Movie Theaters I Have Loved


I was born loving movies, but seldom give proper credit to those magical rooms where movies blaze to life. So here are a few I have loved.

The Meralta Theater in Downey, California was where my addiction began. I saw Gone with the Wind there, and Tammy and the Bachelor and Old Yeller. It was a humble large
neighborhood bijou, but it introduced me to that magical device, the movie projector. Interestingly, it also introduced me to live music when, on a warm suburban night a handsome young black man sang three tunes, and then passed out copies of his single, “You Send Me.” The man, who almost single-handedly invented soul music, was Sam Cooke, and he remains one of my favorite singers of all time. Humble theater, grand memories.

The Paramount in Los Angeles, on the other hand, was a golden movie palace. We’d go there to see exclusive “roadshow” presentations like Spartacus and The Ten Commandments. The first time we went, I was 5, and going through a silly word phase. At the street corner, I looked up and saw the theater’s towering neon “P,” and asked loudly, “What’s that stand for, penis?” I couldn’t understand why I got hushed and smacked just for making up a funny word.

When I was 7, we moved to the L.A. suburb of La Mirada, a cinema-deprived island until, as if by divine fiat from Charlton Heston, a movie theater appeared. In that vacuum tube-obsessed era (television), the La Mirada Theater was the first new movie house to break ground in the U.S. in a decade. Opening with the world premiere of the biblical epic Barabbas—we watched in awe as its star Anthony Quinn arrived in a rocket-finned limo—the LMMT was a glitter-stucco gift from heaven! I saw everything from Lawrence of Arabia to Beach Party to A Hard Day’s Night there, and, at 50¢ matinees, every Godzilla rampage and Three Stooges pratfall ever captured on film—two of the Stooges even made a live appearance one Saturday afternoon! I still remember leaving the LMMT after seeing Hitchcock’s deliciously horrifying The Birds. Just as the jittery, tightly-packed crowd pushed out the glass doors, a popcorn-seeking seagull dove under the overhang—and 500 people ran screaming back into the theater!

I could devote a whole post to the original three-projector Cinerama where I fell in love with How the West Was Won and Debbie Reynolds (once again). Or Grauman’s Chinese, where I dreamed of someday imprinting my feet. Or the Fox Fullerton where Mary Poppins made me believe I could stay a child forever. But no theater defines the movie-going experience for me so much as the old La Mirada.

thGY8T085LToday, we watch “popcorn movies” at our local cineplex. What it lacks in nostalgia (or glittered stucco), it makes up in cushy, recliny comfort and in booming Dolby surround sound. But one thing hasn’t changed: my heart still speeds up…

When the theater lights dim.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
This entry was posted in Humor, Memoir, Movies, Popular Culture & Entertainment and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Movie Theaters I Have Loved

  1. jrusoloward says:

    I miss the grandeur of the old movie theaters. I grew up in Brooklyn and have very fond memories of going to see a movie and feeling like it was an event – red carpets, intricate molding, detailed frescoes, and grand staircases. I remember when they started closing the theaters down or turning them into multi-plexes. So sad. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Yep–the Paramount was levelled to become a parking lot! Happily, some, like the Chinese and El Capitan in Hollywood, have been fully restored, while others, like the old Hollywood Pantages and the La Mirada have been turned into stage theaters.


  2. Oh, my goodness… La Mirada! I have my undergrad in Mass Communications/Print from Biola, and so as you can well imagine, I was very familiar with the La Mirada theatre! I wonder if we were ever there at the same time? Love this post… your final line has such a sense of “theatre” and dramatic power. You are a wonderful, wonderful writer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Aw, thank you, Lynn. Yes, I used to catch pollywogs in La Mirada Creek near Biola, and later taught there (in the 90s). When were you there?
      Cathy Rigby and her husband have operated the La Mirada as a stage theater since the 70’s.


      • Yes… I remember it as a stage theater… forgive me. In my enthusiasm over my discovery of our mutual stomping grounds, I’m afraid I wasn’t very clear. 🙄 Loved the live theater. And I remember having to drive to Whittier to see E.T. 😉 No atmosphere there except in the film itself. I was there in the early 80s so I missed you by a few. But I suspect you know Todd Lewis well. He was my Forensics coach for nearly two years! I had trouble deciding which branch of Communications to pursue … so dabbled in it all before settling on print. Now, I will enjoy reading your blog even more!! I knew I loved it for very good reason!! By the way, you’ve listed some of my favorite movies here. Love Debbie Reynolds (and especially with Gene Kelly in Singing…) And Burt (Dick Van Dyke) inspires my art… Have always wanted to pop in and out of sidewalk drawings!! 😉☺️ Okay… so time for me to stop burning up your comment feed. I’m simply thrilled with my discovery here. I simply feel like I’ve found a long-lost friend. 😉 Have a fantastic weekend!!


