Cinerama exterior gets 1-year landmark status

The Cultural Heritage Commission has unanimously voted to grant partial landmark status to the Cinerama Dome — to its exterior only, which still gives owner Pacific Theatres free rein to renovate the theater’s interior and build a multimillion-dollar retail center around the historic venue.

The Dome, opened in 1963, was to be the first of hundreds of concrete-domed theaters across the country to show films using the Cinerama projection system on a curved screen nearly 90 feet wide.

The new landmark status only protects the exterior of the geodesic dome, the marquee, the forecourt and the east box office line of the 35-year-old theater for one year. It gives the Dome emotional protection, not legal protection. After that, Pacific has the right to alter the Dome as it pleases.

Screen marked for change

The interior of the Dome will not be protected. Pacific plans to gut the auditorium and install stadium-style seating and replace its 90-foot curved screen with a flat screen to remain competitive and accommodate today’s film technology.

“We’re satisfied with the decision,” said Neil Haltrecht, veep of real estate development for Pacific Theatres Realty Corp. “It still allows us to go ahead with our plans.”

Cultural Heritage commissioner Mary George said that the compromise was necessary and that the council could not compel Pacific to support a building that it claims is a money loser.

“If you have a business and you cannot profit from it, you’re not going to continue it,” she said. “We had to take into consideration the viability of the Dome (for Pacific) and what it would take to support it. We made the right decision. You can’t always please everyone.”

The commission’s recommendation now goes to the City Council for consideration.

Blow to preservationists

The decision was a blow to preservationists who have been fighting to save the Dome since Pacific initially announced plans in 1997 to build a $70 million tri-level retail-entertainment complex that wraps around the back of the theater and will include restaurants, a microbrewery, nightclub, health club and a multiplex with 14 additional screens to be attached to the Dome.

Preservationists say the whole theater, not just part of it, is historic.

“We don’t want to be painted as being opposed to development,” said Friends of the Cinerama member Doug Haines. “This theater deserves more than how it’s being treated. Obviously this city doesn’t think that.”

While complaints by preservationists have influenced Pacific’s final designs for the complex, Pacific still plans to move the Santa Monica Boulevard entrance and box office to a second level, Haltrecht said. A restaurant is also planned to replace the current lobby. The company is in talks with El Torito and Koo Koo Roo to fill the space.

Applied for liquor licenses

Anticipating approval by the city council for the project, Pacific is applying for 10 liquor licenses for the retail center, including one for the health club and the Dome. The theater may feature a bar and seating area. “We’re keeping our options open,” Haltrecht said.

The company is also negotiating for the city to tax-finance the construction of a $20 million parking structure that would serve the complex and other area businesses.

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