South Scottsdale is nothing like the palm trees-and-golf courses luxury destination you expect it to be. My neighborhood is full of abandoned and disused property. It’s almost like there’s a systematic plan to make the area look crappy so everyone is OK with tearing everything down and replacing it all with “luxury condos.”
I think about this every time I drive around my neighborhood – and I thought it might be fun to preserve some of those memories. So let’s remember some of the abandoned movie theaters of Scottsdale from the days of olde … by which I mean the 1980s.
Back in the 80s, there were two separate malls in what is now Scottsdale Fashion Square. There was Scottsdale Fashion Square and another to the west called Camelview Plaza. If memory services, that’s where the Camelback Theater was.
I definitely remember that Camelview Plaza had a crepe place called The Magic Pan. I’m not sure if I actually saw any movies at the Camelback Theater, but I definitely knocked back a crepe or 50!
If you’re new to Scottsdale, you might wonder why I’m mentioning this when there’s actually a Camelview Theater. Well, that’s not the original one.
Before the fancy version that you know today, there was a much more modest version a few blocks west. It had distinct architecture that I’m not schooled enough to describe. The interior paid homage to Old Hollywood. I loved the place.
One of my favorite memories of the original Camelview was going there with my brother Erich to see Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In more recent years, the Camelview gave us a place to watch non-blockbuster artsy stuff – which was very welcome.
This more than an abandoned movie theater in Scottsdale – it’s an abandoned concept of the mall of the future. It was called the Galleria, and it was meant to start a new generation of anchorless malls. There’s already reams of copy online about what a silly idea this was.
I can’t recall setting foot inside the Cineplex Odeon, and I’m not even sure what it is today. Unlike most of the others, this one probably still exists within the shell of the Galleria, so
El Camino Theater
Today, I live just blocks from the El Camino, a free-standing theater with just one screen. I know it’s been some sort of weird auction house. Right now, it’s just a fenced off abandoned movie theater with a broken front window. There are signs it will soon be torn down.
I also don’t remember ever going to a movie here.
Fashion Square 7
As part of Scottsdale Fashion Square, this is barely worth mentioning. It’s been repurposed into some art space that’s overpriced. Par for the course.
Like the Cineplex Odeon, the IMAX was part of the Galleria. One of the things I actually liked about the Galleria is that it’s connected to my favorite restaurant – The Famous Pacific Seafood Company. Twelve-Year-Old Me loved eating their shark cooked over wood-fired grills. Dead serious.
I remember going with a date to see a filmed Rolling Stones concert, even though I wasn’t a Stones fan. I also interviewed the first Spanish woman to climb Mount Everest there; she was featured in a movie that showed at the Galleria.
The property that would become the Galleria sure had a lot of theaters nearby, and this is another one of my favorite demolished and/or abandoned movie theaters of Scottsdale.
And it’s the home of a huge movie memory for me: The Empire Strikes Back. Can you imagine what would’ve happened if they had social media when this came out? I can practically hear the outrage at Darth Vader’s claim to be Luke Skywalker’s father.
I also saw ET here, but I was never a huge fan of that movie.
Los Arcos Mall Cinema – My Best Abandoned Movie Theater in Scottsdale Story
Los Arcos Mall is a topic that fired up the southern half of the city. A developer called the Ellman Companies bought the mall with plans to tear it down and build a hockey arena – but it wound up being some weird work-live-eat amalgamation of stuff affiliated with ASU. Its signature funny-looking spaceport thing is still polarizing (I love it).
The old mall had a movie theater in the bottom. I don’t remember ever seeing a movie there.
But here’s a memory I DO have of the old mall:
When I was a news reporter, the local papers were looking for every possible angle to write about the mall’s upcoming demolition. At one point, a bunch of psychics approached me and spun all sorts of tales about hauntings and visitations. Things like apparitions of javelina running around, and specters walking the halls bisected by the floor.
I concocted the idea of spending a night in the old mall with a photographer and whichever of the psychics was game for it. I had to get the PR stooge for the developers onboard with it. He stalled me long enough for demolition to begin, that worthless worm!
I am also disappointed to this day that we never used my photo cutline of the demolition: “Mr. Elman, Tear Down This Mall!”
UA Movies 5/Scottsdale Dollar Cinema
This building still lives on as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, which is nice among this list of torn down or abandoned movie theaters. I saw many a movie here back in its heyday as the United Artists 5.
The most memorable?
I’ve only walked out of one movie ever. I was probably 7 years old.
The movie was Without Warning, which was about some alien that threw little pissed-off starfish that sucked people’s brains out or something.
At some point, I’d had enough. Erich took one for the team and walked me to the next theater, where they were showing Middle Age Crazy starring Chevy Chase. Though it may also have been Modern Problems.
You might also wonder why a 7-year-old was watching Without Warning. This actual quote from my mother may explain things: “This one’s rated R – it must be good!”
Looking Nearby For Abandoned Movie Theaters
The Cine Capri was just about five miles away from South Scottsdale on the southwest corner of Camelback and 24 Street. It was an impressive screen, and I’m pretty sure it was the biggest around.
It also had the very hip Cafe Casino nearby. My tween self loved that place for reasons I can’t quite remember. Nevertheless, both it and the Cine Capri are gone.
I remember seeing Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home there – with Erich, you guessed it!
An Outdoor Abandoned Movie Theater
There was also apparently a drive-in movie theater somewhere east of Scottsdale Road on McDowell. That must’ve been before my time.
There was also a drive-in theater in North Tempe, right on the southeast corner of Mckellips and McClintock.
NOTE: I used this cool website to refresh my memory about the names of these theaters.