The UA Cinema 150 will finally be razed to make way for whatever is coming next at the Village on South University in Little Rock. The burial follows its death over 11 years ago. Rumor has it that when the venerable old cinema was closed, the screen was intentionally slashed and destroyed to keep the venue from being used as a movie theater. It’s a tough business and the 150 was built on proprietary systems, so it’s not as nasty as it sounds. But it did strike me as unnecessary.Little Rock’s UA Cinema 150 was one of several elite cinemas built around the country using UA’s D-150 projection system. D-150 was United Artist’s answer to Cinerama — the 70mm widescreen format. Cinerama and D-150 were both attempting to answer the 1950s question of why shouldn’t one stay home and watch TV for free on a small, square screen?
The 150 was the site of the 1969 Arkansas Premiere of Paramount’s TRUE GRIT, starring John Wayne. (The novel was written by an Arkansan, Charles Portis, and set in the State.) By that time the University Avenue corridor was a premiere dining, recreation and shopping destination. It remained so for years, even after the city pushed inexorably west. But by the 1990s that end of University was clearly in decline. In recent years the generosity of the Coleman family coupled with UALR’s commitment to that area have been signs that we shouldn’t give up so fast on South University. First Tee of Arkansas and Mosaic Church have also made strong commitments to the area. So, it’s good that someone is making a serious investment in the property on which the deserted theater sits. Let’s hope the new owners leave it better than they found it. Whatever happens there, when I drive by, I’ll still think of the nights of seeing a movie at the 150 and discussing it over dinner at Casa Bonita.
Some of the movies I clearly remember seeing there include: LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (re-release), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, CAPRICORN ONE, THE TOWERING INFERNO, TOP GUN and INDEPENDENCE DAY. I’m sure I saw one or two John Wayne movies there, as well as a dozen or so other titles over the years.
It’s a challenge for a single screen theater to remain viable even in New York and Los Angeles. There is a Cinerama theater still making a go of it in Seattle and I think there may still be one in Ohio somewhere, in addition to the celebrated Cinerama in Hollywood. Most of the single-screen theaters in the U.S. today are owned, or run by, not-for-profit groups. Historic single screen theaters can be found in downtowns across the country and they’re normally used for fund-raisers, community events, maybe a film festival or a film society’s screenings.
It’s hard for me to get worked up over Regal shuttering the 150 back in 2003. Rave Motion Pictures was the shiny new multiplex in that general (but far more appealing) area, at the time. Despite Regal’s closure of the 150, the chain was making investments in its multi-screen properties in Central Arkansas. They’ve just finished an incredible upgrade of Breckenridge cinema. I applaud them and thank them for that – because sitting in a theater with Tracy Jackson is still my favorite way to see a movie.
That said, I now bid farewell to the corpse of our old friend, long since dead. To the UA Cinema 150 I say: I’ll think of you every time I see someone watching a movie on an iPhone.