Believe it or not, the Cinearts “Dome” movie theater in Pleasant Hill is a historical landmark—of a sorts--certainly to movie geeks like me who found their way to geekdom by going to see movies at the Dome.
It is listed on the Cinema Treasures website and represents a certain era of grand technological experimentation in the art of filmmaking. The Dome auditorium opened in 1966 with a giant curved screen used to show films—generally big, sweeping epics—shot in a process known as Cinerama. This widescreen process worked by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen. It was the first of a number of technological innovations introduced in the 1950s and 1960s to help Hollywood offer something to audiences that TV, the movie industry’s big competition, could not.
I’m pretty sure I saw my first movie at the Dome. It was The Sound of Music. (And, yes, I wanted to be Liesl.) I believe going to see this movie was a reward for getting through a week of preschool without crying and clinging to my mother. My older siblings took me to see it. Over the years, I remember going to see Jaws, The Godfather II, Apocalypse Now, and The Shining at the Dome. It was the theater in central Contra Costa to see the big screen epics.
Over the years, of course, the Dome abandoned the Cinerama process and changed the screen to a standard flat screen. The theater also was subdivided into a multiplex. It is now the place east of the Caldecott Tunnel to see art house films. And, most times I go there, such as this past Sunday to see The Road, it is pretty crowded with others who want more than the usual Hollywood blockbuster fare.
Well, the Dome’s fate has been uncertain for quite some time and caught up in an ongoing battle between developers of the Contra Costa Shopping Center. The Contra Costa Times says the battle has been over parking spaces and where within the shopping center each company can build.
Those of us who have been around for a while know that Pleasant Hill has been trying to fix up that shopping center for years. The northern half, which is owned by ICI Development and ts anchored by Kohl's, has received an extensive makeover, and added other new retail tenants.
But the southern part, owned by SyWest Development and which includes the Dome movie theater and a health club, hasn't had much, if anything, done to it. SyWest has discussed the possibility of building a parking garage and adding retail space, but it is unclear whether the movie theater would remain open.
Alas, I can see a developer wanting to tear down the Dome and replace it with stores, or with a hideous new multiplex movie theater, with some neo, faux, Mediterranean/Art Deco design combination. But wouldn't it be great if the developer realized the retro '60s cool value of the Dome and sought to preserve that, while, of course, fixing and cleaning up the lobby and interiors--and adding whatever modern movie technological innovations are needed--and, of course, keep it as central Contra Costa's art house cinema.