Epitaph For Two Harrisburg-Area Movie Theatres
HARRISBURG, PA — Over the next few weeks demolition is scheduled for two vastly different Harrisburg Pennsylvania area movie theatres – each of which exemplified theatrical design for the decade in which it opened: the East Park Center and Capital City Mall 6 Plex.
East Park Center
Built in 1963, the East Park Center at 4400 Derry Street was the first shopping center theatre in Central Pennsylvania. Dubbed the ‘Airplane Hanger’ (its convex steel shell exterior looked like one), the free-standing building was 130 feet wide yet only 90 foot deep. The East Park had been designed for reserved seat, 70MM roadshow attractions, with 1,200 rocking chair seats (all on one floor), a 45 foot high by 90 foot wide screen, and 6 Track Magnetic Stereo Sound. Whether due to architectural folly or a desire to save costs (perhaps both), the auditorium ceiling was left exposed ‘“ thereby creating horrible acoustic problems.
The East Park opened with ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ which played for nearly a year. In 1965 ‘Sound of Music’ began an exclusive run at the East Park that lasted for nearly two years.
With the mass release of such blockbusters as ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Jaws’ Hollywood learned just how quickly money could be made. Seemingly overnight the East Park and other such roadshow venues were rendered obsolete. It did not help that Sameric Theatres (the original owner) and later operator United Artists both subscribed to a ‘zero maintenance’ philosophy – thereby condemning the East Park to a slow downward spiral.
The East Park was twinned in the mid 1970’s – one of the more successful wall-down-the-middle adaptations. Because of the building’s width, the end result was two proportional auditoriums each having about 550 seats and a 40 foot screen. The addition of acoustical tile drop ceilings helped relieve many of the sound problems.
By the early 90’s even the valiant efforts of the on-site manager could no longer disguise East Park’s thread-bare carpeting and worn-out seats. The East Park limped to a close in January 1994 and its interior was quickly gutted. For the past eleven years the vacant building has remained a hulking monument to an era when both Hollywood and theatre operators sought to battle the little black box in the living room with sheer size.
Capital City Mall 6 Plex
Built in 1974 by Carrolls Development Corp of Syracuse NY (the Burger King people) and located at the Capital City Mall on the West Shore of the Susquehanna River, the Cap City 6 was jammed into storefront retail space and represented the epitome of shoe-box design. Its line of six tiny auditoriums ranged from 100 to 220 seats – each with a low ceiling and a small screen. The entire Cap City complex (including its lobby) would have easily fit inside the East Park Center with room to spare.
Acquired by United Artists in 1975, the theatre, quickly dubbed ‘Cap Shitty’, was repeatedly the butt of local talk-radio jokes (often dealing with feet stuck to syrup covered floors). The Cap City 6 managed to survive until its recent closing on December 19, 2004 by virtue of an arcane product split arrangement which guaranteed the complex exclusive first runs for 50% of the movies on its side of the river.
The Cap City 6 will be forever linked in local lore with the events of 9/11. Cap City had been built with dual small restrooms on either end of its lobby. In February 2001 the sewer pipe serving the left side restrooms collapsed and UA quietly closed off those restrooms rather than making repairs. On the morning of September 11, 2001, as events were unfolding in New York City, the local codes enforcement officer padlocked the Cap City theatres until sewer repairs were made. Its enterprising manager quickly advertised that the theatre had been ‘temporarily closed due to national emergency’.
The Cap City 6 is being demolished to make way for a new food court at the mall.