The Old Theatres

My hometown of Amarillo, Texas consists of nearly 200,000 residents who, at some point in their lives, have uttered the words, “There’s nothing to do in this place.” Perhaps this persisting theme is one of the reasons I spent a great many weekends at the movie theatres. Maybe that in itself is what prepared me for this blog adventure.

Over the years I visited almost every cinema in my city. Most of the movie houses I attended growing up are now gone. Only three indoor theatres and one drive-in remain.

The funny thing is that even the long-gone locations maintain their landmark status today. Paramount Theatre in downtown Amarillo

If you talk about Polk street downtown, any Amarilloan over the age of 45 will ask you whether you refer to a location north of the old Paramount Theatre or south. The building itself remains, but it now serves as offices.

Though a huge glass building now stands at the intersection of I-40 and Washington, plenty of locals recall the beautiful art-deco design of the Esquire Theatre. I remember walking to see the movie Midnight Madness there with a group of friends, just months before the iconic building met its demise.

I remember the lines that stretched out in front of the ABC Cinema on Western street when Star Wars premiered. That building is a church now.

The Plitt and the Showplace 4 both anchored strip malls on 45th street and 34th, respectively. The malls are still there, but the theatres have vanished.

I recall watching Superman 2 and Clue at the monolithic whitewashed Fox Twin. That building disappeared and a Barbecue joint now resides in its place.

A few blocks from my home at the time, Amarillo’s first “big city multiplex” sprang up. It was the UA. The six huge, high-tech screens stretched for blocks, it seemed. I saw dozens of movies there. The most memorable was Let’s Spend the Night Together. Actually, there’s a long story that goes with that movie—I’ll fill you in later. The last movie I saw before the UA was torn down was Spaceballs, so maybe the destruction was justified.

The two big enclosed shopping malls each had a theatre as well—gone now. The last surviving mall theatre shows the discounted, second-run films and the occasional indy flick. The once bragged-about rocker seats with cup holder armrests are dingy and tattered. The seat cushions wear stains and yawn open with exhausted hinge springs.

The Tascosa drive-in is still popular for its heritage and history. That’s where I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Silver Streak.

Today the two major Amarillo theatres are mega-plexes. The Hollywood boasts 16 screens and the UA Star offers 14, including an I-MAX.

Why do I bother mentioning, let alone writing a whole blog about buildings that don’t even exist anymore? They are just buildings.

For the last 27 years I have worked as a professional building designer, and I know what makes a building important. It isn’t usually the unique design or the technological innovations. Those are just the contributing factors to how the building is used and how the user feels when they are there. The events that take place within the walls change and mould you. The events imprint themselves into your memories. They become part of you.

The buildings are gone, but they still live in my memories, just as the new theatres will for future generations.

Maybe the new cinemas don’t dress with the same panache as the old ones, but in the “old days” we didn’t get fancy  3-D specs, either.

Storytellers maintain a revered place in every culture. Theatre, both the buildings and the medium, continues to capture our imaginations and stand prominent in our memories.

That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!

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