I've been thinking about the past a lot lately. Mainly because my 20-year high school reunion is coming up, but also because I had recently put most of my old CalArts films online, which took me back to 1992. That was the year I graduated college, moved into the city of Los Angeles, and started spending most Saturday afternoons watching matinees (while I was single). You never really think about movie theaters closing, and sixteen years doesn't seem like that long a time, but a few nights back I realized how many of my favorite cinemas have shuttered. It's a symbol of LA's constant need to tear things down, and of how moviegoing itself has changed over the last few years.
- The Century Plaza Cinemas. This was an odd theater: four screens (it began with two) located in a très 1970s space, at the bottom of a building in a weird complex of offices and performance areas. (There was also a large live theater nearby.) I saw Dances With Wolves here, as well as Topsy-Turvy. It met the wrecking ball in 2004.
- The Mann National. Demolished in 2008, this amorphous brown blob in Westwood was one of the last giant single-screen cinemas built in the US, constructed in 1970. Back when Westwood Village was the place for young Angelenos to spend a Saturday night, the National was always filled, but a gang shooting in the late '80s drew the curtain on the neighborhood's heyday. Although some local theaters still pack 'em in, the National never recovered; the venue that once drew lines around the block for Raiders of the Lost Ark soon started screening lesser films. The only time I ever went was for a matinee of Team America: World Police. My friend and I were literally the only ones in the 1,112-seat theater.
- The NuWilshire. This Santa Monica landmark is a good example of that awful '70s/'80s trend: unceremoniously bisecting a golden age movie palace into a cramped twin-screen theater in order to compete with the multiplexes. Still, the building's facade is charming, and will be the only thing remaining as developers gut the interior for offices, condos, or whatever. I knew the NuWilshire as a destination for art films, and went here several times, the last for Hot Fuzz.
- The Fine Arts. This beautiful 1937 theater is on the border of Beverly Hills and LA. During the '90s, it was owned by Checchi Gori and played art films. I could walk to it. I remember when they played Kieslowski's entire 10-film Decalogue. Since 2005 it's been used for private screenings only.
- The Beverly Connection 6. It's amazing that the horrible shoebox-style multiplex at the Beverly Center across the street is still open (as of 2008), while this genuinely great place to see a movie has been torn down. But then, the Beverly Connection mall always struggled against its much larger competitor, and when it was renovated a couple years back, the money-losing theaters – which I loved because they had big screens and THX sound (whatever happened to THX?) and were usually deserted – had to go. I saw so many films here, I can't even remember. The Matrix was one.
- The Hollywood Galaxy 6. Though just a block or two down from the famous Chinese Theater and its handprints, this late '80s mini-mall, though still standing, was never a success. Its retail spaces have changed hands multiple times, and its fairly decent screens on the second floor have been torn out and replaced with what is currently a gym. I saw Jurassic Park here.
- The Little Tokyo Cinema. Los Angeles once had a thriving Japanese population (most of whom have since spread out), and for decades a number of movie theaters across town only played Japanese films, like the Toho La Brea and the Kokusai. The very last one was this mall-based cinema, located in the heart of Little Tokyo. It closed in 1990, after just three years of business, with an epic Akira Kurosawa retrospective. I was still a student then, but I made it there a couple of times.
- The Edwards Century/The Kuo Hwa. In San Gabriel, an LA suburb that's now predominantly Chinese, this classic theater renamed itself the Kuo Hwa in the '90s and was the only place you could see Hong Kong movies on the big screen. But the golden age of HK cinema was over not long after the Kuo Hwa opened, and the theater was gone by 1997.
- The Westside Pavilion. This was a four-screen shoebox theater crammed into one corner of the middling Westside Pavilion mall. What made it unique for a multiplex was that it only showed art films. I always chuckled at the ridiculous seating arrangement: the front row was literally three feet from the screen. Like many older cinemas around LA (such as the AMC Century City and the Mann Chinese), it closed down in 2007 and was reborn – elsewhere in the mall – as a hipper incarnation dubbed "The Landmark", a 12-screen art house with large stadium-style and tiny screening room-style theaters. Modeling itself after Hollywood's revolutionary Arclight, which engulfed the Cinerama Dome and introduced the $14 movie ticket, The Landmark lets you choose your own seat and sells wine and gourmet goodies at the concession stand. It might, indeed, be the wave of the future.