Abandoned Movie Theaters of Scottsdale

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.

Camelback Theater

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!

Camelview Theater

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.

abandoned movie theaters has more great photos of the Camelview Theater.

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.

Cineplex Odeon

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.

abandoned movie theaters
El Camino Theater looks like it’s going to get razed soon.

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.

IMAX Theater

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.

Kachina Theatre

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.

abandoned movie theaters
Photo found at

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.

abandoned movie theaters
The old UA7 gets some upgrades as the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Arts.

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

Cine Capri

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.


Book Review: attractive unattractive americans

attractive unattractive americans
If you travel abroad, “attractive unattractive americans” is worth a look.

American travelers trying to pass themselves off as Canadians is an old story. I’ve seen them with Canadian flags sewn onto their backpacks – but I haven’t heard them going so far as to claim to be from Moose Jaw or pepper their speech with an "eh" every few sentences.

That’s because there’s still a perception that the world doesn’t like Americans – that people from other countries think we’re loud, impolite and dumb.

Author René Zografos tries to get a handle on this in his book attractive unattractive americans: how the world sees america.

I should mention a little problem up front: Some people from the Americas might have a problem with the title. As a friend from Brazil likes to say, he’s an American, too. I see his point, so I would’ve called it how the world sees the united states.

attractive unattractive americans
A Canadian, or a faux-Canadian?

Zografos – who has an interesting half-Greek, half-Norwegian background – sets an interesting and nearly impossible task for himself here. He seems like the kind of guy who’s a great conversationalist. You’d want to run into him in a bar or a cafe and hang out with him. He clearly is good at getting people to chat with him, and at preserving the essence of what they say.

People from a long list of countries gave Zografos their thoughts on the United States and its people. Ultimately, I can’t see any clear-cut conclusion. I didn’t really expect him to reach one, though. I just expected to be entertained by the journey.

I also expected a few surprises along the way. Well, the people Zografos interviewed delivered. I was particularly shocked by some of the sweeping generalizations. More than a few people wrote off everything about the United States and rejected the possibility that there’s anything good about it – crude pursuit of wealth, crude language, crude dress (one person painted a picture of the entire United States running around with its pants collectively sagged).

I completely expected the United States to take its lumps in this book. I didn’t expect some of the criticism I saw, but I expected a good bit of it. I really enjoyed how one person skewered how the U.S. is addicted to superlatives – we love everything and think everything is awesome. And yes, we’re definitely way too oblivious to what’s happening in other countries.

There are a few things that caught me off-guard that I just can’t agree with:

  • Scandinavian and Nordic seem to think they’re cold and unfriendly. That’s their perception of themselves. Well, my Scandinavian and Nordic friends, this visitor doesn’t think so at all. From Iceland to Finland, people started conversations with me. They were quick to help with directions. Maybe they’re not as ebullient as Australians -- they’re more chill and relaxed. But they’re still genuinely nice. I have nothing but good to say about Scandinavian and Nordic people.
  • Speaking of friendliness, people from the U.S. have a reputation for friendliness. Some of the people interviewed for attractive unattractive americans accurately perceived that much of it is reflexive but insincere politeness rather than friendliness. I could probably write a book that deconstructs American friendliness for what it really is. That’s not to say we don’t have genuinely friendly people. But they’re the exception.
  • There’s also a perception that the United States is optimistic. I definitely question this. There was a time when each generation was expected to be more prosperous than the previous generation. Those days are over in the United States, and we know it. We lag behind the rest of the world in health care and paid time off (sick leave, vacation time, etc.). More of us work part-time and are mired in student debt. We’re over-caffeinated, overworked, overfed and over-tired. So, what reason do we really have to be optimistic?

Overall, I had fun reading attractive unattractive americans. I think future editions could use some improvement, though. One of my big quibbles is the book’s organization. I’d get into the flow and just be reading and reading -- and I’d lose track of who’s speaking. Between long interviews and short quotes from people he’s met, Zografos interjects with some ideas and opinions of his own. Sometimes, I had to backtrack a few pages because those transitions could be far more effective. That could be a design issue in the book’s layout. But it could also be solved with the author making a better effort to craft a more distinct voice.

