Monday’s announcement that the historic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood — in addition to ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres’ additional 15 locations — has closed for good due to unrecoverable pandemic-year losses resulted in an outpouring of tributes from dejected filmmakers and cinephiles for reasons that are justifiable.
The 70-foot-high concrete geodesic dome, which sits prominently on Sunset Boulevard near the intersection of Vine Street, is a landmark and recognizable symbol of Hollywood’s motion picture industry, even appearing in films such as Quentin Tarantino’s ’60s set Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Constructed in 1963 by Pacific Theatres’ parent company the Decurion Corp. and designed by Welton Becket & Associates — also the architect of the Beverly Wilshire and Beverly Hilton hotels — the one-of-a-kind structure was built to house what was then a new widescreen Cinerama system, which employed a 70mm single-projector process of displaying images on a huge curved screen (rather than the original Cinerama system that used three synchronized projectors). The Dome opened Nov. 7, 1963, with the world premiere of Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
In its early years, the Dome also hosted events such as the world premiere of Battle of the Bulge and the West Coast premiere of The Greatest Story Ever Told, both in 1965.
In 1998, the Dome was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and was reconstructed in the early 2000s as part of the Arclight Hollywood complex (while including the ability to show films in three-strip Cinerama).
The Dome was closed from 2000-02 during the construction of the complex, which, when it opened, quickly became a favorite haunt of filmmakers, industry executives and the moviegoing public. The ArcLight brand put a premium on customer service — ushers introduced each screening — along with sterling sound, upscale food and, in later years, a full-service bar.
The Dome has always kept up with technical advancements, while also compensating for challenges to the visuals and sound acoustics presented by its size and shape. In 2005, when film projection was still the dominant format in cinemas, the Dome added digital projection to its film capabilities, just in time to unspool George Lucas’ Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith in the format. It also added digital 3D capabilities early on, unwrapping this new offering with James Cameron’s groundbreaking Avatar in 2009.
In December 2015, it took an early leap into laser projection, installing Christie projection technology accompanied by Dolby 3D just in time for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
A year later, it temporarily housed a new configuration in order to introduce Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk in the director’s experimental format of 4K 3D at a frame rate of 120 frames per second, per eye.
No one is clear as to what happens next in terms of the landmark site. Decurion owns the land under the Dome, but not the adjoining multiplex. Already, there’s speculation that Decurion might partner with someone and keep the locale going or sell it to a third party (a transaction complicated by the Dome’s historic landmark status).
Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.