December 8, 2012

So It's Finally the End for the Dome?

This is an annoying, disturbing recent development. The Dome movie theater, a landmark in Pleasant Hill and in the history of East Bay cinemas, is going to be torn down to make way for a sporting goods store.

A CBS producer was at the CineArts theater Saturday afternoon, where I went to see the beautiful Helen Hunt-John Hawkes film The Sessions. "Oh shit," I said. "It's terrible news."  However, I didn't say "shit" for the soundbite he asked me to give him for a possible broadcast on tonight's nightly news.

It's not as though the Dome hasn't been living under threat of destruction for years. SyWest Development wants to modernize the southern half of the Crossroads Shopping Center by tearing down the geodesic domed-roof theater and putting in a 73,176-square-foot Dick's Sporting Goods, the Contra Costa Times reports. 

Do we really need another sporting goods store? And, will central Contra Costa residents lose their local art-house cinema, which always looks to me like it's doing good business, packing in audiences.  Over the past 10 years, plans by SkyWest -- previously known as Syufy -- to replace the Dome with a sleek new art-house cinema never went anywhere, especially after the recession hit.

Well, Pleasant Hill Councilman David Durant told the Times that the loss of the movie theater and the chance to revitalize that part of the shopping center will be good for the community.  Really, David?  I understanding wanting to fix up that part of the shopping center. It has a certain smell of decay and sadness about it -- though not in the theater itself.

"It's always sad to lose something iconic like the dome, but the real challenge for a lot of people to understand is that there's no way to effectively to keep that theater operating," Durant said. "I think it's unfortunate, but to be candid about it, I think it's a sacrifice we need to make for the overall benefit of the community."

Back in 2009, I wrote that it would 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.

The Dome 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.  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.

But either it's not economically feasible to preserve this community landmark or we have yet another developer in Contra Costa County -- and city leadership -- who lack imagination. Hence, we get another sporting goods franchise. 

12 comments:

Unknown said...

I do NOT think it will be good for the community at all. We have plenty of sporting goods stores and little exposure to independent, non-blockbuster films. I can remember seeing The Other Side of the Mountain in the 1970's and I am there often with my friends. Another blog referred to people like me as older. Yup, I am but I am also part of the baby boomer group that attends movies and that is a large demographic.

Miss Lisa said...

I saw "Raiders of the Lost Ark" there when I was a kid. And I love having arthouse films showing ten minutes from my home. Much better than going to Berkeley or San Francisco to see the same.

It does need revamping but the dome is a true landmark in a town lacking in them. What a sad day. I predict the sporting-goods store will fail and it will be a big, ugly, modern building full of nothing.

Thud said...

My first trip to the cinema in America means I have fond memories of this place, shame.

therese said...

Love the dome...great visibility and sound. With all the online shopping and competition,is another sporting goods store really viable? Hope the developer does more research and changes his mind.

Anonymous said...

Mom, good to see you back but i'm having trouble seeing your site on a variety of different computers. The reecnt article and the headline from the previous article is the only thing visible. I can see everything on my phone but not on a P.C.

Elizabeth said...

Yuck! Another stupid sporting goods shop!!! How angering. I was sad when Park Theater closed in Lafayette, now this :( BOO. Other places, like Berkeley and Oakland seem to keep their cool old theaters.

My youngest daughter saw her first movie there. Beauty and the Beast.

Anonymous said...

The Dome was never a cinerama theater. It was built for exhibition of a 70mm wide screen process known as 'Dimension-150'. This was a one camera process; cinerama out of one hole-and was a variation on another 70mm process Todd-AO. Both used a deeply curved screen but were not cinerama which projected onto a curved screen with three projectors and attempted to blend the edges.

The Sound of Music was shown in 70mm presentation in roadshow engagements which usually had reserved seats and often played at theaters for month.

There were very few D-150 theaters built with The Dome one of the very few in the world left. Instead of being torn down it should be the centerpiece theater for East Bay art house exhibition/festivals. The Arc light cinemas in Los Angeles has been so redeveloped.

With all the movie tycoons in the Bay area one of them should be leading the way on this.

Anonymous said...

(Sorry to prattle on......)

This theater is historically important from a design viewpoint. It was designed by an important mid-century architect Vincent G. Raney.

There is no way it should be destroyed to sell shoes.

Any PH council person who thinks the city will benefit by this has no Vision.

Well; I don't live in PH; but the demolition of perhaps the Only architecturally significant building in town defies any reason whatsoever.

Martha Ross said...

Thanks everyone for your comments, and Anonymous December 12 4:54 p.m. thanks very much for your expertise on the history of the design of the theater and the film technology it was built for. Fascinating. I'll check out the Arc Light cinemas. BTW, I must have seen The Sound of Music roadshow engagements.

Miss Lisa said...

Hi Anonymous--thank you for the background information on the theater. It was a half-round screen and initially used three projectors for its big-movie showings in the past. I'm having trouble finding more information on the architect and history of these theaters. Any articles you recommend? The Internet offers spotty information. I would like to write to the City and try to get them to save the theater. It would be sad to get another big-box store building in its place. That shopping center is such a cluster-f with no personality. Thanks.

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Anonymous said...

Some people in this country don't realize what we are losing. They won't wake up until the only store is a giant Walmart like every other town. Movies have become more about cgi and explosions than content and storytelling. We may never have another Spartacus, Gone With The Wind, Godfather, Casablanca, Sound of Music, etc...