My last blog, in which I wrote about our local theater here in the little town of Delaware, Ohio, got me reminiscing about my favorite theater back home in San Jose, California: The Century Theaters (with their unique dome shape) on Winchester Avenue. Specifically, it’s Century 22 that holds a special place in my heart.
This was the main theater in town when I was growing up. My parents took me to my first movie ever, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, at these theaters. In fact, so strongly did I associate the theater with the film as a wee lad I used to call them "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" whenever we drove by them on Highway 280.
Century 22 opened in 1966, the year after I was born (Century 21 next door had opened two years earlier). The center theater sat about a 1,000 viewers, and the screen was magnificently large! Many screens that are dubbed IMAX today are considerably smaller.
I saw so many big movies here. My dad took me to see Star Wars at Century 22, during which I lost my last baby tooth on a Milk Dud). Star Wars ran at this theater for over a year straight upon it’s first release. I can remember the ad in the paper on May 25, 1978 with a birthday cake surrounded by Kenner action figures.
In 1979, sick as a dog, I sat in line for Star Trek the Motion Picture.
I saw all the big movies here growing up. Star Trek sequels, Empire Strikes Back, E.T., Batman, the Rocketeer, Dick Tracy. Heck, I remember seeing movies such as When Harry Met Sally and What About Bob? here. It was more than going to the movies, it was an experience, an event.
For the typical summer blockbuster you could expect to wait in line for 4 or 5 hours or more on opening day. In 1995 my best friend and I waited in line for 8 hours for the Star Wars Special Edition. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the multiple rows of people waiting to get into various showtimes for some of these movies. Waiting in line for that long sounds awful, I know, but it was a party like atmosphere. You were there with all your friends. Everyone was amped up for whatever big screen adventure awaited us. Some of the early birds who wanted to be first in line (something of a badge of honor) had chairs, and TVs powered by gas generators. People brought games to play. There were plenty of restaurants around, so someone was always making a food run. And, if you wanted to be a part of it you had to purchase tickets in advance.
It was fantastic.
But, as always, times change. What was once a hotspot in a city eventually cools off. Audiences go elsewhere. The big multiplexes moved in (some even owned by Century Theaters, which now is owned by Cinemark) and became the go-to destination for movie-goers. But, they offered so many screens, and so many showtimes, that movies ceased being an event. You could now show up 5 minutes before the hottest new movie was starting, buy your ticket and walk right in. It’s just not the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love going to the movies. But, it’s just not the same experience it once was.
Sadly, I hear rumors that these San Jose landmarks might not be long for this world. The land they sit on is worth considerably more than the revenue they generate nowadays. Upon my last visit to San Jose I got to visit the theater for what might be the last time. It was dusk, and there was nothing playing that my friend and I wanted to see…but I snapped this last picture with my iPhone. Thanks for the memories, Century Theaters.