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Making Downtown Picture Perfect

Theater: The opening of Ventura's new 10-screen multiplex draws hundreds of people to the city's hub.


VENTURA — In "Pleasantville," which opened Thursday night along with the city's downtown movie theater, a small town experiences a colorful revival.

City leaders and merchants have similar hopes for Main Street's new purple and mint-green multiplex.

Mayor Jim Friedman planned to see "Pleasantville," with Jeff Daniels and Joan Allen, after Thursday's VIP reception. He said the 10-screen, 1,800 seat Century theater will become the commercial anchor for downtown's east end. Jonathan's restaurant, which recently opened in the former Peirano's grocery, will hold down the west.

"Now everything between Peirano's and the theater will get caught up in the renaissance of these two anchors," he said.

For Thursday night only, a movie at the Century 10 cost a can of string beans or creamed corn or whatever else moviegoers could spare from the pantry. But today, regular tickets will sell for $7.50.

Hundreds of people of all ages, all clutching cans to be donated to the San Buenaventura Mission, wrapped around Main and Chestnut streets for what was called the "Canned Film Festival." While they waited--some of them for several hours--several hundred invited guests attended a reception inside benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of Ventura.

The theater officially opens for business today. On Saturday, admission is again free, this time as part of a breakfast party on Main Street. But only the first 1,500 people will get in gratis.

Reminiscent of an Art Deco movie palace, Century's 52,000-square-foot multiplex was about four years in the making. The total project, including 14,500-square-feet of retail space, cost $11 million. Construction began in June 1997.

Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Kelly's Coffee and Fudge, and Juice Shack have signed leases, but have yet to move in. Quizno's Classic Subs is also expected to sign a lease.

Century 10 manager Ryan Weinstock said he has hired about 85 people, about half of them teenagers.

Matthew Pond, 17, quit his part-time job as a softball scorekeeper in Oxnard to work at the new theater. He was taking tickets Thursday night.

"They're telling us it's going to be like this all through Sunday and then you can wipe your brow," he said.

Waiting to see "Pleasantville," Mary Johnston of Ventura said she had once had doubts about the need for a movie theater downtown, but after seeing the new cineplex, she changed her mind.

"I think people at this end of the city might really need this theater," Johnston said.

Her husband, Bruce, who has practiced law on Main Street for almost 50 years, said the area didn't need a huge movie theater to be vibrant.

"As far as I'm concerned, downtown is the hub--theater or no theater," he said.

Daniel Smith and his wife, Cyndi, are frequent moviegoers, so they were glad to have a theater closer to them. Having nearby cinema, however, won't draw them to downtown's restaurants and stores any more often.

"We use downtown about as much as we can," Daniel Smith said.

But Evan Gregory, 13, and his friends said they will see more movies now that a theater is just a skateboard ride away.

"It's convenient," said Evan, who was waiting to see "Godzilla," one of seven other recent features shown during the mission fund-raiser.

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