If you travel, attractive unattractive americans is worth a look. It might help you realize a few things about yourself and your home country, and I see some learning opportunities that will help you connect with people you meet when you travel. And that is true no matter where you’re from.


Thoughts on Culture and Live Theater in Phoenix

live theater in Phoenix
The Rocky Horror Show – some great live theater in Phoenix. (photo by Jessica Frieling Photography)

People love to say that Phoenix doesn’t have any culture. It’s a notion that people parrot constantly. And it puts me in the mood to brandish a cricket bat in a threatening manner. What they really mean is one of of the following:

    • I’m too lazy to go out and find any culture in Phoenix
    • The culture in Phoenix isn’t exactly the same as Chicago/Detroit/Whatever Fast-Fading Rustbelt Eastern City I’m From, and is therefore not really culture.
    • There’s no place where other people can see me partaking of the culture in Phoenix, so I’m not interested.

Well, first off – "culture" is a pretty encompassing word. I can’t address it all in one blog post. But I can address one aspect of it. And I feel like talking about live theater in Phoenix. Over the past few years, Sarah and I have made a better effort to see more live theater. Hollywood has aided and abetted this plan by making a bunch of terrible "reboots" and "re-imaginings" of "franchises"

live theater in phoenix
The Pirates of Penzance at Fountain Hills Theater.

(known as "movies" to people with an iota of sense).

Then, when my good friend Todd started acting in live musical theater, we had another reason to hit the theater. We haven’t missed any of his shows, and we drop into other shows, too. I’m ordinarily not into musicals, but seeing your friends devote their time to something they love doing is a very cool thing. And it’s part of a cultural scene that we shouldn’t overlook. I’ll admit, Phoenix does not have on-tap the smorgasbord of high-end theater of bigger, more-established cities. The casts and crews are not the polished professionals you see in the big shows.

So what?

Perfection isn’t the be-all, end-all of any artistic endeavor. They all put some heart into what they do. And yes, there are also some absurdly talented people on their way up. You’ll actually enjoy them, even if you didn’t pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket. And here’s the thing: If you want more live theater in Phoenix and want more big shows and huge productions, you need to get out and push.

You need to show interest, and that means going to see shows with just 250 other people in the audience – or even just 25 other people! Alright, I’ve stated my case. Now, let me give you a few ideas of where you can see some live theater in Phoenix.

Brelby Theater Company – We’ve made a few visits to Glendale to catch outdoor shows from Brelby Theater Company. It was really cool watching lightning in the distance while enjoying some Shakespeare. The casts have all been very young, energetic and innovative. They do a lot with very little space and very little staging.

Desert Stages Theater – Even before Todd got into acting, Sarah and I enjoyed Desert Stages Theater. It’s a very cool space with multiple stages that can hold audiences of varying sizes. My favorite so far was their version of the Rocky Horror Show – some excellent singing, and great use of space.

Don Bluth Front Row Theatre – We just made our first visit to the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre. And it’s literally fewer than 50 people jammed into a central Scottsdale strip mall. Don Bluth, by the way, is an animation legend who is throwing his energy into this out of honest love for the theater. A very cool way to use his time and resources.

Fountain Hills Theater – I got a nice little surprise from this theater. Culturally, Fountain Hills doesn’t hold much interest for me: no good coffee shops, and no venues for hard-rockin’ live music. But Fountain Hills Theater put on a version of Pirates of Penzance that added a steampunk look to the story. Some very impressive singing here, too. Good fun!

Scottsdale Musical Theater Company – I ordinarily wouldn’t have gone to see The Music Man. But Todd was in it, so I thought "why not?" This was another impressive cast, both in size and ability. One of my favorite parts of it was recognizing so many elements that Matt Groening riffed on in the "Monorail" episode of The Simpsons.

And look, these are all just a start. There are plenty of other theaters around the Valley. Go see a show. Better yet, audition for a part. If you don’t, just realize that you’re why Phoenix doesn’t have the culture you want.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If I didn’t mention your favorite theater, leave a comment and a link. The whole idea of this post is to expose people to cultural opportunities they don’t about … and take away their reasons for not going to a show.

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Humanity Versus Hostility – Thoughts from a Jam-Packed Asian City

traffic Vietnam
The motorbikes come to a rare stop at a rare stoplight in Vietnam.

