Plywood, Rats, “Desolation!”: Reopening This Movie Zone Will Take Some Work

AMC, Arclight, Breaking News, Commentary, Exhibition, Film News, L.A. Local, Laemmle Theatres, movie theater reopening, Public Policy, Santa Monica

As Deadline’s Tom Tapp reported last week, Los Angeles County isn’t quite ready to join other parts of California and the nation at large in allowing movie theaters to reopen, even with restrictions. So the coronavirus-beset movie capital remains closed to indoor movies.

Which isn’t entirely bad. It buys some time, at least, to figure out how a once-thriving culture of commercial cinema is going to get back on its feet.

A Tuesday morning walk through one movie theater district—Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and environs—leaves an uneasy feeling that it won’t be easy. Under pressure from both disease and civil unrest, this beach city’s entertainment zone, like more than a few around the country, has buckled.

Where to begin? Maybe on Wilshire Blvd., where the plaza in front of multi-story bank building has turned into a large outdoor gym. The work-out looks healthy. But the throbbing music, audible for a block, is a bit unnerving at 8:30 in the morning. It’s like a soundtrack for the Apocalypse, signs of which are everywhere. Up Wilshire, you can see boards where there used to be windows. In the middle of the boulevard, an angry man is screaming: “Abomination! Desolation!”

For someone who used to stroll by here on the way to the multiplex, it’s hard to disagree. The Panini Kabob Grill, Starbucks, and Barnes & Noble are gone. The book store windows are covered with posters: “We pray for George Floyd, his family and for peace in our city,” they say.

Across Wilshire, Sur La Table is still open, but only for a store-closing sale. On the Promenade itself, things are quiet and relatively clean—it’s tidier without customers—though the mall’s signature dinosaur topiaries bear watching.  According to a lawsuit last month, they’ve become rat-infested, to the horror of patio diners on the strip.

At Arizona Ave., the AMC 7 multiplex is, of course, closed. A window poster is selling Onward, from March 6. County restrictions have now been in place for five months, long enough to make movie tickets feel antique, like land lines or stick shifts.

A closure notice on the box-office is open-ended; so obviously this could still go on for a while.  But it’s hard to say if the Promenade itself will keep going. Some store-fronts are empty, some not. A few, like Oakley and CoolKicks, are boarded up in the wake of a late-May looting spree.

Police cruisers circle often. But the officers don’t react to a guy hitting himself on the head as he walks down Santa Monica Blvd.

That particular guy stops on the corner of Second St., across from a now-gone Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, to roll around the sidewalk, before heading toward the (closed) Laemmle theater, outside of which he dances with a tree. Parking at a city lot across the street is still expensive: $11 for a four-hour movie-and-dinner stay on weekends, $25 for the whole day. Big Metro buses in a line by the theater are all empty: Mass transit is scary in the viral era.

Farther down the Promenade, AMC’s Broadway theater—closed—is promising Tenet on July 17. Moviegoers have learned to take false starts in stride (as the film finally arrives in other U.S. locations this week).

In the nearby Santa Monica Place center—looted in May on live television—three doors on the third-floor Arclight theaters are fastened with cable locks. (They won’t be stealing any movies up here!)

Along Broadway, where the looting was heavy, some stores are still boarded up, or are boarded up again. A Saturday warning from Santa Monica’s police chief noted that several proprietors were putting plywood back up, in response to unrest elsewhere. The department found it “prudent to over-staff with a large number of personnel this weekend,” the chief added.

So things are still touchy here—touchy enough that a board-covered alternative healing store near the Arclight is papered with notices: “We carry no hard drugs.”

Thus, the movie district in an upscale beach town on Sept. 1. Reopening is clearly going to take some work.

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