Varsity Theater demolished
HONOLULU, HI — The historic Varsity Theatre was demolished today, nine months after closing as a movie house. Attempts to preserve the building failed because it apparently was structurally unsound. The Varsity opened in 1939.
I posted a photo of the demolition on my website.
FROM Lowell Angel: Demolition began yesterday of Honolulu’s last operating freestanding movie theatre, the 1939 Varsity, which closed last June after 68 years.
Located a short distance from the University of Hawaii campus, it opened on September 8, 1939 with the film “Stagecoach,” with John Wayne and directed by John Ford. It was a second-run house throughout most of its life but in recent years was the local art house.
The theatre was designed by renowned local architect C.W. Dickey, in a spare Moderne style, with covered walkways and plantings on each side of the building leading to the main entrance and a high-ceilinged main lobby. Dickey was the architect of the beautiful 1936 Waikiki, torn down in 2006, the Asian-style 1938 Toyo, demolished in 1995, and two other unique island theatres.
While not as decorative or elegant as the others, the twinned Varsity had a loyal following and will be missed by many as the last operating historic neighborhood theatre in Honolulu.
Possibly its most outstanding feature was the large two-sided “wedge” marquee overhanging the sidewalk, lit by an abundance of green and blue neon. It was an eye-catching sight at night, especially for passing motorists, and a beacon for the neighborhood .
In the mid-1960s, the Varsity was leased by the nearby University for daytime use as a large lecture hall, accommodating around 850 students (including this author, who found it very hard to concentrate on the subject with the smell of fresh popcorn wafting through the auditorium!).
The property,which also includes a large parking lot and an adjacent round 5-story office building, was sold recently to Kamehameha Schools, a large landowner in the area. Interest had been shown in a short term lease of the theatre, but major structural prolems were discovered and the decision was made not to spend the $3 to 5 million estimated cost of repairs. The space occupied by the theatre will be used for more parking until overall redevelopment plans have been finalized.
(Thanks to Lowell for providing the photos.)