Tuesday, January 13, 2015

It's Coming Down!

The dump trucks are ready waiting in a line. The large pieces of equipment are idling. Workmen sit in their trucks trying to stay warm on this cold January morning. The power company is shutting off the electricity. 

A piece of Little Rock's history is about to be demolished; a piece of my history. The round, dome topped United Artist Cinema 150 at Asher at University is being torn down. Demolition began today.

Growing up we didn't go to movies. I don't know if it was because we were preacher's kids or if it was because of money, but we never went. I was finally allowed to go when I was sixteen. It was a very big night for me; a date to the movies with my sweetheart, who is better know to you as Mr. H. In 1970 we went to see the academy award winning movie "Love Story" staring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal. To make it extra special my first movie was at the the elegant UA Cinema 150. 

I remember standing in line to buy tickets. The line wove through the lobby, out the door, and circled around the building.

 Photograph credit Arkansas Democrat 1970

After purchasing our tickets, we entered the theater doors into a world of rich red velvet. The reclining seats were red velvet and red velvet draped the walls. The screen, oh my, it was enormous with a 120 degree curve. With the rounding walls, the curving screen, and the astonishing sound which came from speakers hidden behind the velvet drapes, I felt as though I was right in the middle of the movie. For my first movie experience it was amazing! Did I cry at the end of the movie? Yes, all the girls cried at the end of this romantic drama that ended in tragedy! If you looked closely you probably could have spotted a tear in some of the guy's eyes, too! Of course, if you cried, your boyfriend might put his arm around you or he might hold your hand!

Before the movies we ate dinner at Casa Bonita located in the shopping center behind the theatre. The Mexican restaurant feathered themed rooms and waterfalls. I remember the small flags on the tables that you raised if you needed a refill of food or drink. The food was wonderful, but my favorite part was the sopaipillas. They were out-of-this-world delicious when filled with honey that dripped down you fingers as you ate them.

Photo credit Wikipedia

Sadly Casa Bonita closed in 1993. It reopened in 1995 as Casa Viva but then it closed in 2005.

I remember taking our daughter to see the movie The Fox and The Hound at the Cinema 150. I still love to watch that movie! I don't remember all the details, but there was a special showing where the tickets for children were either free or discounted. I do remember we waited a long time in line.

Now, for a little history about the Cinema 150. The structure built in 1968 was unique in that it was round, a dome roof, and the screen was curved.

Only the "big" movies played at the 150. It was the premiere theater for new releases in the 70's and 80's. The first movie shown was The Odd Couple, featuring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. The premiere of True Grit was a major Arkansas event at the Cinema with an appearance by Glen Campbell, which you can check out here. The ladies were given lapel buttons that said "Give me a man with True Grit" and the men's buttons said "I have True Grit." Other big movies included Top Gun, The Empire Strikes Back, Jungle BookThe Muppet Movie, and Patton.

When it closed in 2003, it was the last operating Dimension 150 theater in the country. Other businesses tried to make a go of it in this building including a restaurant, a concert venue and a playhouse, but nothing survived very long. The cinema sits in front of one of the state's first shopping centers, The Village,  built in 1960.

This part of town has steadily declined over the years, giving it a less than stellar reputation. The cinema became a place where the homeless slept under the eaves and drug deals went down on the parking lot. The walls became covered with graffiti.

A new company has purchased the shopping center where the cinema is located and decided to leveling it so that new businesses could be seen from the street. I would be very surprised if anything new and exciting moved into this area! 

Sometimes buildings can be saved and restored, but sometimes they just have to go. This is one of those times. There will be a bare spot at the corner of Asher and University. The theater will be missed by many including me!

Photo credit Arkansas times

Photo credit Cinema Treasures. http://cinematreasures.org/


  1. What sweet memories you have of attending movies at the Cinema 150. It's always hard to see those special places from our youth being torn down or falling into disrepair. I went to see Love Story with my sweetie too. Great movie for that time....

  2. Photos are great. Yes I have memories there also. Glad for the history lesson. Enjoyed it.

  3. What a story, Cathy. So many of your happy memories are tied up in that dome-shaped cinema house. I agree that it's sad to see these familiar landmarks disappear as part of our own history seems to go with them. How lovely that you were able to get these photos and tell the whole story here on your blog for us to read and for you to remember.

  4. That is always a shame when old buildings have to go, I always think to myself about Europe and how old the buildings are and always love that about Europe. I am probably just looking at things differently, but that is because I am old. I didn't go to movies either when I was young, my first movie wasn't until I was 19 with my boyfriend at the time which ended up being my husband. It was Doris Day's "Please Don't Eat the Daisies". Funny how we remember things like that but it was a big deal to me to finally get to see a movie even if it was 19.

  5. My movie memories are of the drive-in - going in our pajamas with big brown bags full of home-popped corn. What fun!

    This is a great story - so personal and memorable.

  6. That is too bad, the lose of an icon. But I do understand the need for it to go if nothing is having success there. A very similar story happened in the city, Grand Rapids that I occasionally go to. The first multi-screen theatre in the area, past its prime and replaced by more desirable locations was torn down. The first indoor mall of the area which had a Montgomery Wards in its heyday located right next to the theatre. The mall is still there, obviously Montgomery's is not and the mall is no longer any indoor mall. Change is good, but often sad.

  7. The end of an era. I loved reading this, Cathy. What great memories. I am sending you a link to Dryfly's movie memories, I hope it works...


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