Cinerama Dome: The Story of an LA Icon

The Cinerama Dome | Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

The Cinerama Dome is ready for its close-up in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood | Photo: @thejslewis, Twitter


As the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles has no shortage of historic movie theatres. One of the standouts is the famous Cinerama Dome—an icon of modern architecture and an icon of LA. Now part of the Arclight Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard, the theatre is a star in its own right—most recently it had a cameo in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But the theatre’s purpose wasn’t always to be the go-to Hollywood theatre where you can catch the latest blockbuster film.

"Godzilla: King of the Monsters" takes over the Cinerama Dome at ArcLight Hollywood

Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes over the Cinerama Dome | Photo: Reuters

The Building

Towering at over 75 feet tall, you can’t miss the Cinerama Dome as you’re driving down Sunset. Aside from its large stature, the exterior of the building is just as stunning as the interior. The structure itself marked the first concrete geodesic dome to be built in the world. It was developed using Buckminster Fuller’s patented technique to bolt together more than 300 pentagonal and hexagonal panels. Each panel can weigh as much as 3,200 pounds, which should give you an idea of the Cinerama Dome's sturdiness.

Inside, moviegoers will find state-of-the-art technology, including 44 computer-placed surround speakers, and completely redeveloped acoustics, including the installation of sound-absorbent materials in each of the hexagonal and pentagonal panels in the ceiling. The curved screen was restored to its original size and shape, providing an experience that makes visitors feel as if they’re part of the film.

The History

Built in only 16 weeks, the Cinerama Dome was designed by Welton Becket & Associates, the firm that also designed the Music Center, Capitol Records Building and the Beverly Hilton. The Cinerama Dome was originally created as a prototype that would be used across the U.S. to showcase the new Cinerama method—a widescreen process in which images would be projected simultaneously from three orchestrated 35mm projectors onto a large curved screen. However, there were very few theatres ever built throughout the country to show this process and, as a result, the Cinerama Dome remains one of the few remaining theatres to feature the curved screen.

Grand opening of Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome on Nov. 7, 1963

Grand opening of Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome and world premiere of "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" on Nov. 7, 1963  | Photo: Herald Examiner, Los Angeles Public Library

Grand Opening

The Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome celebrated its grand opening on Nov. 7, 1963 with the premiere of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 70mm. The film showed for a total of 66 weeks. Additional 70mm films that were shown in the theatre include the West Coast premiere of The Greatest Story Ever Told in 1965, the world premiere of The Battle of the Bulge in 1965, and the world premiere of Ice Station Zebra in 1968.

The Atom Smasher at Rockaway's Playland from "This is Cinerama" (1952)

The Atom Smasher at Rockaway's Playland from This is Cinerama (1952) | Photo: UCLA Film & Television Archive

The Dome in 2002

Though the Cinerama Dome was originally built to show Cinerama films, no actual films of the kind were projected in the theater until 2002. During that year, the Dome was restored and turned into the focal point of ArcLight Cinemas. The restoration was marked with a special showing of This is Cinerama, which originally premiered in 1952 and changed the way movies could be presented. The screening also marked the first time a Cinerama film was shown in its original format on the Cinerama Dome’s curved screen, even though the building was developed decades earlier for that exact purpose. On March 22, 2002, a new 14-screen luxury theatre, ArcLight Hollywood opened adjoining the original Cinerama Dome.

Water skiing show at Cypress Gardens from "This is Cinerama" (1952)

Water skiing show at Cypress Gardens from This is Cinerama (1952) | Photo: UCLA Film & Television Archive

The Art of the Cinerama

According to a Los Angeles Times article from 2002, the widescreen film process “makes you feel like you’re being pulled into the picture—whether you’re riding on a roller coaster or a Ferris wheel or riding the rapids in a rubber raft or flying through the majestic canyons in Utah.” In motion pictures, Cinerama is a process in which three synchronized movie projects each project one-third of the picture on a wide, curved screen. The idea behind this process is that the wide, curved screen provides the viewer with a sense of reality that’s unmatched by watching a film on a flat screen. Approximately 30 films were shot in widescreen formats that are compatible with Cinerama, including 2001: A Space Odyssey from 1968 and Quentin Tarantino’s 2015 film, The Hateful Eight. Today, only the Cinerama Dome and the Seattle Cinerama can accommodate showing Cinerama films in their original format.

Musso & Frank Grill in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Musso & Frank Grill in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood | Photo: Andrew Cooper, Columbia Pictures

The Cinerama Dome Today

Having recently celebrated its 55th birthday in 2018, to date the Cinerama Dome has hosted more than 50 years of premieres and blockbusters. Most recently, in July 2019 the Dome marked the nationwide release of Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood with a three-day film series paying tribute to the writer/director. The celebration included a showing of his entire filmography, followed by exclusive advance screenings of Once Upon a Time. The Dome got extra festive for the occasion with Tarantino-themed décor, beverages, commemorative keepsakes and special giveaways.

Today, the Dome continues to please audiences as one of the premier spots to see a film in Los Angeles, often featuring post-screening Q&As with filmmakers and special guests, and even shows Cinerama films on special occasions. The Cinerama Dome is also often the site for major, star-studded movie premieres. Today, the Dome still seats over 800 guests per showing and has kept its historic loge seating, which has become a favorite for moviegoers over the years.

Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant dishes

Photo: Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant

Dinner and a Movie

You’ll have no shortage of great restaurants to visit before or after a movie at the Cinerama Dome, as the theatre sits at the intersection of the popular Sunset and Vine area. The Dome is positioned in the middle of great, walkable dinner options, including Mama Shelter, Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa, Birch, Stella Barra, Gwen, and of course, Musso & Frank.

 

ArcLight Hollywood
6360 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90028
(323) 615-​2550 
www.arclightcinemas.com/locations/los-angeles/hollywood/