At night, it shimmers like Xanadu, rising from the inland flats along the 605 in Long Beach to a crest of 70 feet, spreading itself over an 82-acre site that once accommodated the Long Beach Navy Hospital. Its neon bright glow beckons for miles, like a stadium, like a small city, and fanned around its edges are its pilgrims. Cars and trucks and minivans, blocks of them, turn-signals blinking like a frenzy of fireflies, all head toward a parking lot slightly smaller than Delaware.
For those of us who have never gazed upon the Great Wall of China or clambered up the summit of K-2, there is no possible way to prepare for a maiden voyage into the Long Beach Towne Center. You would think the growing cult of the colossal--the proliferating Costcos and Toys R Us Superstores and Home Depots--would have inured us. But nothing, nothing could foreshadow the mouth-drying enormity of this place.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 27, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Edwards Cinema--A Southern California Living article on Tuesday failed to mention three theaters larger than the Edwards 26 in Long Beach. AMC has three 30-screen theaters--in Covina, at the Block in Orange and at Ontario Mills in Ontario.
With its almost a million square feet of shopping space, it opened last year as one of several relatively new "suburban entertainment centers" that are to traditional malls what Valhalla is to the local Elks' Lodge. Along with free-standing restaurants such as TGI Friday's and Lucille's (and a car wash coming soon), this particular "towne" includes such stores as Sam's Club, Staples and a Lowe's home improvement superstore. Stores so large they traditionally have stood alone, often cutting entire new streets to avoid shopper gridlock. Now they hover as mere satellites to the center of the center, a clot of usual retail suspects arranged like the streets of a medieval city around the beating heart of the place--the Edwards 26.
Twenty-six screens. Twenty-six. The last of which pushed it past the Century Stadium 25 in Orange and the Irvine Spectrum Entertainment Center to make it the largest multiplex in Southern California, possibly the world. And these aren't eensy-weensy tourist-class screens like they have at some theaters, but gigantic screens with wraparound sound and big comfy stadium seating. Which may explain that while other megaplexes go empty, Long Beach is No. 1 in box-office sales in the area, No. 8 in the nation, according to the city of Long Beach.
And what's a night at the movies without a hummus-stuffed-potato-pizza on a stick? Available just across the way in the super-duper-uber food court.
Shopping on steroids.
For those of us with more urban natures, for whom even a trip to the Glendale Galleria requires a good night's sleep, it is a test of mettle.
"Maybe this isn't such a good idea" is what my husband said as we nosed passed a silver Lexus stopped dead just inside the parking entrance--4,428 parking spaces and none of them empty.
And, yes, I hesitated as I surveyed the miles of car hoods shining like a moonlit sea around me. I reconsidered when I saw the throngs on their way to the movies, all of them walking faster and faster yet as they became aware of the rock-concert-size crowd around them. But:
"We have a baby-sitter," I said firmly, "and I haven't been to a movie in six months."
We do not live in Long Beach, which is why we were utterly unprepared. Wandering past the bookstores and coffee shops, the sushi bars and candy factory, we came at last upon a clearing, marked by a burbling fountain and the musical din of a thousand Saturday night conversations. There, bathed in red and blue and yellow and white, pushing against the heavens was a theater as big as the Ritz.
"Maybe we can't do this," I said.
Just reading the listings and times took about 20 minutes, and with the clamor of voices surrounding me--"get six, Harry, no wait, here's Rose, make it seven"--I felt oddly like I was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Panic gripped me. Was our pick the best choice? No one else seemed to think so. A sold-out sign flipped up over one new release. Sold out? How could anything in a theater of that size sell out?
Inside, the disassociation continued. Tables and chairs stood in the main lobby, as did a brand-new car (apparently the prize of a contest). Stars of yore stared down with eyes the size of bathtubs from two-story high murals, and there seemed to be stairs and a chandelier, but everyone was rushing, rushing and so we rushed too. Searching for signs, breathless, counting down to our screen--theater 21--like tourists changing planes in O'Hare on a Friday evening. Surely that hollow paging voice would ask someone to pick up the courtesy white phone any minute now. Concession stands and bathrooms flew by--curiously, I kept looking for the bar, but no, here we were. Theater 21. And they were still boarding.
The movie itself was almost anticlimactic, though I could have stayed in those seats for another couple of days. Walking out of the theater, we were mellowed by two hours spent in someone else's imagination, and it really only took 15, 20 minutes to reach the front door.