Cinema Latino de Fort Worth

4200 South Freeway C53,
Fort Worth, TX 76115

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dallasmovietheaters on January 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm

In June of 1960, Sears not only decided to build its first retail store within Fort Worth, it created an entire subsidiary called Homart Development to construct shopping centers, the first of which was Seminary South Shopping Center on an 88-acre tract opening in 1962. In 1969, General Cinemas decided the time was right to construct two theaters simultaneously adjoining shopping centers. They were the Seminary South Center I & II in the Homart plaza and the Six Flags Cinema I & II in nearby Arlington, TX, a project that had delays opening in August of 1970. General Cinemas also opened in Homart’s other properties in DFW: inside of Valley View Mall in Dallas, outside of what would eventually be called the Parks Mall in Arlington, outside of the Town East Mall in Mesquite.

The GCC Seminary officially opened on Christmas Day 1969 and would expand in the 1970s to three screens as auditorium two was twinned. The location had an art gallery and a smokers area like many of the other theaters of that era. The Seminary South struggled due to competition from new enclosed malls in Fort Worth, Arlington, and North Richland Hills. Locals disparagingly referred to the area as “Cemetery South” as the center shed stores and hurt General Cinema’s revenues. But there was hope for General Cinema. In 1985, Homart finally sold the underachieving shopping center to the Texas Centers Association which spent $25 million to purchase the property and another $25 million to convert the open air shopping center to an enclosed mall designed by Altoon and Porter, architects from California. The architects had a spot for GCC on the second floor right by one of the mall’s main entry points on the East side just up the escalator. The mall project finally opened on September 4th, 1987 as the Town Center Fort Worth with great optimism. Not long thereafter, General Cinema completed work on its new GCC Town Center 8 which opened and the chain closed its exterior Seminary South I, II, III. An attraction sign was visible from both the adjoining Interstate highway and access road heading southbound.

But ominously, Black Monday occurred October 19, 1987 and the economy regressed tremendously hurting low-to-middle class malls such as the Town Center. Within five years, the mall lost its first anchor in J.C. Penney’s which reported absurdly low revenue receipt totals. Many stores between also closed and even the mall’s original anchor grocery store went out of business. Town Center would regress to “greyfield” status, an industry term akin to a “dead mall” within just ten years of its opening. For General Cinema, which was about to get slaughtered by a new breed of megaplexes, there was no reason to continue operating the underachieving Town Center 8. Two other chains tried to rebrand the theater as a discount house which seemed reasonable given the mall’s remaining clientele: they were the Hollywood circuit and the Wallace circuit. Wallace even offered free seats to any TCU student from the nearby University to get anyone to show up for a period of time. But even the attraction of free seats in a ghost town mall, a theater in disrepair, presentations consisting of scratchy 35mm prints, and a wide variety of insects running freely up and down the aisles was not a good draw as the theater was mercifully shuttered. Only a miracle could save the cinema if not the entire complex from the wrecking ball.

José de Jesus Legaspi was the miracle worker transforming the moribund “Cemetery South” / “Town Sucker Mall” to La Gran Plaza, a vibrant Hispanic mall built with an intriguing tax rebate incentive deal allowing the project to flourish. The Mexican villa concept and business plan was visionary. And an important component from the outset was reviving the Town Center 8 in 2005. Rebranded by Cinema Latino circuit as Cinema Latino de Fort Worth, the theater finally found its audience almost twenty years after its original opening.

Cinema Latino de Fort Worth played mostly American films with Spanish subtitles; dubbed American films into Spanish (primarily animated and effects-centered action films); and some Mexican films that played exclusively at the theater. Cinema Latino also played all of the Pantelion releases from the studio created by Lionsgate and Grupo Televisa to reach American Hispanic audiences. The theater had big successes with Pantelion titles including “…instructions not included,” “From Prada to Nada” and “Pulling Strings.” By the 2010s, the circuit still was operating theaters in the Phoenix area, the Houston area, and the Denver area as well as its Fort Worth location. Given the state of the Town Center, few could have predicted that this multiplex could possibly have survived past its 25th anniversary, especially in a megaplex world. But as Bruce Willis said in the dubbed Die Hard, “¿Quién diría?” Who knew?