Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Celebrating 50 years of film at Hollywood's Cinerama Dome

by Michelle Lanz | Take Two®

Exterior view of the Cinerama Dome movie theatre in Hollywood, California, June 1981. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fifty years ago today, a unique movie theater opened at 6360 Sunset Boulevard. 

The Cinerama Dome featured a radically new design, a geodesic dome a la architect R. Buckminster Fuller, which the owners believed would completely revolutionize the way audiences saw movies. They also hoped this new design would entice the public to step away from their newfangled televisions and head back to the theaters. 

"Cinerama is another one of those attempts to get people to come back to a theatre and see it in a special setting, with seating arranged for you and dressing up and having an intermission and having an whole evening of it," said L.A. Magazine's Chris Nichols. 

The Dome was designed by legendary L.A. architect Welton Becket, who is responsible for iconic structures like the Capitol Records building, the Pan Pacific Auditorium, Santa Monica Civic, Parker Center Police Headquarters and others. 

Becket licensed the technology to build the dome from R. Buckminster Fuller's firm GeoMetrics. Made up of 316 precast concrete panels, builders assembled the large pieces like a three-dimensional puzzle, taking about 16 weeks to complete.  

Films made for the Cinerama experience were filmed with three cameras, offering three different angles. The theater would then house three projectors that projected the images on a deeply curved screen. 

"It's a highly technical process and an expensive process and filmmakers were frustrated by the limitations of it," said Nichols. "You couldn't zoom, or sometimes they had to block the seams in the film with trees and different sorts of barriers to keep people from noticing that there were three films being projected at the same time."

In fact, Nichols says, it was so complicated that they never played a Cinerama film in the Cinerama Dome until 2002 when they renovated it as part of the ArcLight complex. 

The theater was declared an official Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1998 and today is the centerpiece of the popular ArcLight complex. It's eye-catching dome is often decorated to promote the latest blockbuster films.  

While the landscape surrounding the Cinerama Dome may change, it will remain a constant reminder of L.A.'s rich film and entertainment history.

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