Cinerama’s Dome: Now Demised, Opened Before It Was Finished

Cinerama’s Dome, Now Demised, Opened Before It Was Finished

 

The Cinerama Dome opened Nov. 4, 1963, with the premiere of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.
AP photo

The Cinerama Dome opened November 4, 1963, with the premiere of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

The Sunset Boulevard fixture closes due to pandemic, and film lovers mourn the beloved structure built six decades ago.

The COVID-19 led to the demise of ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres and its jewel in the crown, the Cinerama Dome on Sunset Boulevard.

The new sent film lovers into despair: The beloved structure is a monument to movie history, a masterpiece of 1960s modernist architecture.

Six decades on, it was still one of the best places to catch a state-of-the-art feature on a giant screen.

The Dome was inspired by the work of futurist architect R. Buckminster Fuller, best known for his geodesic structures. Building on his theories, Cinerama Inc., which in the 1950s had perfected a three-projector system to envelop audiences in wraparound picture, unveiled specs in February 1963 for a new chain of domed theaters. Construction costs were projected at half that of similarly sized, traditional theaters. The idea was for 600 of the structures to open around the country. By April, Pacific Theatres announced it would build the first near the corner of Sunset and Vine.

Standing 75 feet high and made out of 316 hexagonal panels, the design was by French architect Pierre Cabrol of Welton Becket & Associates, the firm behind the Capitol Records Building.

The groundbreaking was in July, and Spencer Tracy and Buddy Hackett attended. It gave construction crews only 16 weeks to finish in time for the November 4 premiere of Stanley Kramer’s comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

That movie featured Tracy, Hackett, Ethel Merman and other stars playing a group of bumbling motorists on the hunt for $350,000 buried under “a big W” at Santa Rosita State Park.

The theater was not finished in time for the premiere, but the show went on.

Recalled the late Carl Reiner in his memoir, “We had to avoid tripping over workmen who were on their knees, trimming and stapling plush, red carpeting into the floor. As we were ushered to our seats, we saw another raft of workmen tacking carpeting to the floor of the stage below the Cinemascope screen.”

Mad World was not three-camera Cinerama; it was filmed in Ultra Panavision 70 and required a single projector to fill the 86-foot curved screen, then the world’s largest.

The Dome, one of handful of Cinerama theaters built, became a historic landmark in 1998, protecting it from demolition.