Saturday, September 6, 2008

Blue Ridge Cinema

The late 1970's and early 1980's were a great time to be a kid and a moviegoer. There were a lot of fantastic movies out and it was cheap to go to the theater to see these cinematic greats. The theaters themselves had personality. A lot of them might have been older and in rough shape but they were much more interesting than these faceless multiplexes we have today. The theater I went to the most growing up was the Blue Ridge Cinema on 40 Hwy. and Blue Ridge Bouvelard in Kansas City, MO. It was about 10 minutes from my house and had five screens, which were a lot at the time. It had one large screen that was capable of showing 70 mm films. The other four screens were smaller but each auditorium had great sound and projection. The theater opened December 24, 1971 with four screens. It was Kansas City's first four screen theater built expressly as a movie theater.

On the opening day, only two screens were ready to show movies. The very next day, Christmas Day, the other two screens opened.

It proved to be very popular as there were no other indoor theaters in that area at the time. Most of the theaters were still in the downtown area and there was a big demand for a nice theater that wasn't a 20 minute drive away. It proved to be so popular that a fifth screen was added at some point in either 1977 or '78. In 1980 a new three screen theater was added at the Blue Ridge Mall across the street.

This theater wasn't nearly as nice as the main theater but it was OK for a mall style concrete bunker. The best part about this theater was the great arcade next door. I spent more time at the Spaceport than at the theater, which was christened Blue Ridge West a few years later when they added more screens. The main theater was the Blue Ridge East. I saw so many classic films at the East I can't even recall all of them. Some that stand out were The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek The Motion Picture, The Black Hole, Ghostbusters, and many, many more. Here's a picture of the marquee from 1981.

And here's a color shot from 1984.

I was lucky enough to find a ticket stub from around this time. This was during the era where the actual movie wasn't printed on the stub but the theater name itself was on it which I liked a lot. It was really exciting finding this.

By the early '90's the theater was starting to become a little rundown and attendance started to drop a little bit. They painted the theater itself an ugly brownish color instead of the classic black and white color scheme it had for 20 years. The Marquee was also painted a greenish color that didn't make a whole lot of sense. It finally closed a year or two later and has sat dormant ever since. It's really sad driving by it and seeing it all boarded up and falling apart.

Rumor has it that it's going to be torn down soon which will be a very sad day. It will mark the end of a very important part of my childhood and teen years.


Todd Franklin said...

Great post! Now you need to find a copy of the KMBZ broadcasts!

lorincantrell said...

I believe if that ticket stub picture was whole, it would read "Mid-America Cinema Corp." or similar. I worked at a threatre in Joplin, MO that was being built by Mid-America when they went bankrupt. That location eventually came to be run by Crown Cinema Corp. (which advertised in K.C. Star as CCC). We still had the original Mid-America rugs upstairs in the booth. Long story short, my manager, who was on board from the beginning (1987) at my theatre, knew a bunch of the other managers who worked in the K.C. area, and he always said the Blue Ridge East was the jewel of the chain in K.C. He told me that at one time in the early 70's, it had been one of the top 5 grossing theatres in America. I've never forgotten that and regret that I never got to see a movie there. I've been looking for info on it for some time, and your pictures are great. Thanks for the hard work.

Emilym said...

oh my gosh i am in love with this cinema and absolutely do not want them to tear it down. ** CAN YOU PLEASE GET SOME PICTURES OF THE INSIDE FROM A LONG TIME AGO OR EVEN RECENT???** i love the inside

T. Harris (Tashi) said...

Hi! I have 2 questions. Do you remember when the Spaceport opened and could I use one of your photos? I'm currently writing an article for about the best arcade spots in Kansas City and I'm writing it largely from memory! Thanks for the post. My mom worked at and retired from JCPenney, so I spent a lot of time at Blue Ridge Mall.

tharris (at) gmx(dot)us

It was always a dream to buy that old theater but these are tough economic times for that kind of risk. I'd sure hate to see it go tho.

Mike Middleton said...

I wish I had some photos of the Spaceport for you to use. I never took any pictures of it. You don't think about that kind of stuff when you're a kid. I'm not sure exactly when it opened but it was probably the late 70's/early 80's.