It’s a head-on collision in the making. Two fast-moving motorbikes, a mountainous road slick with rain.

The riders see each other at the last second. They slam on the brakes, fishtail, come to a stop inches from each other. They smile, shrug, get back on their bikes and putter off.

If this happened back in Phoenix, there would be a lot more drama. Some yelling and gesturing at a bare minimum, with a possibility of punches thrown.

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Vietnam, though, is that the people are fairly relaxed toward each other – even behind the wheel or handlebar.

Vietnamese culture
Could Buddhism be part of the easygoing Vietnamese attitude?

I saw it on the first day as Sarah and I perched on a curb, waiting for a break in traffic to cross a street in Ho Chi Minh City. There, traffic seems like chaos. It’s intimidating and stressful. I had no idea what to do. I noticed a local woman start to cross, and I followed her. We walked a straight, slow, steady line. The motorbike avalanche flowed around us. Nobody honked, nobody got mad. I looked over my shoulder, and Sarah was still on the curb.

The local woman noticed. She went back across, took Sarah by the hand and towed her across the intersection. Without saying a word, she taught Sarah -- "This is how we do it in Vietnam."

Vietnamese culture
Maybe after a long history of armed conflict in its borders, Vietnamese culture doesn’t sweat the small stuff … like traffic.

It makes the Vietnamese sound very friendly, doesn’t it? And they are, but not in the way we associate with Aussies and Kiwis. They’re not really outgoing and jocular. It took me a few days to feel plugged into their mannerisms; once I did, I saw courtesy and humor in many of my encounters.

The streets strike me as microcosm of the culture. I sense that people connect with each other, and give each other the room they need to exist. When one motorbike rider cuts in front of another, nobody gets upset. Everyone just goes around each other, making room for the occasional alpha predator like a bus or semi-truck.

What’s the root of this? Buddhism? Living in close quarters? A period of peace after a long history of conflict?

And what’s the source of the uptight hostility I sense back home? Phoenix is a sprawling place, as are many Asian cities like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. But density accompanies their sprawl, where Phoenix-area people are spread out. It’s possible to walk for a mile in Scottsdale, where I live, and not see another person on foot. Since I’m just a few weeks removed from my trip to Vietnam, my area feels vacant -- especially with the out-of-business car dealerships that blot the southern part of the city.

You won’t see the hostility in every encounter here. People here are relatively polite one-on-one. But controlling a vehicle turns us into impatient, self-centered misanthropes just a minor traffic inconvenience away from fury. That includes me.

My conclusion – our cars and our homes are bubbles. We grow to hate being outside them, and we resent any reminder that there are other human beings out there. We starve for human contact without realizing it. We grow isolated.

I see this as a very regional and varied phenomenon. I consider the Pacific Northwest the friendliest part of the United States. People walk quite a bit more, and the drivers are civilized. It’s not unusual for a local to strike up a conversation with someone.

So is more people walking the answer? No. People walk all over in Washington, D.C. -- and I consider it one of the least-friendly places I’ve ever visited. Consider that I’ve spent well more than six months total in the area, and I consider my view valid.

I have no solution, nor a solid idea of what makes one population so much quicker to anger than another. All I can take away is a bit of awareness -- and a reminder to ask myself “What would a Vietnamese motorbike rider do?”.

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Asia’s Novelty Act – Me!

This orange-clad troublemaker and her friend (taking the photo) got it all started. Notice the ubiquitous Asian “I’m having my photo taken” peace sign.

I’m curious about South Korea -- and it seems South Korea is just as curious about me. From news television crews to young women asking me to pose for photos, I cause a stir everywhere I go. Here are some encounters that will give you an idea of what it was like:

Day One
One of my first activities is a climb up Namsan Mountain. Now that’s about 850 feet up, pretty much paved. At the top, two Korean women ask me to pose for photos with them. Then I head down -- and two more want a photo. Then a young Korean man says "Excuse, please -- are you from Italy?" I tell him that I’m from the U.S., and he turns shy and repeats "sorrysorrysorry." After these two encounters, the rest become kind of old hat, an expected part of my day.

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The Mountain Bike That Changed Everything

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
I couldn’t find a photo of my most-important bike ever. So you just get a photo of the best bike I’ve ever owned. Both are black, though my Balance had all sorts of 90s-required blue anodized bits.

