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The original Capitol Plaza Cinema had a huge Panavision screen, and it was a real pleasure to see films like “Where Eagles Dare” and the reissued “Ben-Hur” there. In 1972, that screen fell victim to one of the worst conversions ever, as a wall was built right down the middle of the theater. Upon entering the newly-“twinned” auditoriums, one felt as if one were looking through the wrong end of a telescope (the screens were later enlarged slightly in the late 70s but it was too late). Nevertheless, the twinned theater did excellent business in ‘72-‘74 with big hits like “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Paper Moon” and “Lady Sings the Blues” as well as many Disney films new and reissued (many Trentonians in their 50s will recall seeing “The Love Bug,” “Peter Pan” and “Fantasia” at Capitol Plaza). As the 70s wore on, and competition increased from the new Quakerbridge 4 and Mercer Mall Cinemas, the bookings got worse and business fell off further as the Capitol Plaza shopping center went into decline. But many Trentonians have fond memories of seeing “The Godfather” and other hits on the original, big screen. (I worked at Capitol Plaza as usher and projectionist from 1972 through 1975).
General Cinema Corporation went under largely due to overbuilding. They got into a fierce screen-building competition with AMC, and AMC won. Among many factors in its decline was GCC’s corporate policy of building free-standing theaters (with higher overhead expenses)wherever possible as opposed to AMC’s policy of building in high-traffic shopping malls. Of course today AMC’s theaters are bigger than some shopping malls. Booking was also a problem – GCC’s head buyer passed on movies like “E.T.” while we played dogs like “Author, Author” with high guarantees. This meant that we played many films to near-empty theaters for way too long as we tried to recoup as much of the guarantee as possible. It is no coincidence that that booker left GCC to work for Fox distribution! Today Mercer Mall is booming and if GCC had stayed afloat they’d probably be doing quite nicely there.
markp, I don’t know what union-vs.-non-union booth has to do with print wear. The alignment and tension on the take-up reel would be factors in sprocket hole damage. We had issues with this since the theater opened thanks to initial poor setup by a lousy RCA service man. I eventually learned how to address most of the problems in the booth myself. And perhaps I am misremembering after all these years but it seems to me that Universal’s prints (i.e. Jurassic) were made on a better film stock than Paramount’s (Saturday Night Fever). I never had to replace a Universal print. We were also running SNF five shows a day with midnight shows on the weekends. We ran SNF close to 1000 times during its run.
Mercer Mall Cinemas did indeed open Xmas 1975. I was the first head projectionist (from 1975-1979). The theater was very successful, with months-long (!) runs of “Saturday Night Fever” and “Animal House.” I had to get a replacement print for “Fever” due to extreme sprocket hole wear!
My condolences to you, Mrs. Levy. As a child, I too spent many happy hours at the Greenwood with my movie crazy older sister Pat. I vividly remember standing in line to see “A Hard Day’s Night” in 1964 and the chorus of screams that provided an additional soundtrack! I also recall some classy roadshow-style presentations of late-60s films like “Star,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Ryan’s Daughter” as well as many Saturday “kiddie” matinees.My sister tells me that prior to my birth in 1955, Mr. Levy lived on our street, Gardner Avenue, but apparently moved before I came along.