LONG BEACH — City officials and residents finally won a round in their decade-long battle over X-rated movies at the Lakewood Theater, but the victory has proven to be about as brief as the movie performers' costumes.
For three weeks, the theater on Carson Street in Long Beach was barred from screening adult films under a preliminary court injunction. The X-rated side of the twin- screen movie house, which has advertised such titles as "Take My Body" or "Blondes Like It Hot," had gone dark.
On Monday, however, the state Supreme Court intervened on the side of the theater. The high court issued a stay that leaves Pussycat Theaters, which owns the movie house under its corporate name of Walnut Properties Inc., free to show X-rated fare again.
City Will Continue Fight
Senior Deputy City Atty. Arthur Honda said the fight to stop the showing of adult movies will continue, but he said another closure might not come anytime soon.
"I'm not sure how long this temporary stay will be in place and when the Supreme Court will act and what they'll do when they act," Honda said.
For residents opposed to the theater's X-rated policy, the few weeks without the films was a welcome respite.
"We consider it an embarrassment to have this type of business that is making innuendoes and double meanings" in the titles of films billed in the marquee, said Mary Soth, chairman of Citizens Against Pornographic Movies at the Lakewood Theater, a group of about 10 residents.
She said the group does not object to the content of the films as much as to the location of the theater in an established residential neighborhood.
"We have been anxious to let the public know what we were trying to do is not censor their choice but locate this outside a residential area," she said. While the group has followed the case for a decade, Soth said, it has not met in nearly a year.
The case began when the city passed a law in October, 1977, banning any adult establishment within 500 feet of a residence or within 1,000 feet of a school.
Soon after, the Lakewood Theater converted to showing adult films. Since the theater is a block from Long Beach City College and in a residential area, the city prosecuted it to try to end the screening of sex films.
The city's action was upheld in court challenges by the theater chain. But the theater was able to keep showing sex films by applying a ruling from a case involving a West Covina art movie theater. In that ruling, the state Court of Appeal held that a theater must show a "preponderance" of X-rated material in order to come under laws governing adult movie houses.
Pussycat Theater executives took advantage of the decision by adopting a two-screen policy in Lakewood--one showing R-rated pictures and the other with X-rated films--in order to stay within the bounds of the court precedent.
By having a theater showing R-rated instead of X-rated films, theater executives contended that they were not showing a "preponderance" of adult films and thus were not breaking the law. They obtained a court injunction that prevented the city from enforcing its ordinance as long as they maintained the two-screen policy.
Taking a new tack, the city won an appeal on grounds that the West Covina ruling does not apply to the Lakewood Theater. While Pussycat appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, city officials obtained the preliminary injunction Dec. 1 against showing more adult movies.
Attorneys for Pussycat Theaters said the theater chain's freedom of speech is being abridged if the city is allowed to prevail.
"We certainly do believe their First Amendment rights are being violated," said theater attorney David Grosz.
But Honda said the injunction keeps the theater from violating the city ordinance, which attempts to "eliminate the conditions associated with pornography."