Friday, February 15, 2008

Blast from the Past: Cinema East, Columbus Ohio

Just a couple of posts ago, in a post on the new Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I mentioned my personal reflections on the second movie, The Temple of Doom, which ran nearly the entire eight months I worked at Cinema East, a defunct theater. Well, I did a little research on the old place, and found a site about it. I'll give you that link at the end of this post.
But first, more personal reflections. When I was just 9 years old, my parents took my brother (8) and I to see Jaws, the first official summer event movie. There was a line around the whole building. Sure we were too young, and had the wits scared out of us, but it was memorable. And we saw that film at Cinema East, in Whitehall, Ohio. Whitehall is a post-World War II city of only about 9 square miles (Wikipedia says 5.2, but that just can't be right), and is landlocked by Columbus.

Also at Cinema East, I saw Star Wars (which ran there for over a year) [EDITOR'S NOTE: See comments below], The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, E.T., and of course Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was hired in the waning days of high school, for the premiere of the film. I should have been clued in to the nature of their business when I found myself in a crew of about 20--all new hires, except for the Manager and Assistant Manager. That can be explained by describing the building and the plot of land it stood on.

Cinema East was the largest and one of the only single-screen theaters left in central Ohio by 1984, by virtue of the fact that it was too narrow and too tall to split effectively down the middle. Add to that the fact that it had a balcony, and sat on a small triangular lot, bordered by East Broad Street, another business, and the diaganal cut of a creek called Turkey Run (no joke). So, Cinema East had a rather unique business model.

They'd slot in a blockbuster movie, hire a large crew of high schoolers, and then play that movie for months, until there were six or seven patrons for each showing. But they didn't tell the new hires that. As a consequence, the crew of 20 or so would slowly dwindle. And in my case, it did; down to me and, well, pretty much the Manager (Jeff Montgomery), and the Assistant Manager (Roger Somethingorother). Since it was down to me, I had the opportunity to work most of the positions at the theater, which in retrospect was not a bad thing.

I worked concessions, cleaned the theater, cleaned the bathrooms, carried huge bags of popcorn, sold and tore tickets, and answered the single dumbest question you can be asked at a single-screen movie house: "Which screen is it on?" Oh, and I had to fix the marquee, like when the "M" fell off, and it read: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doo.

After The Temple of Doom had played out, we ran a re-release of Around the World in 80 Days for a little while, followed by the romantic-thriller stinker, Thief of Hearts. By this point, my hours had been cut to like 5 per week or something, and I had to change jobs. But I will always have affection for Cinema East, and am a little sad that the place was demolished, and replaced by a government office of some sort. Sad.

After all that, if you're still reading, you must really be interested in Cinema East! So, as a reward, here is a link to a mini retrospective of the place, along with some comments with their own rememberences. Enjoy.

Cinema Treasures: Cinema East


  1. Nice reminiscence on "Indiana Jones" and working at CINEMA EAST!

    One correction: "Star Wars" (the 1977 original) did not play at CINEMA EAST for over one year. It ran there for 26 weeks, exactly one half year. (It was at RAINTREE where it played for over a year; 53 weeks to be exact.)

  2. I also have many fond memories of Cinema East. I visited the theatre many times and I always asked Jeff if I could go up and see those beautiful Norelco projectors. I saw that engagement of AROUND THE WORLD, and both Jeff and I were disappointed it was not a 30-fps print. You should have seen OKLAHOMA there at 30-frames per second.

    Cinema East had one of the smallest concession stands I have ever seen. Somehow, it served all the customers.

    You are just couldn't be twinned due to its nature. I was there one time at the end of the run for GREASE and was the only one there...that was very strange in such a big room.

    I didn't see TEMPLE OF DOOM there, as I saw it at the beautiful Chakeres DAYTON MALL I. I'm sure we crossed paths at some point, though.

    Mark Lensenmayer
    Columbus, OH

  3. You know, I rememberd seeing Star Wars there, and I remembered an ad in the Columbus Dispatch with a 1 year birthday cake for the movie, and I guess I just conflated the two. Thanks for the correction!

    And yes, the concession stand was very small. By the time the movies were playing out though, it didn't really matter.

    One more rememberence: I once mixed up the "buttery flavored oil" with the cooking oil. . . So one whole showing of the film got vegetable oil on their popcorn!

  4. Remember the Columbus Earthquake of '80 or '81? It was a very small tremor that struck Central Ohio. I was in the front of the line with Mike Loveless at Cinema East waiting to see Empire Strikes Back. We never felt it. We sat in the front center of the balcony. I had my usual movie snacks: Coke and M&M's.

  5. I do remember the earthquake! I was at my grandmother's in Greenfield (south about 45 miles), and the house shook, but if you went outside, you couldn't feel anything. Lasted for a good long while.

    We had one here in Las Vegas several years ago. Single-story home dwellers didn't feel a thing. Two-story owners and people with pools got rattled out of bed.


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