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The Fate of the Pacific Hastings

Nov 10, 2010
Pacific Hastings Theatre 1989 The Fate of the Pacific Hastings theatre Pasadena history Movie theaters Hastings Ranch  photo

The Hastings Theatre in 1989. Photo by Larry Goren. Courtesy of Pasadena Museum of History (Star News Collection).

Driving by the empty Pacific Hastings Theatre the other day, I remembered when it used to be the premier spot in Pasadena to see new movies. Even after theaters like the AMC in Old Town and Paseo opened, nothing could beat the experience of the Hastings’ massive 60-foot screen.

The theater closed in 2007, and the parking lot is now cracked and growing weeds. All the signage for the theater has been removed, and it is highly unlikely the space will ever open as a theater again. I took a chance and skirted the chain link to see if I could get a glimpse inside and was able to peer through the glass door of the main entrance, where I could see that the lobby has been completely stripped. I couldn’t view any of the auditoriums, but they have presumably been gutted. I later called Ted Lawson, the realtor in charge of the property at CBRE, who told me that Babies ‘R’ Us had at one time planned to lease the building, but that a national gym chain is now interested in the space. “We’re trying to redevelop it right now as we speak,” Lawson said. “The real value of the property is the 3.3 acres it sits on, not the building itself.”

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Pasadena Star-News ad from October 1968.

That last part made me a little bit sad, if only because I have so many memories attached to the drab building. The Hastings was the last of Pasadena’s first wave of multiplexes, where Pasadena kids like me spent a good part of their teenage years, although it was actually far older than I had originally thought. It opened as a single-screen theater in October 1968 and was converted to a multiplex in the mid-’80s, which produced several shoebox-size auditoriums

Architecturally speaking, the theater is firmly rooted in 1960s functionalism, with a few brightly colored decorations that now look charmingly retro. It was designed by South Pasadena architect Roland Pierson for the Sterling Theatres corporation. But the architecture was beside the point—it was what was inside that was special: a massive 1,500-seat auditorium with a 60-foot-wide, 25-foot-tall screen. The theater was equipped with dual “Norelco projectors,” capable of showing both 35mm and 70mm, and which were manufactured by the Philips Company (which also produced the Norelco electric razor).

A little digging in the Pasadena Central Library’s Star News archive yielded a staggering 11-page ad from the day the theater opened—October 5, 1968. “Today our cultural awareness is judged as much by the films we have seen as by the books we have read and the paintings and music we have enjoyed,” it reads. “For the City of Pasadena it becomes a major contribution to its forward progress and will add bloom to the city of roses.” The first film shown at the theater was The Graduate. According to the advertisement, an oddly named rock band called “T.H.E. Herd” played a set in the parking lot before the film. (It’s unclear whether this was the same ‘Herd’ that started a young Peter Frampton’s career.)

From its opening, the Hastings specialized in films that benefited from its large screen, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Poseidon Adventure and Blade Runner—though they would occasionally branch off with more character-driven films like 1977’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

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Inside the lobby where the concession stand used to be.

Among other neat events that took place at the theater was the premier of Charles Schulz’s Oscar-nominated A Boy Named Charlie Brown, which was held at the theater in 1970, complete with a live performance by the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra.

Some standouts from my own filmgoing experience at theater (seen on the big screen, of course) include the re-releases of the original Star Wars trilogy, Saving Private Ryan, the Lord of the Rings films, the first two Harry Potter films and Jurassic Park. And of course, there was the memorable and surreal experience of Kill Bill Vol. 1, which introduces one scene with the title card “Pasadena, California.” (One wiseass in the audience shouted “Boo! Pasadena sucks!”)

I wasn’t particularly disappointed to see theaters like Old Town’s UA Marketplace or the Hastings Ranch Mann close, but this Hastings was something special.




25 Responses for “The Fate of the Pacific Hastings”

  1. Skylar says:

    The Hastings was just as fantastic as it was dingy. I was very sad to come home from college to see that whole area even more run down than it once was. That 60 foot screen was a beauty, but there were always problems there – I distinctly remember going to see “The Mummy” on opening day and watching the film burn up at the climax. It just melted. There was a 15 minute delay and then somehow we were back in the desert and were not quite sure what had happened to Imhotep. But, come to think of it, it would probably take much, much longer for something like that to be fixed now.