      • mitchteemley says:

        I taught communication and theatre at Biola, so, yes, I know Todd–he was my boss! Good guy. Wishing you a fantastic weekend, as well, old friend. ;>)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Lisa Beth says:

    Thanks for sharing fun memories, I’d like to mention my favorite, The Mark Hellinger Theater, 51st & Broadway, NYC. This grand Broadway theatre, with its painted ceilings and rococo design, opened prominent classic shows such as My Fair Lady in 1956. All that and it’s artistic beauty means far less though next to the crowds of God’s people that flock there every week, now known as Times Square Church! God bless you! ☺

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Mitch,
    For me it was the Granada Theater near you in Ontario and the ornate Fox in Pomona and yes—The Cinerama Dome in Hollywood. We newsboys got to go see “Around the World in 80 Days” at the Cinneama for selling our quota of new subscriptions to the Ontario Daily Report. I’m glad so many of those fine, old gilded ladies are being restored nowadays. We have a jewel of a restoration here in Modesto called The State Theater. Pretty sure George Lucas went there many times while growing up here.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jennie says:

    I so enjoyed this post! Do you remember when the grand theaters were divided into six theaters? That was sad. Fortunately there are a few remaining, one of which is in my hometown of Huntington, WV.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. toutparmoi says:

    I’m very sad because one of my favourite theatres here has just closed. In the 1960s the Paramount was the only theatre that showed foreign movies (i.e. the sort with subtitles).

    Your first movie at the Paramount was a rite of passage. It meant you weren’t only grown-up enough to attempt to read subtitles (white) against snow (white) in Russian movies with steam engines and people jumping under them, it also meant you were cool.

    I still remember the first foreign flick I saw. En Plein Soleil (Purple Noon) starring Alain Delon. An early version of The Talented Mr Ripley.

    The Paramount was always a tad shabby (to match its intellectual punters), even after arthouse got so popular it upgraded to 3 screens. Mind you, the ice creams were always topnotch, and dipped in melted chocolate while you waited.

    I also miss the old “picture palaces”. Only one remains in my hometown: The Embassy, which was poshied up and earthquake-strengthened for The Lord of The Rings premieres. Nowadays it’s worth visiting just for the stylish but trad loos.

    (BTW, it was Labour Day here recently, so of course I thought of you and, more importantly, the fair Mrs T.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      Several older theaters in Cincinnati (where we live now) have been restored with their original facades and lobbies intact, but split into multiple screening rooms, and even expanded to add more rooms, allowing them to mix mainstream movies with “art films.” The formula has worked pretty well. Mrs. T and I thank you! And a belated Happy Labour Day to you, Denise!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. carhicks says:

    We have a theatre here in Windsor called the Capitol Theatre. It is old, beautiful and ornate. It does not show film movies except when we have our film fextival, but still has live performances. It was all post torn down several years ago. So glad they raised the funds to save it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. alexankarr1 says:

    A film really is a different experience on the big screen. Plus, I don’t have half so much plush velour and gilt in my own home.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. vgannawa says:

    Thanks for sharing your appreciation & love of beautiful movie theaters. Also, I agree with you that Sam Cooke is about the best singer in the world! You are a person of many talents AND discerning taste. Have you listened to Leon Bridges? He’s a young singer from Texas who reminds many of Sam Cooke, yet he also has a super modern and original sound!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. frenchc1955 says:

    This is wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This post about old movie theaters is wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I miss the movie palaces. They made going to a movie a really special experience. They were, spacious, luxurious, and clean. And when you came down to your seat with your popcorn, candy, and drinks you were greeted by ushers dressed in theatre attire to help seat you—similar to a visit to a concert or stage play. Then you could sit back and talk with your friends and family in hushed tones while music or film soundtracks played in the background—instead of those commercial and television ads we have blaring in our cineplexes today. All the while your eyes took in everything from the subtle lighting and art deco designs on the ceiling, to the ornate curtain draped over the screen in anticipation of when it would rise for previews. I particularly miss the “Roadshow Epics” that occasionally rolled through town with their intermissions—I also regret the loss of drive-ins, although, we’re fortunate to have a five-screen drive-in nearby. If the studios really want to help reverse their box office losses, they’d do well to re-establish the movie-going experience by reinvesting in movie palaces, and better security—not to mention fewer sequels with an emphasis on more original material.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The ones collapsing in Detroit just break my heart!

    Liked by 1 person

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