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A SINGLE-SCREEN THEATER? REALLY?

     

The Centre Theater in downtown Salt Lake City, circa 1966.

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 2, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Youngsters today are flummoxed by the thought of rotary phones, TV networks deciding when you could watch their programs, and car windows that were rolled down with a hand crank. And probably by the word “flummoxed.” Another thing that seems incomprehensible to them is a single-screen movie theater. But there was a time when that was the norm, and the Centre Theater in downtown Salt Lake City was such a major-movie showcase. It was so iconic that when its closure was announced 30 years ago, I wrote about it for the Deseret News with a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column headlined ‘Centre Theater is closing its doors,’ published on Jan. 22, 1989.

Another landmark Salt Lake movie house is closing up shop this week. The Centre Theater at State Street and Broadway will play “Cocoon: The Return” through Tuesday evening as its final commercial run.

Then the Centre will briefly re-open the following week — on Feb. 2 — for a special one-night charity screening for Salt Lake Valley Mental Health, of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 circus epic “The Greatest Show on Earth,” starring Charlton Heston, Betty Hutton and James Stewart. Tickets are $25 each.

The benefit screening will be the theater’s last performance before the site is razed.

     

The interior of the 1,000-plus-seat auditorium of Salt Lake City's Centre Theater.

Cineplex Odeon Theaters has let its lease run out and there are plans to put an office tower and small shopping plaza on the corner, to include a six-screen movie house.

But it’s hardly the same.

With the Centre gone there will be only two large single-auditorium theaters left in the valley — Mann’s Villa Theater and Cineplex Odeon’s Regency Theater.

And neither is as large as the Centre.

Smaller theaters can still gather some of that special magic that comes from sitting in a darkened room surrounded by strangers watching images flicker on a huge screen, but 1,000 people all sharing an emotion is certainly more invigorating than 500 or 200 or 20.

     

A 1938 newspaper article about  the Centre Theater in Salt Lake City.

It’s sad to see the Centre leave because that’s one less such showplace in Salt Lake City. And because it perhaps marks the end of an era.

And it’s just one step closer to all of Salt Lake’s cardboard cutout crackerbox theaters being the rule rather than the exception.

If going out to a movie begins to seem too much like watching a video at home, people may just stop going out to a movie.

ENDNOTE: The Villa and Regency also closed within a few years of the Centre’s closure, and although we still have one lone single-screen theater in Salt Lake City today — the Tower — it’s probably the least-comfortable venue in the valley and tends to book the most offbeat, and off-putting of 21st century art films. And as I’ve written before, now it’s all multiplexes with small auditoriums all over the valley, and all are playing the same (comic book) movies. But at least there are still theaters showing movies, and the Broadway Centre Theaters sixplex, which resides near the corner once occupied by the Centre Theater, brings in the most interesting films these days, mostly independent and foreign-language pictures.