    I just have to take comfort at the $2 movies at The Academy (don’t eat anything and don’t touch the floor) and continue to sneak the student price at the UA in La Canada. As far as I can tell, that’s the only place that still gives student discounts, and boy do my grad school friends love it.

  2. Pasadena Native says:

    Does anyone else remember the Hastings Ranch Drive-In Theater? We used to go in the late 50s-mid 60s; they even had a playground to keep the kids entertained before the movie started. As I recall, the screen was salvaged for the indoor theater.

  3. Joseph says:

    I have a fond and surreal memory of seeing Blade Runner in 1982 at the Hastings. I was the only person in the theatre, probably high, but it’s etched in my mind. Maybe it was prophetic of what was about to happen with movies and theaters in the next 10 years.

  4. Derf says:

    The photographers name is Larry Goren not Gorem. The proper title of the newspaper is the Pasadena Star-News. This is why blogging sucks! No editors!

  5. Colleen Dunn Bates says:

    Derf, thank you for notifying us about the name of the photographer– it is fixed. As for the title of the paper, we know what its proper name is– that caption credit is exactly how it is supposed to be credited, as per the collection in the Pasadena Museum of History.

    We are not bloggers, we are publishing an online magazine, and even so, blogging has many redeeming qualities.

  6. Caroline says:

    Of all the fantastic movies I saw there as a child and young adult, why is ‘Arthur’ at the forefront of my memory?????

  7. Jeff says:

    I have many fond memories of this theater. Of all the films I saw there, the two that stand out for me is “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (which I saw there three times) and “The Sound of Music”. The latter stands out because my parents took me there when I was 5 years old. Back then, movies had intermissions, which I find kinda cool.

    Thinking about it, “The Sound of Music” was released in 1965, yet you say the theater opened in 1968. I guess I saw a re-release. In any case, it was memorable.

    I have admittedly not been to the theater in probably 6 years or more. Whoever owned the theater pretty much let it go. The seats had become ratty and uncomfortable. The carpeting looked stained and sticky. It’s sad. This place could have been a fun place to see a movie. I guess those that owned it couldn’t see that.

  8. Pasadena Dreaming says:

    I think it would be wonderful if a multicultural church could be there. Our community needs this. This church could also showcase Christian films, drama presentations and concerts. I’m sure that this would only economically boost the surrounding businesses too.

  9. dana E. says:

    I remember seeing movies like Airport, the Poseidon Adventure, and then Star Wars. When the theatre first opened it was a BIG DEAL. It was the biggest cinema in the area that provided reclining seats and such a big screen. Tearing this historical building down for another lifeless gym is another SAD scenario of money over “what matters”. See, it just goes to show you that Giuseppe Tornatore’s story of “Cinema Paradiso” will continue to repeat itself over and over again no matter what country we live in….LONG LIVE OLD CINEMA’S!!!…
    We still have our old local church cinema here in Montefiore dell’Aso(AP) Italy(pop. 2,583), all INTACT!
    My Pasadena could have done just the same….

  10. Debbie says:

    I grew up in altadena and still reside there I went to the drive in a lot it was safe and fun I took my babies to see there first movies ther e and i took my grandson in recent years it was wondrful because we could go down from home see a movie and be home in three minutes its tragic that we have let so many places go websters and washington area and theratre used to go for 10 cents on sunday and the beautiful Crown theratre no Longer exists. They spend a a lot of money on the bowling alley then they allow thungs to come in be rude and they do not spend money go figure!

  11. larry goren says:

    Derf – Thanks for looking out for me and get the facts straight. Funny thing is, I did not take that photo. I was at the Star News, but photo is miss credited.

  12. goldie says:

    My boyfrind & I went to the beach every Sunday, then back to Pasadena & went to Tony’s Pizza, for Pizza…After dinner we went to the Hastings drive in to see a movie…
    After High School, ( Pasadena High) we were married…Later on we put our 2 children in their P.J’s. & went to the drive in…They would play on the playground until the movie started…After new theater was built, we spent a great deal of time there…Husband has been gone for 20 years now, how I miss those good ol days….Blazing Saddles is the movie that stands out to me the most….Don’t think I had ever laughted so hard as I did for that movie…

  13. Joshua says:

    I remember when I saw Armageddon here with my cousins. My friend actually worked here before it shut down :(

  14. Mike says:

    Although I left Pasadena long ago, this rests in my mind as one of the classiest (back in its hey day) theaters I ever attended. In its first incarnation the aisles were only on the outside and each row of seats spanned nearly the entire width of the theater. The curtains were enormous (back when there were curtains in a theater) and they always opened when the previews started and then would close only to reopen a moment later as the feature started. I always thought that was a nice nod to say “And here it is!”.

