was. Kevin comments: 
 
"I have only seen photos and would think that they were perhaps of pewter and made by William Forman and given as gifts to various people within the Cinerama and Pacific organizations. I have looked for over 30 years for one, and never seen one in auction or collection for sale."
 

 
An ad for the 1973 reissue of "This Is Cinerama." But for this run it was a 70mm composite print made from the 3 original 35mm negatives. Not until 2002 would the equipment necessary for 3-strip presentations be installed. The ad is from Roland Lataille's In Cinerama collection.
 

An October 1981 ad for "Zoot Suit," playing the Dome in 70mm and Sensurround Plus. The 70 prints used dbx encoding and provided enhanced low-frequency response via the Sensurround processor. For this film one of the tracks also had cuing for special lighting effects in the auditorium. The ad appears with the article "About Zoot Suit" on the site in70mm.com. Also on that site see Michael Coate's article "Zoot Suit: The 70mm Engagements." 
 

A September 14, 1990 ad for a 70mm reissue of "Ben-Hur." Thanks to Michael Coate for sharing the ad. The original 1959 roadshow run for the film had been at the Egyptian.   

The Dome was declared a City of Los Angeles Cultural-Historic Monument in 1998 after Pacific Theatres threatened demolition as part of their planning for a new theatre new complex. Doug Haines commented in a letter that appeared in the L.A. Times on April 20, 2021: 

"In the late 1990s, I nominated the Cinerama Dome as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in response to owner Pacific Theatres' proposal to gut the Hollywood landmark. The charade that followed had little to do with historic preservation and much to do with politics. Pacific Theatres was allowed to pick and choose what it wanted to destroy and what should be landmarked. So, the geodesic dome is a landmark, while the supporting ring is not (because Pacific wanted to put an escalator through it). The lobby isn't landmarked, because Pacific wanted to convert it into a Koo Koo Roo restaurant (remember them?). 

"What saved the dome was the threat of litigation by preservation group Hollywood Heritage, and Pacific Theatres' desire for a free $45 million parking garage courtesy of the Community Redevelopment Agency. As a result, the theatre was saved through a settlement agreement and covenant. I wish I could say that the fight for historic preservation in Los Angeles has improved since then, but it sadly has gotten only far worse." 

After a two year closure and a refurbishment, the Dome reopened in 2002 along with the new ArcLight Cinemas complex that wraps around it. Attending the Dome still felt like an event.

Also noteworthy was that in 2002, due to the efforts of John Sittig, the booth was finally equipped with 3 Century Cinerama projectors and a separate 7 track sound dubber so the theatre could run screenings of some of the original 3-strip Cinerama productions including "This Is Cinerama" and "How the West Was Won." See the projection page for some photos of the equipment. 
 
 

A 2002 ad for "This is Cinerama" in the "Original Three Projector Presentation." Thanks to the site From Script To DVD for the ad. It's on their Cinerama Dome/ArcLight page.

While digital projection has been used for regular runs at the Dome for years, the theatre still retains 35 and 70mm capability for special showings. 

The 2020 shutdown: The theatre closed in March 2020 due to Covid restrictions. 
 

The theatre's entrance on June 1, 2020. On the right note the signage still up for "The Hunt," the last film running before the March virus shutdown. Thanks to Brad Stubbs for sharing his photo. 

On April 12, 2021 the Decurion Corporation announced that they were not going to reopen any of its theatres using the Pacific Theatres and ArcLight brands. Their Vineland Drive-In was operating at the time but none of the indoor locations had tried reopening even as pandemic restrictions were easing. 300 screens were involved. 

While Pacific/Decurion owns the land under the Dome, they evidently lease the property under the adjoining ArcLight complex. Pamela McClintock had the sad news in "Arclight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres to Close," an April 12, 2021 story for The Hollywood Reporter. Also see stories from Deadline, the L.A. Times and Variety. A Decurion statement noted: 

"This was not the outcome anyone wanted, but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward... To our guests and members of the film industry who have made going to the movies such a magical experience over the years: our deepest thanks. It has been an honor and a pleasure to serve you."

