Cinerama Dome | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Larry Underhill

Cinerama Dome

UPDATE: On April 12, 2021, plans were announced to close the Arclight Cinemas and the Cinerama Dome. The Conservancy is monitoring the situation and will press for the re-opening of this Mid-Century landmark entertainment venue.

Designed by Welton Becket Associates in 1963, Cinerama Dome was inspired by Buckminster Fuller. The theater features as its centerpiece a geodesic dome of 316 interlocking concrete panels. The site of many Hollywood movie premieres, the Cinerama Dome has been described by the L.A. Times as “one of the finest theaters in America.”

A major victory of the Conservancy and its Modern Committee, the Cinerama Dome is the world’s first all-concrete geodesic dome and a unique Hollywood theatre. When saved, the Cinerama Dome was just thirty-five years old, far less than the average fifty-year threshold.

In 1998, the theater faced significant alterations when, then owner, Pacific Theaters proposed to demolish the theater’s existing plaza, box offices, and marquee. The owner’s plan was then to turn the interior lobby into a restaurant and add stadium seating to the theater space. New construction was to surround the dome greatly affecting viewsheds and setbacks.

As word spread about the significant alterations the Friends of the Cinerama Dome formed as a grassroots force to save the historic theater. Together with the Conservancy, preservation groups advocated for the more sensitive infill seen today.

Today, the Cinerama Dome is operated by ArcLight Cinemas, refurbished with a new screen and specially designed acoustic system just for the Dome.

In 1998, the Cinerama Dome’s owners, Pacific Theaters, proposed a project that would have destroyed the theater’s existing plaza, box offices, and marquee, turned the lobby of the theater into a restaurant, excavated 15 feet from the front of the theater to build “stadium seating,” and removed the theater’s curved screen. The project’s proposed entertainment development also would have engulfed the existing dome on the exterior, making it virtually invisible from the street.

The Conservancy believed that this new proposal would not have met the Secretary of Interior Standards for Rehabilitation. The Cinerama Dome debate highlighted some of the preservation challenges confronting Los Angeles’ more recent architectural past at the time. The Conservancy felt it was crucial not only to save this unique architectural resource and remarkable theater space, but also as an important test case for preservation in Hollywood.

With support from a number of organizations and individuals, by December of 1998, the Conservancy, joined by representatives of Hollywood Heritage and Friends of Cinerama, were shaking hands with Pacific Theaters through an agreement that preserved the historic elements of the theater -- both exterior and interior. Pacific Theatres agreed to drop its earlier insistence on full stadium seating, a new flat screen, and major exterior and interior alterations.

Today, Pacific Theatres has redeveloped a special acoustic system just for the Cinerama, with 44 surround-sound speakers (previously 8). The theatre has also restored the deeply curved screen to its original shape and size.