    One thing I clearly still remember, was their marquee had a countdown “LAST 8 WEEKS!” , “LAST 6 WEEKS!”, “LAST 4 DAYS!” when movies would be getting ready to leave and be replaced. They ran movies there like stage shows!

    These days no one would think of keeping films running that long…especially in a single-screen theater. Are there any single-screen theaters anymore?

    My most remembered film from there? When my grandmother took us to see “Island of the Blue Dolphin”.

  15. june says:

    Sad to hear of this theater’s demise. I still remember seeing “Perry” and “Bambi” at Hastings Ranch Drive-in. It was a wonderful family place to see movies. The playground and popcorn remain deep in my memories. I enjoyed watching “The Graduate” when the new theater opened in 1968. My friend, my brother and I loved it so much we stayed for a second viewing. Loved the legroom, reclining chairs and the large screen. Saw a few movies during the summer months when I returned with my kids to the area. Not as memorable on those occasions–just like other multi-screen theaters.

  16. Lauren says:

    French fries (in peanut oil – yummm) and chocolate raspberry cheesecake at Robins followed by the premiere of Dances with Wolves – Kevin Costner does make a long movie, but the massive screen was the only way to watch it… I do remember the single screen as a child and feeling cheated when they added the little closet mini-theaters – you’d go to see something on the big screen and find yourself in a broom closet – how about The Majestic??? I got 5 on a nostalgic takeover :)

  17. Lee says:

    Back in the 1960’s mother would load my sister, a few friends and I in the Caprice Station wagon and take us to the Hastings Ranch Drive-in. Pizza and popcorn from the food stand in the middle of the parking lot. Knowing which speakers did not work so as not to park there. The sand lot playground where the lights above the screen would flash to tell us kids to get back to our parents cars because the movies would be starting soon. Changing into PJ’s for the movie and falling asleep for the ride home in the back of the wagon.

    Remember that the kids would runaround without helicopter parents. Then the lot is graded, the screen was pulled down and the playground was gone. Soon a new modern theater was open with great sound, seats and picture. It was fun to see a movie with only one screen and no noise from the screen next door.

    My first date with my wife to be was to The Hastings to see the premier of “Time Bandits” back in 1981. What a fun time we had going to this theater in my sister’s MGB because she wanted to use my Camaro that weekend.

    We would visit the Hastings many more times over the years and when they added the extra screens it was just not the same. Thanks for bringing back the great memories of the Hastings Theaters, both drive in and walk in, we are sorry to see both of them gone,,,,,,,,,Same with other great parts of Pasadena no longer with us.

  18. I graduated from PHS only a few months before the Hastings opened. Such a wonderful, expansive, clean theater it was, and such a HUGE screen. And, as Mike posted above, I too recall the massive set of curtains that opened and closed, then opened again between the previews and the featured attraction. You felt as if you were being respected, treated to something really special. Your admission fee had purchased a fabulous, memorable event.

    “Poseidon Adventure” (Dec. ’72) is definitely one film I remember seeing there — several times. What an experience. One of my younger sisters was just reminiscing about that the other day. She remembers it distinctly. Then there was “Jaws” in ’75… me slowly exiting the theater, weak-kneed, the climax of the film had been so dramatic and terrifying. I was nearly speechless — that’s how amazing the experience was watching such a film on a big screen like that, with the incredible sound and John Williams’ moving, creepy score. Shook me up good!

    I moved away from Pasadena in the 70s and had no idea the theater had later fallen on misfortune. It was bitter-sweet indeed when members of my family and I walked around it and even into the former lobby a few years ago (I don’t remember how we got into the closed, abandoned building…. I think we just walked right in a door). Just heartbreaking. Makes me feel old, like I’ve lost an old friend.