Tom Nunan had a nice April 13 story for Forbes: "Iconic Movie Chain Closes In Los Angeles; 5 Predictions For Future Of Cinemas Nationwide." Variety asked "...Who Will Rescue the Cinerama Dome?" in an April 13 followup story. They mention the "outpouring of grief" on social media and note one fan left a floral bouquet at the theatre as a tribute. The article discussed the Pacific Theatres owners, the Forman family, and outlines several possibilities. 

Jessica Gelt had an April 14 story for the Times titled "Could a developer demolish the Cinerama Dome? Yes, but here's what would have to happen first..." The print edition ran the story with a happier headline: "Reasons to expect a happy ending." Mark Olsen and Jen Yamato compiled the Another April 14 story for the Times titled "'I can't imagine Hollywood without the ArcLight.' Filmmakers explain why the loss matters." 

Variety continued the tributes with Pat Saperstein's April 14 story "The Cinerama Dome: A Landmark of Hollywood History in Photos." Ryan Faughnder's April 16 story for the times asked "After ArcLight Cinemas' closure, what happens next?" Patt Morrison offered a nice album of vintage theatre postcards and muses about the fate of various L.A. theatres over the last 100+ years in "Financial ruin. Possible destruction. What will be the Cinerama's Hollywood ending?," an April 20, 2021 L.A. Times article. Thanks to Donavan S. Moye and Jonathan Raines for spotting the story. 

"ArcLight and Cinerama Dome: Potential Suitors Line Up" was a May 5 story by Pamela McClintock in The Hollywood Reporter. In the text she called it the "Cinemara Dome." And it appears that Marcus Theatres was the only one to say publicly "bring it on, we're ready to talk." Thanks to Stephen Russo for spotting the story.

The Pacific Theatres Exhibition Corporation, part of the Forman empire, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on June 18 so that they could have protection while they liquidated their assets and paid creditors. This company, PTEC, does NOT have a stake in the Cinerama Dome or that ArcLight location -- that's separate and not affected. The plan was to sell off whatever is theirs: seats, projectors, popcorn machines, etc. at both company owned and leased locations. 

Included was whatever equipment the landlords didn't claim at the leased ArcLight locations in Culver City, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, El Segundo, Pasadena, La Jolla, Chicago, Boston and the D.C. area. Also affected were the Pacific locations (some owned, some leased) in Lakewood, Northridge, Chatsworth (the Winnetka), Sherman Oaks (the 5 plex), City of Industry (Vineland D-I), the Grove, and Glendale (Americana at Brand). Deadline had the story: "Pacific Theatres Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy." 

In Variety's June 18 story, also titled "Pacific Theatres Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy," they noted that creditors, including landlords and film studios, might get little or nothing: 

"According to the bankruptcy filings, the six entities that filed for bankruptcy on Friday had $69 million in liabilities, and just $4.8 million in total assets. The only secured debt is a $6.4 million obligation to Bank of America, which means that all the unsecured creditors — including landlords, taxing authorities, former employees, vendors, various litigants, and gift card holders — will likely wind up with little or nothing. The unsecured creditors also include all the major film studios, along with many smaller distributors, who were still owed box office revenue when Pacific’s theaters closed last year. Disney is owed $1.26 million, followed by Warner Bros. ($779,000), Universal ($619,000), Paramount ($501,000), Sony ($389,000) and indie distributor Neon ($231,000). In sum, 25 distributors are owed $4.26 million."

Variety also discussed a transaction between two components of the Decurion Corporation: 

"The Decurion Corporation — the parent company of Pacific Theatres — arranged a deal last November in which it kept the right to use the ArcLight and Pacific brand names at the ArcLight Hollywood and the Cinerama Dome — a strong indication that Decurion intends to reopen the location... According to the filing, Decurion paid Pacific Theatres $10.5 million to terminate its lease on the property. Pacific turned around and gave most of the money to Bank of America to pay down debt. 

