Save the Dome! Future of retro landmark movie theater uncertain in shopping center battle

Believe it or not, the Cinearts “Dome” movie theater in Pleasant Hill is a historical landmark—of a sorts–certainly to movie geeks like me who found their way to geekdom by going to see movies at the Dome.

It is listed on the Cinema Treasures website and represents a certain era of grand technological experimentation in the art of filmmaking. The Dome auditorium opened in 1966 with a giant curved screen used to show films—generally big, sweeping epics—shot in a process known as Cinerama. This widescreen process worked by simultaneously projecting images from three synchronized 35 mm projectors onto a huge, deeply-curved screen. It was the first of a number of technological innovations introduced in the 1950s and 1960s to help Hollywood offer something to audiences that TV, the movie industry’s big competition, could not.

I’m pretty sure I saw my first movie at the Dome. It was The Sound of Music. (And, yes, I wanted to be Liesl.) I believe going to see this movie was a reward for getting through a week of preschool without crying and clinging to my mother. My older siblings took me to see it. Over the years, I remember going to see Jaws, The Godfather II, Apocalypse Now, and The Shining at the Dome. It was the theater in central Contra Costa to see the big screen epics.

Over the years, of course, the Dome abandoned the Cinerama process and changed the screen to a standard flat screen. The theater also was subdivided into a multiplex. It is now the place east of the Caldecott Tunnel to see art house films. And, most times I go there, such as this past Sunday to see The Road, it is pretty crowded with others who want more than the usual Hollywood blockbuster fare.

Well, the Dome’s fate has been uncertain for quite some time and caught up in an ongoing battle between developers of the Contra Costa Shopping Center. The Contra Costa Times says the battle has been over parking spaces and where within the shopping center each company can build.

Those of us who have been around for a while know that Pleasant Hill has been trying to fix up that shopping center for years. The northern half, which is owned by ICI Development and ts anchored by Kohl’s, has received an extensive makeover, and added other new retail tenants.

But the southern part, owned by SyWest Development and which includes the Dome movie theater and a health club, hasn’t had much, if anything, done to it. SyWest has discussed the possibility of building a parking garage and adding retail space, but it is unclear whether the movie theater would remain open.

Alas, I can see a developer wanting to tear down the Dome and replace it with stores, or with a hideous new multiplex movie theater, with some neo, faux, Mediterranean/Art Deco design combination. But wouldn’t it be great if the developer realized the retro ’60s cool value of the Dome and sought to preserve that, while, of course, fixing and cleaning up the lobby and interiors–and adding whatever modern movie technological innovations are needed–and, of course, keep it as central Contra Costa’s art house cinema.

13 thoughts on “Save the Dome! Future of retro landmark movie theater uncertain in shopping center battle

  1. I am sorry, but out with the old in with the new. Are we supposed to save all the old and never upgrade or advance? That whole shopping center was a dump before they rebuilt the one half.


  2. Keep it. It is the only landmark from 1975, when I first moved to Concord as a young lad. Jaws was playing in the dome at that time. (And actually played in that theatre for over one year, which is unheard of in this era.)

    Anyway, my point is when I walk in that room, I have memories of being there when I was 10, 15, 19, a newlywed, etc. There is nothing else in our community that I can say the same thing about. I moved here from Santa Barbara where the Arlington theatre has been around for a 100 years. The dome should be the same!!!!!!


  3. Agreed, 9:45am (and as UCSB grads of long ago my wife and I also appreciate the Arlington). Since the Park closed in Lafayette, the dome is the only theatre we'll bother seeing something 'first-run' in. We're just not into sitting in a dinky closet to watch a movie….


  4. As folks over in Moraga are looking to save the Rheem Theatre, a number of people have told me they'd like to see more art and independent films, and have specifically mentioned the dome as an example.


  5. The Dome was originially built as a Dimension-150 theater, it was never a Cinerama theater. The effect was similar, but only one projector was used to project 70mm film through a special lens which filled a huge screen. The dome has never had three projectors.

    The longest film run of late was Titanic which played for weeks, and actually made a return.

    Unfortunately, any showmanship at the dome is history as the curtains are never used and the screen acts as a billboard for visual assault. It would be exciting if they brought back some 70mm prints and ran them with a bit of showmanship, but seemingly that won't happen.


  6. Anon 11:03 is correct; this was never a Cinerama theater. Also, it was fortunately never divided into a multi-plex since the smaller theaters in back were actually an add-on. I think that half the reason that the dome is still with us is because the Syufy family (now SyWest Development) has been hesitant to ever so much as drop a dime on the place (this being the same family/company that allowed the Solano Drive-in/Swap-Meet to practically disintegrate before even paving the parking lot). In any case, should SyWest and ICI ever find a way to come to an agreement, it might prove tricky to save the dome due to its odd shape and location in the middle of the property (not to mention the building code requirements for emergency exiting should they decide to somehow build around it). That all said, I sure would like to see it saved and fixed up if they ever get around to doing anything with the place.


  7. Thank you, dear readers, for correcting the information about the Dome never being Cinerama. That information came from Cinema Treasures, which I thought would be a reliable source.

    Maybe I'm still in Mad Men mode, but I just went shopping and bought a “Joan Holloway” dress for a party I have to go to, and all the time was having this fantasy of the Dome getting fixed up, with a cafe or even a 60s cocktail lounge. All retro and silly and fun. A cocktail lounge to replace The Loaded Hog.

    Anyone ever been in that bar? I noticed they had some deal of a free glass of wine to anyone coming in with a movie ticket stub. I Googled it and saw all these positive reviews about what a great dive bar it is. Dive bar, yes.

    There are two “Domes” in San Jose near Santana Row and the Wichester Mystery House. They seem to be well-preserved. And popular.


  8. The “big screen” is our favorite theatre. The sound is terrific and I agree with 9:59, you might as well wait till it's out on DVD as watch movies in those “closets”. Hope they can save “the dome”


  9. Save the Dome!!! Soccer Mom that is a fabulous idea about a cool adjoining cocktail lounge. Something like the old Julie's Supper Club that used to be at 11th and Folsom in SF. Spaceage Bachelor Pad.


  10. My family loves the dome. It is ugly and has loads of character. This is what a movie theater should be.

    The dome is the only thing close to culture in PH.

    The Loaded Hog is the furthest thing from culture in PH. Really need to upgrade that bar. Would love to grab a glass of wine after a flick, but it is so damn trashy.


  11. The dome is a very special and unusual theater. There's hardly any of these in the U.S. It's part of Pleasant Hill history. I love that it's an art theater now. I saw lots of blockbusters there over the years, but the other day I saw “An Education” in one of the smaller theaters and that was a treat. To not have to drive to Albany or San Francisco to see this small, British film was such a rush for this movie nerd. It was ten minutes from my house, people!


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