  19. Kyle says:

    Well I was there when in closed, in fact I was working there the day it closed. I got a job working there just before the school year ended the summer it closed down and I loved it. When I started there was no mention that it would be closed, not until the middle end of the summer did the managers say something. When the rumors had started about it being shut down the managers fought hard to keep the theater. They got rid of bad employees, cleaned up a lot, kept an eye on everything, and even kept making plans for the future as if they were not going to loose the theater. We were all hoping that the two big summer movies (harry potter and born id or something else I am having a hard time remembering the other one) would hold it together for a little while longer. I remember getting the talk about how the theater was going to be closed come that August, but they made sure to tell us that it was because they would not let us renew the lease. They made sure of that because they knew Pacific Theaters company did not want to close it yet.

    It was my first job ever I was so scared going into it because I was only 16 and was afraid of being fired. I instantly fell in love with working there and was so proud to be there. I would have most likely not left the job come the start of school again. I would have worked as long as I could have, which sadly was only a summer. None the less it was a summer filled with a great learning experience and I gained the confidence I lacked. The managers we really nice all with their own personalities and made sure we were doing our job right, but most important they were great at their jobs. The theater was a perfect place for me to start my job career because it was laid back in the sense that we knew we were not the greatest theater around, but we were perfect for being something other than the best. Different; we had our mini little arcade, the outside area to hang out, small and cozy, we were great for parties, and of course our one of a kind 60 ft screen with all the seats it was perfect.

    I can tell you for sure that everything was gutted out of all the theaters by at least a month after it closed its doors. The seats were all gone, the little screens were taken away, the projector rooms were all taken apart, freezer in the back, the stock room was cleaned out, I personally cleaned out all the old movie posters (of course when I threw them out I put all the crappy ones in the dumpster and put all the good ones aside so people could have them and no sadly there were none of the really old posters I believe someone from the company went through them before I was allowed to start cleaning) I still have the movie posters I wanted. Everything was gone when I went back to get my last check, everything except the big screen itself I do not know what ever did happen to it. I do know that they were not even sure what to do with it and all the special stuff it had with it. I miss working there its like a little part of me is still there working and if they ever decide to open it up again I will one of the fist people to apply for a job no matter how old I am.

  20. Jonathan Jose Jackson III says:

    I recall the Hasting Ranch drive in, I saw many a movie there, I also recall when at Sierra Madre Blvd and Sierra madre Villa was the Spanish language radio station KWKW and an antennae farm. My parents tell me that as a child we would go to Sears on Colorado Bl and Oakland before it moved to Hastings Ranch to be the anchor store of the shopping center

  21. Steve Lamb says:

    leasing agents and their scummy ilk are such total jerks. That was a VERY VERY well designed building that was designed under the philosophy of Frank Lloyd Wrights “organic Architecture” and was not just merely a “60’s functionalist” building. The building itself was the last lovely theater in this area and was designed to be a play of joy not merely commerce, something I am sure no butt headed leasing agent can place a “value” on. BTW the build quality on the structure was also very high. Something we just don’t see anymore. All praise to the Architect Roland Pierson whose work is not as well respected as it deserves to be.

  22. Joshua says:

    Update: Just drove by tonight and saw some activity. There are some semi-trucks with wood, water tank trucks, yellow Bulldozers, and other construction equipment. There is also an office trailer with a man siting in his car watching over the site. No signs if demolishing yet. I wanted to ask the man what all the equipment was for, but I didn’t feel like leaving my car. I can’t guess what this site will turn into….it might become a restaurant, but its a little small for department stores. My ultimate hope is that it will become a new theatre, like an AMC. The site is perfect for it, as there are lots of restaurants and a bowling alley right next to it. If anyone hears any news, please post.

  23. Neb says:

    Well, it is all but completely torn down. It will become an LA Fitness thereafter.
    I saw over 20 shows there, living just up the street in Hastings Ranch. I miss the
    opportunity to see a show at what we called, a “walk-in”. Too many fond memories
    of the old 60′ theatre…complete with a large pop corn and large soda!?*

  24. Randy says:

    That’s really sad. I grew up there. My first movie was 2001 A Space Odyssey and the most memorable was Planet Of The Apes, plus all it’s sequels. It’s a shame they don’t make theaters like that anymore. I remember how they always closed the curtains after the previews and then re-opened them for the feature attraction. Just plain class.

  25. jobea says:

    yes i remember the drive in theater! my sis and i would sit in the back of our station wagon in our PJ”s and play on the playground memories!

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