Topic: Pleasant Hill CA: Student wants shopping center to keep dome theater
From: Dallas, TX
Registered: Feb 2003
posted April 16, 2004 12:37 PM
From the Contra Costa County Times:
Student defends doomed dome
By Nathaniel Hoffman
The dome won a temporary reprieve from the wrecking ball this month, but one high schooler is leading the charge to preserve the uniquely shaped theater.
Chelsea Simmons, a Concord resident, thinks the CineArts theater in Pleasant Hill, still known to many as the Century 5, is part of film history and she is collecting signatures to save it.
"The first time I was ever in the dome, I saw 'Star Wars,'" said Chelsea, a sophomore at Acalanes High School.
The dome theater was fated for demolition as part of the redevelopment of the entire Contra Costa Shopping Center complex. Now developers have proposed leaving the theater and surrounding mall in place for three to five years as they bring in two large retailers to the site.
But Chelsea said the theater should be a centerpiece to any development there, not a stumbling block.
"Other movie theaters you kind of feel like you're just walking into a box," Chelsea said. "I want to save it also because it's kind of a rare architectural piece."
Architecture and theater buffs tend to agree.
So does one local maven of kitsch.
"It's definitely a landmark for a place that has no landmarks," said Carol Troy, an Orinda resident and author of the 1970s style tome "Cheap Chic."
Troy said the theater embodies the concept of cheap chic: it was inexpensive, built quickly for the expanding suburbs and it was extremely stylish in its time.
"It's a classic and it's always going to be cool," said Troy, who is now taking architecture classes at Diablo Valley College.
Pleasant Hill Redevelopment Agency chairman David Durant said the issue of historic preservation of the dome has been raised before, and he agrees it is a landmark with some historical and sentimental value.
But Durant said he is not willing to let the theater derail the shopping center project.
"For better or for worse, it's a community building that may have to be sacrificed to make the kind of improvements we want to make for the community," Durant said.
Chelsea, whose father is an architect, said the dome originally played Cinerama films, a short-lived wide-screen film technique that gave the viewer the impression that he or she was part of the action.
A hallmark Cinerama dome in Hollywood was recently renovated and incorporated into a larger multiplex, said Ross Melnick, co-founder of cinematreasures.org, a Web site that lists the Pleasant Hill dome among thousands of classic movie theaters.
"It was an archetype of the kind of suburban movie palaces being built in the 1960s," Melnick said.
Melnick said that meant comfort and lots of parking, and said there are a dwindling number of domes left in the country.
Troy said many kids' parents had their first date under the dome, and she admits she once went there on a date. As the dome was to the 1960s, she said the Orinda Theater was to the 1940s, and the Rheem Theater in Moraga was to the 1950s.
Troy cited R. Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes as an inspiration and Chelsea pointed to the German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a proponent of "skin and bone" architecture and the international style espoused by Philip Johnson.
The plans at the Contra Costa Shopping Center call for another movie theater to be built eventually, but Chelsea said the spirit of CineArts, a division of Century Theaters that shows art movies, will not fit in a generic multiplex.
"There's so much potential with this one," she said, pointing to the dome. "It's important to keep moviegoing an event."
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