"As part of the transaction, Pacific and ArcLight Cinemas gave Decurion 'certain intellectual property licenses,' and agreed not to operate under the Pacific and ArcLight brand names in the Hollywood area. In other words, if some other operator were to take control of Pacific and ArcLight with an eye toward reviving the brands, that company would be barred from opening a theater under those names in Hollywood — because doing so would compete with Decurion. Variety reported on Tuesday that industry sources said they expected Chris Forman to restore and reopen the Hollywood location."
 
 

The boarded-up theatre in July 2021. Photo: Bill Counter
 
Deadline discussed an application for a liquor license transfer to a Decurion-owned entity called "DT Operator LLC" in their December 17, 2021 story "Cinerama Dome Isn't Planning to Re-open Imminently; Here's What's Really Going On." Anthony D'Alessandro and Patrick Hipes noted that the complex had grossed over $15 million in 2019 and there were discussions about a refurbishment but no word of any imminent plans.
 
Status: There's no news about a reopening.
 
Other Pacific locations: In June 2021 Variety reported "AMC Close to Taking Over Pacific's Grove and Americana Theaters in L.A." The locations appeared on the AMC website, vanished, and later reappeared when the deal was done. A December 2021 Deadline story announced that AMC was taking over the Northridge Fashion Center 10. 
 
A December 2021 L.A. Daily News story reported that the Pacific Winnetka 21 would be demolished. Pacific's Vineland Drive-In continues to operate. There's no word on the closed Sherman Oaks 5 or the Pacific Lakewood complex. The latter is a leased situation. The company still owns the Warner Hollywood but that one's been boarded up for years.
 
Other ArcLight locations: The Culver City, Beach Cities and Pasadena locations remain closed. Regal took over the ArcLight Sherman Oaks. "Former ArcLight at Sherman Oaks Galleria taken over by Regal Cinemas" was the June 18, 2021 story in the Times. A November 2011 Deadline story announced that Landmark Theatres was taking over the ArcLight Glen Town Center in Glenview, Illinois. 
 
The ArcLight NewCity in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood went to AMC, a December 2021 Deadline story reported. In February 2022 a Boxoffice story noted that AMC was taking over the former ArcLight locations in La Jolla and at the Westfield Montgomery in Bethesda, MD. Still undetermined is the ArcLight location in Boston. "Tiger Group Auction..." was a March 2022 Boxoffice story about the first of two big sales of equipment from various ArcLight and Pacific locations.

 
The Cinerama Dome in the Movies:


 
We get an aerial view of the Dome in "Earthquake" (Universal, 1974). The screenshot comes from Clifford Scott Carson on Vintage Los Angeles. The film ran at the Chinese, where Ted Mann put a net under the ceiling, allegedly to catch debris falling during the earthquake scenes.
 
 

A fine view of the Dome from "Hollywood High" (Peter Perry Pictures, 1976). Patrick Wright directed the film starring Suzanne Severeid, Sherry Hardin and Rae Sperling. The cinematography was by Jonathan Silveira. Thanks to Eric Schaefer for spotting the theatre in the film and getting the screenshot. He says: "Long live the Dome!"

We're in the parking lot behind the Dome in Wim Wenders film "The State of Things" (Gray City, 1983). The director of a film that ran out of money while shooting in Portugal comes to L.A. in search of his missing producer. Patrick Bauchau, Allen Garfield, Samuel Fuller, Roger Corman and Isabelle Weingarten are among those featured. Henri Alekan was the cinematographer with Fred Murphy doing the L.A. portion. Thanks to Eric Schaefer for the screenshot. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for views of the Nuart and Warner Hollywood from the film.


