35-year-old theater undergoing $70 mil facelift

There’s no place like Dome, Pacific Theatres Realty Corp. has decided.

Pacific has reached an agreement with several preservationists on final plans to build a $70 million entertainment center at the site of the Cinerama Dome, the company announced Tuesday. As envisioned, the new project will not only preserve the historic Hollywood venue’s concrete dome but its 90-foot curved screen as well.

The agreement concludes nearly a year of heated discussions over Pacific’s plans for the Cinerama Dome Entertainment Center, a trilevel retail entertainment complex that wraps around the back of the theater and will include restaurants, a microbrewery, nightclub, health club and 12 additional screens with stadium seating.

The main controversy surrounded Pacific’s plans for the Dome itself.

Opened in 1963, the Dome was to be the first of hundreds of concrete-domed theaters across the country to show films using the Cinerama projection system on a 90-foot curved screen. But the Sunset Boulevard theater was the only one ever built as the super widescreen format failed to catch on.

Pacific’s original plans for the redevelopment of the theater site called for the concrete dome to be punctured for a new second-level entrance and box office, the interior to be gutted for stadium seating, and the curved screen to be replaced with a flat screen.

Other plans even included leveling the Dome for a new stadium theater or office buildings, sources said.

But pressure by several preservationists — the Friends of the Cinerama, the Hollywood Heritage, the Los Angeles Conservancy — forced Pacific to alter its designs that now upgrade the Dome, while leaving its unique characteristics untouched.

“Over the past year as we have met with hundreds of people during the public process, we have been moved by the passion and connection that people feel for the Cinerama Dome,” Pacific’s chairman Michael Forman said in a statement. “The Forman family feels equally passionate about the Cinerama Dome, and our goal has always been to ensure that it is the best place to see a film in the U.S.”

Under the final plan, Pacific has agreed to:

  • preserve the Dome’s curved screen.

  • reject plans to gut the Dome’s 1,000 seat auditorium to install stadium seating. It will install new seats and widen aisles, instead.

  • replace curtains, carpeting, signage and paint.

  • install updated lighting, projection and sound systems.

  • reject plans to construct a restaurant in the Dome’s lobby. Instead, the lobby will feature expanded concessions counters.

Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission granted the Dome’s exterior, the marquee and the forecourt landmark status. The existing box office will be relocated to the complex’s plaza.

Restaurant and retail space has been lowered to street level, so as not to obstruct views of the Dome. The health club and other residents will still set up shop on second and third floors behind the Dome.

The Dome’s ’60s-flavored design will be incorporated throughout the project.

Also part of the deal, the Community Redevelopment Agency will build and operate a $20 million parking structure with 1,700 spaces behind the Dome. The structure was also lowered.

“We got everything we were looking for,” said Robert Nudelman with the Hollywood Heritage. “The preservation of the theater is a project that works better for everyone.”

The Dome’s renovation and retail project comes as Hollywood tries to redevelop its tourist destinations and business districts.

Construction on the center is scheduled to break ground in the spring, with the grand opening planned for summer 2000.

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