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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
ModernPhoenix.net 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 cinematreatures.org.

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.

CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Four Unusual Tourism Niches

tourism niches
A look at the sarcophagus at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are all sorts of tourism niches out there. You’ve heard of people traveling for food, shopping, golf, medical treatments, maybe even to visit war zones, disaster sites or the graves of dead celebrities. There’s also a lot of unsavory stuff out there that sways me from my usual stance that anything that motivates a person to get a passport, hop on a plane and get out of the usual milieu is a great thing. But let’s skip that for another day. I want to introduce you to a few tourism niches that I find genuinely interesting, potentially enriching and maybe just a bit nerdy.

tourism niches
View of Chernobyl taken from roof of building in Pripyat Ukraine. Photo Taken by Jason Minshull, then digitally zoomed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atomic Tourism Right now, there are people taking a tour into the 1,000-square mile Exclusion Zone established to keep people away from the wreckage of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Tourists are heading to Ukraine to fork over rubles to go into one of the most ghostly areas ever – the abandoned city of Pryp’yat’. They’re braving high background radiation levels (this recent blog post will show readings from a Geiger counter at various places).

tourism niches
An active volcano is a great location for sound tourism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are other sites that can take you straight back to the Atomic Age, from the excellent Titan Missile Museum in Arizona to the White Sands National Monument. Personally, I’d absolutely love to take a trip into the Exclusion Zone, mostly to see what happens to a city when humans all but abandon it; believe it or not, there are still people who squat in the Exclusion Zone for all sorts of reasons. Here’s another fascinating article about the Exclusion Zone.

Sound Tourism

tourism niches
Glaciers make incredible noises, too.

I wrote about this awhile back, and I’m still fascinated by the idea of going places to hear things. And I’m not talking about concerts. In some cases, sound tourism is about not hearing things – it’s about silence The Sonic Wonders website has a great collection of ideas for people interesting in sound tourism (definitely one of the tourism niches that interests me most). The booming sand dunes are closest to me over in California. The site also lists Jökulsárlón Floating Icebergs and the creaks from the little icebergs. Some of the more interesting natural sounds I’ve heard while traveling have been the sound of water flowing under a glacier, and the rumble of huge cinders belching out of Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. Oh, and howler monkeys make a really eerie "woofing" sound. Urban Exploration This is one of those tourism niches for people who think creepy equals cool. If you’ve ever wanted to poke your nose into an abandoned building or spend the day mapping out an abandoned subway tunnel, this is for you.

tourism niches
English: Inside Richmond Asylum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you turn to the right information sources, you’ll discover all sorts of places in your urban environment are waiting for you to arrive armed with flashlights. Urban exploration does carry some high risks – arrest, accidents, even encounters with people who calls these "abandoned" areas home. Still, it’s all pretty tempting. I know of an entire largely forgotten underground portion of Phoenix that even has a bowling alley. And there has to be a lot more that nobody talks about – the same probably goes for your home city. Urban exploration reminds me a bit of caving. Enthusiasts don’t like to share their secrets with the masses. But here’s a good place to start.

tourism niches
Ol Doinyo Lengai Crater, Tanzania. Taken from south-western edge. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Volcano Tourism Out of all the odd tourism niches, this is probably my favorite. The forces that shape the world fascinate me. I’ve stood on mountains that are emitting sulfuric fumes. I’ve looked into recently erupted volcanoes. I’ve seen the aftermath of catastrophic explosions (the blown-out visage of Red Crater in the Tongariro National Park is my favorite example). It really makes me realize how much power geographic forces possess.

tourism niches
Imagine the explosive power behind making Red Crater explode.

If you’d like to see volcanic forces first-hand, I recommend Iceland, New Zealand and Hawaii. I would also have recommended the oddball volcano Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania. National Geographic wrote an amazing piece about 10 years ago all about its unusual black, free-flowing, low-temperature lava. But an explosion blew the Tim Burton-esque landscape that was once at its summit into oblivion. Enjoy the photos, anyway. And there’s also a place in Guatemala where you can ride a sled down a volcano’s cinder landscape. Here’s a source for planning your own volcanic vacation.

CategoriesAdventures

Capstone Cathedral – Visiting a Phoenix Icon

When my family moved to Arizona in 1980, the Capstone Cathedral immediately caught my eye.

Well, more accurately, the awesome glowing green pyramid captivated me. I didn’t know what it was called or what went on inside of it — I was 6 years old at the time. I remember being vaguely aware that it might be a church. One of my brothers told me the church believed that, when Jesus returned to Earth, he would take a seat at the top of the pyramid (being as literal-minded as I was, I asked why the church didn’t put a seat up at the tip of the pyramid to make the savior a bit more comfortable). If you want the real scoop behind Capstone Cathedral, check out this great story on the Phoenix New Times website.

My Capstone Cathedral Curiosity

But the real point: I always wanted to go onside. I had visions of weird cultists crawling around. That was enough to keep me away. Every time I drove by, I stared at the pyramid. Especially at night.

capstone cathedral
The green pyramid looks a bit beat up.

Up Close with an Icon

One day, I drove past the Capstone Cathedral. And I didn’t have much to do. Even more importantly, I had a decent camera in my car. Just a Fuji superzoom, not an SLR. But I figured, why wait? I started with some outside photos.

As you can see, the Capstone Cathedral is worse for wear these days – the paint is fading and some of the green glass in the upper pyramid is fractured. It saddens me to see the neglect. I’m not a religious guy, but the boldness of the architecture fascinates me and makes me believe the ol’ pyramid deserves better.

capstone cathedral
The Capstone Cathedral outer ring looks like a high school gym’s lobby.

Anyway, I got my exterior shots -- and then crept up on a door. Maybe someone was around, and would let me take a few photos inside.

Inside the Capstone Cathedral

I pushed on the first door, and it opened. I couldn’t hear anything, and I decided it was time for a little bit of urban exploration. In I went, camera ISO cranked up to adjust for the low light. The outer ring reminded me of a bad high school gym lobby.

When I pushed my way into the main arena, though -- that was truly cool. First, I noticed a fairly new sound system that was all powered up. Everything looked like it was working, as if waiting for the congregation to show up.

capstone cathedral
A look at the darkened main room.

The light shining through the green dome was everything I expected. I definitely got that "at long last" rush that comes from finally seeing something I’ve always wanted to see. I took my photos and bolted; even though it was open, I knew someone would get bent out of shape by a camera-wielding buffoon wandering the halls unescorted.

What’s Next for the Capstone Cathedral?

I don’t know what’s happening with Capstone Cathedral now. But if I had my way, I’d love to see an enterprising soul turn it into an events and music venue. The potential is definitely there. Unfortunately, the land is just too valuable -- and I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to get bulldozed in the near future.

(It still hasn’t happened yet as of Spring 2019)