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A year-by-year, film-by-film history of 70-millimeter wide gauge exhibition in Orange County, California


 Compiled by Michael Coate and William Kallay



70mm Equipped Theatre Pictures

City Center


Theatre Specifications
Chains: ABC / Plitt / Syufy / Century
Opened: April 7, 1972
Remodeled: Main auditorium split sometime in 1985
Closed: Late-1990s
Seats: 788 / 715*


The Orange City Center Theatre opened in 1972 outside of The City Mall.  Originally owned by ABC Theatres, this two screen complex opened shortly after ABC opened the Century Plaza Cinemas in Century City.  The Orange version was smaller, but similar in concept: modern, sparse, yet somehow luxurious.  The main auditorium’s screen was large and the seats were comfortable. 


The theatre was part of a “island” on the outskirts of the mall’s parking lot.  Across from the theatre, via a walkway, was a restaurant.  The theatre building was plain as can be, and appeared small from the outside.  Backing the building was a health club.  The theatre was built at a time when the City Mall and its office complexes were considered "high-class."


The lobby was wide, with the snack bar to the left of the entrance.  Theatre #1 was to the left side of the front doors, and theatre #2 was straight ahead. 


Theatre #1 was long and narrow, but had a lot of seats.  Theatre #2 was the flagship of the complex.  A walkway in the middle of the auditorium split the upper and lower seating sections.  The auditorium was wide, holding a massive screen.


By the mid-70s, Plitt bought the theatre and kept it first class by showing a Sensurround presentation of “Midway” (1976), then being one of the few first wave theatres to exclusively show “Star Wars” in 1977 in 70mm Six-Track Dolby Stereo.  This was the place where I first experienced “Star Wars.”  The film and presentation are forever embedded in my mind.  The picture was clear and the sound was magnificent.  I jumped out of my seat when the titles for “Star Wars” blasted onto the screen.  I cheered after the Imperial Star Destroyer flew over my head.  I applauded when the Death Star was blown into oblivion.  This theatre had a lot to do with how I experienced that movie.  In 1979, I saw it in a re-issue at the AMC Orange Mall 6 on a tiny screen in mono sound.  I tried to convince my friend, who hadn’t seen it, that it was great!  But he was unimpressed.  I think had he seen it the way I did originally, it would’ve changed his mind.


The City Center showed quite a bit of 70mm presentations, and they were some of the biggest hits of all-time.  “Alien” (1979) and “E.T.” (1982) screened here.  What probably made this theatre somewhat forgotten was that the Cinedome had more screens and booked more 70mm prints.  Also, the fact that the City Center was on the outskirts of a dying mall didn’t help matters, either.


The theatre was split into four screens by 1985 by Syufy (Century) Theatres.  Piggyback auditoriums were built into the main auditorium, creating a mushroom shape.  This made it very difficult for people sitting in the rear of the theatre to see the massive screen. 


Eventually, the theatre became a second-run house.  Occasionally, Syufy would send over a 70mm print of, say, “Empire Of The Sun” (1987) or a sweet sounding print of “Batman Returns” (1992), but the theatre’s days were numbered.  Gangs began to hang out at the theatre, and one unfortunate night, a security guard was shot and killed in the lobby by gang members who were asked to be quiet during a film presentation.  This occurrence made the news and soon the theatre was shut down for good by the mid-1990s.  Mills Corporation bought the City Mall and the theatre, then tore everything down.  The Block of Orange now sits on the property and has been very successful.  The spot where the City Center once stood is now a parking lot.




Orange City Center Theatre (c. late-1990s)


Orange City Center Theatre




Snack bar


Orange City Center Theatre, demolition (c. 1997)


A typical sight of piled metal and wood during the late-90s boom in megaplex building


Demolition of the former walkway between restaurant (left) and theatre (right) 


A really nice theatre waiting for its final curtain call

[1] William Kallay
*Los Angeles Times, June 10, 1979, "Suburban Theatres: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" by Richard Houdek



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