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Theaters Visualized for Plaza, Promenade : Films May Return to Downtown L.B.

November 01, 1987|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A prominent developer is exploring the possibility of bringing a new movie theater complex to downtown Long Beach, a cinematic desert that once was a film-goer's delight.

If Lloyd Ikerd falls flat in his vision of a cinema in the Long Beach Plaza mall--and he admits to that distinct possibility--city redevelopment officials are preparing their own plans for construction of new theaters along the Promenade, formerly known as Locust Avenue, between Ocean Boulevard and 3rd Street.

No matter who builds them, the return of movie theaters is considered crucial to further revitalizing downtown night life, which has begun to re-emerge with a number of bars and restaurants after years of offering little more than entertainment for sailors.

"Decent movies haven't been in the downtown for 15 or 20 years," Ikerd said. "I think it would help because it would bring people downtown."

Ikerd, a developer based in the International Tower along Ocean Boulevard, said he noticed the need for theaters as he worked on a downtown restaurant project. A cinema, he reasoned, would complement the bar and restaurant trade and encourage people to stroll the city sidewalks.

Reviewing Ideas

The city Community Development Department is reviewing ideas for downtown theaters. Director Roger C. Anderman, department director, called the addition of downtown entertainment the "No. 1" priority.

But Ikerd said he fears that the city may take until 1992 to develop new movie houses. To cut the opening time from years to a few months, Ikerd said he proposed the mall idea.

"If this would happen, we would hope to have four to six theaters by next fall." said Ikerd, whose current major project is renovation of the 83-year-old Masonic Temple building on Pine Avenue.

Ikerd said that he approached Long Beach Plaza executives and commissioned a study into both the engineering and economic feasibilities of putting movies in the mall. He said he expects a report in about a month.

Joe Menchini, the shopping mall's leasing manager, said that as much as he would like to have a movie complex in the mall, his own engineers have nixed the idea. He said he is awaiting Ikerd's report.

"It's on the back burner. It doesn't look realistic for the mall," Menchini said. "It's very much of a long shot. . . . Our people already said it can't be done."

Menchini said a movie complex requires large open spaces without pillars blocking views of the screen. Even if a large enough area could be found in the mall, Menchini said he is not sure the mall would have enough space for the kind of multi-screen theater that is in vogue these days.

Possible Relocation

Also, it could require the complicated relocation of utility lines in order to convert part of the mall into a theater, he said.

Still, Menchini said he likes the thought of hundreds of moviegoers-turned-shoppers flooding the mall, and a huge movie marquee on the mall's east side.

"We would love to have them. It's just a matter of location," he said. "I don't know if we have the space."

Ikerd estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 patrons a day would be lured to the mall by movies. At present, the closest first-run theaters are in Marina Pacifica, several miles east of downtown.

New downtown theaters would also mark the revival of Long Beach's one-time prominence as home to well-known movie palaces. One by one, they all slipped into either showing seedy adult films, second-run or foreign language movies before finally being felled by the wrecker's ball.

Joe Musil, a member of the Historical Society of Long Beach, said the city supported 36 theaters during their peak of popularity in the 1930s.

At the 2,000-seat Fox West Coast on Ocean Boulevard, where Musil said he was assistant manager in 1957-58, movies premiered the same day they opened at the famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre, now Mann's Chinese, in Hollywood.

Under the arrangement to maintain exclusivity, the Fox West Coast "wouldn't advertise in the Los Angeles papers. We made more money at the Fox West Coast because we had the Navy in town," said Musil, now an architectural designer for the Imagineering division of Walt Disney Co.

Theater Popular

The theater became so packed, he said, that sometimes the 1,000 floor seats would be filled by the second showing in early afternoon, forcing him to open balcony seats. In addition to movies, he said the stage was used for shows and giveaways.

Community development chief Anderman said he expects a downtown movie entertainment complex considerably sooner than 1992, the year mentioned by Ikerd.

"It's been the goal of the city to make downtown an active area, not just during the day but at night," Anderman said. "We're getting more and more residents . . . but we need theaters and nightclubs."

While he said he is aware that Ikerd is exploring the possibility of theaters, Anderman said the city is holding fast to its Prom.

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