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Last Picture Show in Oxnard

After 39 years, the city's only remaining movie house is closing. Residents haven't had a first-run venue since late '90s.

June 26, 2004|Arianne Aryanpur | Times Staff Writer

Like the second-run movies it features, Channel Islands Cinemas in Oxnard has run out of time.

Its decades-old white stucco exterior and bright red lettering are chipped and faded. The theater's upholstered seats are worn thin and creaky. And the projection equipment upstairs is as outdated as the $3 general admission price.

Next year would have been the 40th anniversary of Oxnard's only remaining movie house, but that is not to be.

The owner of the Carriage Plaza shopping center where Channel Islands Cinemas is located is planning to renovate the complex and did not renew the lease with the movie house's operator, Regency Theatres.

Today is the last day of business at the five-screen theater. At 7 p.m. Sunday, it will offer a free screening of the Academy Award-winning "Cinema Paradiso," a film about why people love movies -- a sort of valentine to Channel Islands Cinemas' loyal customers.

"We knew it was coming, but we didn't know when," Cari Keith, the theater's general manager and projectionist, said of its demise. She said employees learned this week about the shutdown.

Channel Islands Cinemas' closure will leave the city without a movie theater until early next year, when construction is scheduled to be completed on a 14-screen, 4,000-seat complex downtown.

The $15-million theater and retail center are part of an effort to revitalize the business district around Plaza Park, City Councilman John Zaragoza said.

Oxnard has been without a first-run theater since the late 1990s, forcing residents to go to other cities for new releases, he said.

"When I go to the grocery store or the movies people are saying, 'John, when are we getting our own movie theater?' " Zaragoza said. "It's time we have our own."

By 3:30 p.m. Friday, the line at the Channel Islands Cinemas concession stand was almost out the door. The smell of buttered popcorn wafted in the air as parents and children milled about in the lobby. A few kids played video games lining the wall. A young couple was trying to decide between "Soul Plane" and "13 Going on 30."

In the lobby, a cardboard poster for "The Terminal" announced it was "coming soon."

Alejandro Sandoval, 24, a film student at Oxnard College, remembered coming to the theater at Oxnard Boulevard and Gonzales Road as a child with his parents and as a teenager with his friends. On Friday, he was there with a date.

"It's kind of rundown, but it's comfortable," Sandoval said. "I saw all the classics with my friends, like 'Back to the Future' and 'The Terminator.' " That was when the theater featured first-run films.

When it opened in the late '60s under a different name and with one screen, movie-goers from Ventura, Santa Paula and Camarillo flocked to the Oxnard theater to see premieres. "It was the place," said Lyndon Golin, president of Regency Theatres, which took over the lease in 2000.

The theater gradually added four screens and underwent a few management changes over the years.

But that didn't matter to loyal patrons who were drawn by its charm and affordability.

Those qualities brought Maria Saylor, 37, and her four children to an afternoon showing this week of "Scooby Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed."

The total tab: $15 -- $18 counting video games.

"When you have a larger family, it's a less expensive way to entertain them," said Saylor, a business student at Oxnard College.

The theater's popular summer deal -- $6 for eight movies -- was a favorite with moms, especially when compared with the average $10 ticket at first-run theaters, said Keith, who has worked at Channel Islands Cinemas for two years.

"I don't know what a lot of the kids are going to be doing now," she said. "That's the sad thing."

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