Hollywood Journal – Preservation Prevails

The Cinerama Dome under construction in 1963.

The Cinerama Dome under construction in 1963.

I spent a good part of 1998 freaking out over Pacific Theaters’ plans for “renovating” the Cinerama Dome. The initial proposal involved gutting the auditorium, removing the curved screen and putting a fast food restaurant in the lobby. The film and preservation communities protested loudly. To their credit, the people at Pacific met with the opposition and made a number of important concessions.

If you’re not into film, and if you don’t care about Hollywood history, you might be mystified by the uproar. So let me offer a little background….

Cinerama was a process that revolutionized the production and exhibition of films back in the early fifties. Three strips of film were projected in perfect synchronization to create the illusion of a continuous widescreen image, accompanied by stereophonic sound playback. The image was shown on a huge curved screen to produce an early version of what we now call immersive entertainment.

In the early sixties, Cinerama, Inc. unveiled an ambitious plan to create hundreds of Cinerama theatres based on a radical new model. They would construct geodesic domes using prefabricated panels, which would supposedly allow them to build a theatre in half the time and for half the cost of using conventional methods. They purchased a site on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood and hired the firm of Welton Becket and Associates to design what would become the Cinerama Dome.

The premiere of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Dome in 1963.

The premiere of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Dome in 1963.

Becket’s company was one of the major architectural firms in the city at that time, and played a large part in setting the look and tone of mid-century Los Angeles. To my mind the Dome is something of a companion piece to one of their earlier signature creations, the Capitol Records Building, which is just a few blocks away on Vine. Together these two icons helped to define space age architecture.

Of the theatres that were constructed to show films in the Cinerama process, only a handful are left today. The Dome is a unique creation designed by one of the most important architectural firms in the city’s history. That’s why so many of us got so crazy when we saw the initial plans to renovate it. I will always be grateful to Pacific for listening to the community and preserving the Dome.

The two pictures above are from the Los Angeles Public Library photo archive. The first shows the dome under construction. It was taken by Howard D. Kelly in 1963. The second shows the premiere of the film that the Dome opened with, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It was also taken in 1963, but no photographer is credited. Below are some photos I took of the Dome and the area surrounding it back in 1998. Sorry that the quality isn’t better. They were taken with a disposable camera, and have faded over the years. A couple of photos were taken from Morningside Court, which used to go through to De Longpre, but was closed off with the construction of the Arclight parking structure.

February, Nineteen Ninety Nine

For weeks I’ve been meaning to write abut the latest on the Cinerama Dome. Here it is.

Apparently the people from Pacific Theaters sat down and talked with the preservation people, and the end result was Pacific gave up a lot of the changes they were going to make. As I recall, these are some of the things pacific agreed to.

The entrance will remain at the front of the theatre.

The layout of the seating will stay basically the same, though they will be putting new seats in.

They won’t alter the ceiling of the auditorium.

And —

They’ll keep the curved screen.

I’m actually really grateful to Pacific for giving in on all this stuff. I doubt they understand why the Dome is such a great piece of architecture, so from their point of view the preservationists are going crazy over nothing.

Of course, we still don’t know what the Dome is gonna look like when they’re through. But at this point I’m cautiously optimistic.

The front of the Cinerama Dome in 1998.

The front of the Cinerama Dome in 1998.

Screen walls and landscaping on the periphery of the Dome.

Screen walls and landscaping on the periphery of the Dome.

A shot from the parking lot, looking north to Sunset.

A shot from the parking lot, looking north to Sunset.

A shot of Morningside Court, looking toward Sunset.

A shot of Morningside Court, looking toward Sunset.

Another shot of Morningside Court, this time looking in the opposite direction towards De Longpre.

Another shot of Morningside Court, this time looking in the opposite direction towards De Longpre.

This was taken from the parking lot behind the Dome, facing west.  The site just across the street is where Amoeba now stands.

This was taken from the parking lot behind the Dome, facing west. The site just across the street is where Amoeba now stands.

This shot was taken facing the opposite direction, now looking across the parking lot towards Morningside Court.

This shot was taken facing the opposite direction, now looking across the parking lot towards Morningside Court.

Hollywood Journal – Leave the Dome Alone

Another entry from my Hollywood journal, this one very brief.

The wrangling over Pacific Theaters’ plans for the Cinerama Dome continues. There was a good deal of anger in the Hollywood community over the proposed project. The Community Redevelopment Agency had received letters of protest from over a hundred concerned citizens, including Steven Spielberg and Richard Schickel. And the people at Pacific had started paying attention.

I also mention a couple of record stores I used to frequent. Eastside was in a strip-mall on Hillhurst. It’s long gone now. Record Recycler was on Sunset near Vermont. It’s actually still around, though it hasn’t been at that location for years. The owner moved the store down to Torrance. Those of you who are into used vinyl can get more info by clicking here.

For a while I was in the habit of hitting the Roosevelt Hotel for a drink at the end of the day. I loved zoning out in the lobby and listening to the guy at the piano. Totally relaxing. I should point out that the photo below was not taken at the time I wrote this journal entry. I snapped it on a recent visit. I wanted to show a little bit of the Roosevelt lobby, but it’s important to say that it’s been remodeled since this entry was written.

And finally, in transcribing this journal I’ve decided to leave the errors in, which is why “Roosevelt” is misspelled in the last paragraph.

June, Nineteen Ninety Eight

Yesterday I called Pacific Theaters again to see if there was any change in the Cinerama Dome situation. And apparently, yeah, they’ve made some concessions. It’s still hard to say whether this so-called remodeling is gonna work out okay, but from what the woman told me, it sounds like they’re finally thinking a little bit about design. I heard they were talking to the L.A. Conservancy. Thank God for the Conservancy.

This afternoon I went and bought some records, first at Eastside, then at Record Recycler.

A little after six I walked into the lobby of the Rooseveldt. Ordered a beer. Sat down in a chair over by the piano. The guy actually played Three Coins in the Fountain. Mercy.

Rsvt Lobby

The Capitol Records Tower

Capitol Records Tower

Capitol Records Tower

The CapitolRecordsTower is a Hollywood landmark.  It is totally unique, and helped set the stage for the era of space age design.  But it’s not just the look of the structure that makes it significant.  It’s one of a number of buildings designed by Welton Becket and Associates within the city of LA.  Becket was involved in creating some of the city’s most distinctive buildings, including the Pan-Pacific Auditorium [destroyed by fire] and the MusicCenter.  His work helped to define the look of mid-century LA.

Capitol Records is one of two Becket buildings that have become Hollywood icons.  The other is the Cinerama Dome, located just a few blocks away.  In light of the threat that the Millennium Hollywood project poses to the status of the former, it might be useful to review the recent history of the latter.

Cinerama Dome

Cinerama Dome

In the late nineties, Pacific Theaters presented a plan for redeveloping the Dome.  There was a huge public outcry, because in its initial form the plan would have meant ruining the Dome and building a nondescript mall around it.  To Pacific’s credit, they listened to the community, went back to the drawing board and came up with a far better design.  Not only did they refurbish the Dome and restore it to its place as a Hollywood landmark, they also added a beautiful state-of-the-art multiplex which includes a restaurant, bar and patio.  The completed complex was a welcome addition to the community, and it offers the best experience you can have in a commercial movie theatre.

It’s doubtful that the developers behind the Millennium Hollywood project will reconsider their plans, which would erase Capitol Records’ presence on the Hollywood skyline.  I like to think that the LA City Council might actually listen to the community and reconsider their support for the project.  But maybe that’s too much to hope for.