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Can the Cinerama Dome Be Saved? Depends on What You Mean By ‘Save’

As cinema fans clamor for the Dome to continue as a landmark location for premier exhibition, a historic preservationist weighs in.

The Cinerama Dome is pictured, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

The Cinerama Dome

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

After Pacific Theatres announced Monday that it would not reopen any of its locations, Los Angeles film lovers quickly took to social media with a worry: What would happen to the crown jewel in Pacific’s portfolio, the historic Cinerama Dome?

Over 8,000 have already signed a change.org petition to “Save The Cinerama Dome.” By “save,” the petitioners want the Dome to continue its service as a landmark location for premier exhibition. Now that Arclight Theaters has declined to continue in that role, making that happen will require an exhibitor who shares that appetite in a fractured and uncertain business environment. However, there’s also the other kind of “save.” High-rises are going up all over Hollywood; could a developer bulldoze the historic dome to make way for more luxury condos?

Much of that equation lies in the hands of Decurion Corp, the umbrella company that not only represents the Pacific and Arclight theater brands but also the Robertson Properties Group, which holds the Dome building in its portfolio. If it’s going to continue as a theater, Decurion would have to agree to lease it (or possibly, sell the building in a deal not unlike the one that Netflix cut for the Egyptian Theatre).

Built in 1963 by Welton Becket Associates, it was the first geodesic dome built from concrete and one of fewer than 10 theaters built specifically for the three-projector Cinerama process. Today, it may be the last viable Cinerama; the other was the Seattle Cinerama owned by the Arts + Entertainment division of Vulcan, a private corporation controlled by the estate of Paul Allen. However, Vulcan abruptly closed the Cinerama for renovations in February 2020; in May, Vulcan announced it would close Arts + Entertainment and said the Cinerama would remain closed “for the foreseeable future.”

In 1998, the Cinerama Dome faced the prospect of an overhaul that would have developed the site, turned the lobby into a restaurant, and added stadium seating. The Los Angeles Conservancy was one of the leaders in a grassroots effort in working with Pacific Theaters and city officials to scale back the plans in favor of one that was more respectful to the dome’s historic status. The result was the redeveloped ArcLight Hollywood complex, which features the dome as a prominent centerpiece and most of the new development behind the structure.

“We really viewed that as a win-win,” conservancy president and CEO Linda Dishman told IndieWire.

The city named the Dome as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1998, which gives it some special protections. That designation does not prevent demolition or alteration, but any plans to significantly alter the dome would go before the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission. It can delay demolition for up to a year, which could allow community leaders to work out a way to save the structure — just like the ArcLight remodel.

Dishman said the citywide rallying around the dome is a first step in ensuring it remains a movie theater.

“There’s been such an outpouring of concern and affection by people who have gone regularly to the Cinerama Dome. I think it’s important for Pacific Theatres — or whoever would lease that property or purchase it — to know,” Dishman said. “The press that’s happening now is great because any future buyers will know there’s a huge audience for the preservation of the dome. Whoever owns it is going to have to deal with that.”

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