We look down on the Cinerama Dome in a flyover of Hollywood in Julien Temple's "Earth Girls Are Easy" (Vestron Pictures, 1989). We don't stop as we're headed over the hills to the Valley. In "Earth Girls" we later get a shot of the Studio City Theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for that one.



David Frost (Michael Sheen) and his girlfriend Caroline (Rebecca Hall) go to the Dome in "Frost/Nixon" (Universal, 2009) for the premiere of "The Slipper and the Rose," a 1976 film on which he served as a producer. Thanks to Jonathan Raines for spotting this one. Several more shots from the scene at the Dome are on the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post.



We get to see the Dome in the David Strohmaier Cinerama film "In The Picture" (2012). Leonard Maltin did a blog post about the film and the rest of the "Cinerama at 60" festival. The photo here from his post is of the Dome, as it appeared in three-strip at the Dome itself.



The Dome appears prominently in David Chase's "Not Fade Away" (Paramount Vantage, 2012) as we look west on Sunset in the 60s for a lengthy shot that concludes the film.  See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for several more shots from the scene.



In "Keanu" (Warner/Fine Line, 2016) We get a look at the Dome after our two stars, Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, come out of a Liam Neeson movie. On the end panel: "Substitute Teacher." In this film about a lost cat we also see the Palace, Los Angeles and Vine theatres. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for more shots from the film.



Heather Graham plays an aspiring screenwriter in "Half Magic," her debut film as a director (Momentum Pictures, 2018). She and her friends Angela Kinsey and Stephanie Beatriz share their tales of woe about work, sex and other issues in Hollywood. Over the end credits we see that Graham has got a film into the Dome. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a couple more shots.



The Dome, dressed as if it were running "Krakatoa, East of Java," is seen in Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" (Sony, 2019). It stars Leo DiCaprio and his friend Brad Pitt as an actor and stuntman trying to find work in the business in 1969. The Manson murder case also figures into the plot as the guys live next door to Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies pages for ten shots of the shooting at the Dome as well as lots of action at the Earl Carroll, the Vogue, Pussycat/Ritz, Fox Westwood, Bruin, Pantages and Vine theatres. 

The Dome on Video: 


A five minute documentary about the building of the Dome is on the ArcLight Cinemas channel on YouTube. It features terrific views of the planning, construction and opening along with a discussion about the Cinerama process. 

Don't miss the 15 minute 2019 epic "Cinerama Dome Projection Booth Visit Screening 'How the West Was Won.'" It's on You Tube. Also on the site are several shorts by Michael Cahill about film historian Dave Strohmaier shooting new 3-strip Cinerama footage: "Cinerama 2012" Part 1 | Part 2

More information: See the page on Cinema Treasures for many discussions about the Dome by enthusiastic fans. Michael Coate has lists of films playing the theatre from the 70s until 2000 in several 2008 comments on the Cinema Treasures page. The Cinema Tour page on the Cinerama Dome has lots of photos (including booth views) and a brief history.  
 
From Script To DVD has a nicely done Cinerama Dome page. "Pacific's Cinerama Dome...Where Movie-going is an Event" is a fine 2018 article by John Sittig on the site In70mm.com. Also see the Cinerama Photo Gallery on the site, featuring photos from John's collection. Also on the In70mm site is Michael Coate's "Cinerama Dome - Playdates Chronology - 1963 - Present."
 
The L.A. Times had an October 2013 story about the theatre turning 50. Wikipedia has an article about the Dome. The name "Cinerama" and the distinctive zig-zag logo are trademarks of Cinerama Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Pacific Theatres.   
 
Head to the bottom of the projection page for links to sources for details about 70mm projection and 3-strip Cinerama.

The Cinerama pages:  back to top - Cinerama Dome history | exterior views | interior views | projection | ArcLight Hollywood | the other Cinerama house: Warner Hollywood

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2 comments:

  1. A mortal sin if The Cinerama Dome is not saved!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you for sharing all this wonderful information!!

    ReplyDelete