There’s one mountain bike that made my life better.

It didn’t have any carbon fiber or hydraulic disc brakes. Its only suspension was my arms and legs. No clipless pedals. Just 21 speeds.

So what’s so great about it? It was my first real mountain bike. I learned to love mountain biking a year earlier … I’d ride my psuedo-mountain bike to classes at ASU during my freshman year. My roommate was a mountain biker, as were a girl on the fifth floor of my dorm and one of my classmates in a low-level engineering class. Between them all, I got my intro to real mountain biking.

I returned for my sophomore year on a shiny black Balance. Chromoly steel frame, a full Shimano DX group, real off-road geometry for efficient pedaling and agile handling. It was made to be a police bike, but somehow wound up at Bicycle Ranch near my house. Bit by bit, I upgraded it.

More importantly, it upgraded me. It was sturdier than my first bike. It let me ride better. Sure, it still got me to class (I protected it with two U-locks when I had to put it in the bike rack). But it also responded to my commands off-road. It could do anything I asked of it.

It made me a mountain biker.

That was a time in my life when I didn’t have to worry about being fast. I didn’t wear colorful jerseys. I wasn’t part of a team. The people I rode with didn’t “ride for” anyone but themselves. We just had fun.

Later bikes would make me a racer (half-assed and inconsistent, of course) or bike nerd or whatever you want to call me. This one … I learned to fix it. I crashed it. I made it my own. Everything I learned from it got me a job at a bike shop. It put me on the trail of friends, relationships, adventures. I’d be shocked if any other bike impacts my life as that old Balance did.

What’s the most important bike in your history?


Review – South Korea’s Incheon International Airport

incheon korean airlines 747 golf course
South Korea's Incheon Airport shows its whimsical side.
I’m watching people in traditional Korean dress teach art classes. To my left, there’s a string quartet playing to a growing audience. But when I look to my right, I get roped back to reality – masses of travelers rushing to gates or shambling toward the baggage claim after a long flight. This is Incheon International Airport, and it’s seriously the best damn airport that’s ever waved me through a magnetometer.

Let’s start with these art classes: Travelers can drop into one of the Korea Traditional Cultural Experience centers scattered throughout the terminal behind the security area.

There, they can take a free lesson in a few different simple Korean art projects. It’s a great way to spend part of a four-hour layover -- and I have visions of an Arizona Traditional Cultural Experience Center at my home airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor (I have visions of a shooting gallery, a road-rage driving simulator and a mechanical bull).

Is that not some spacious airport architecture? (Kanchi1979)

What else is cool about Incheon?

Wi-fi, food, architecture and transit. Let’s talk wi-fi first – you’re in luck if you have your own computer. But if you don’t, just drop into Naver Square Internet Lounge, where you can hop onto a netbook for absolutely free.

Food’s important for an airport, too.

Incheon has the array of Asian food you’d expect, with just about every country represented. I had a nice Vietnamese fried rice from one of the food courts just upstairs from the main floor. Sarah and I both scooped up some quality gelato – I was tempted to try the black sesame flavor, but it didn’t have anything chunky in it. It’s one of my odd quirks that I like chunks in my ice cream. I’m typically not a hot dog person, but they have some crazy hot dogs throughout Korea. I didn’t try any since, like I said, I’m not a huge lover of nitrate-crammed cylindrical mystery meats.

They have to taste better than they look. The Asian entrees appealed to me more!

The architecture is open an airy, with plenty of windows.

Plane spotters must surely love it, though I didn’t find any outdoor areas for taking photos. For such a busy airport, it never felt cramped. Traffic flowed, and it was easy to find anything you might need, when you need it.

It’s easy to get to and from Incheon.

By rail is the best way, with commuter and express trains zipping people into Seoul and its surroundings. There are also buses, and plenty of helpful airport staff members to help you navigate if your Korean language skills are limited to "hello" and "thank you" (like mine!).

And there’s one final thing about Incheon that I love – that current of energy that permeate nearly every major intercontinental airport. People from everywhere stream across the globe – some for business, some to enjoy new-to-them cultures, people and sights. It’s one of my favorite parts of travel. Incheon brings it to a rare height by having that unmistakable vibe while also being a paragon of design.