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.”
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.
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.