Death Knell At The Century Domes

Century 22 DomesThe first time I went to the Century Domes on Winchester Boulevard was see “Star Wars” when it first came out in 1977 and before it exploded as a cultural phenomena. My aunt took my cousin and I to see a weekday matinée showing. The massive parking lot was empty except for a few cars. We had the entire theater to ourselves. That was thirty-seven years ago. The Century Domes today are heading for the dustbin of history unless the Century 21 dome gets a historical landmark designation by city, state and federal authorities.

The Century Domes are twentieth-century buildings that preservationists are trying to save. The Retro Dome (a.k.a., Century 25) at Westgate Mall got demolished last year, which showed classic movies like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and now plays at the Century 21 dome. The Century 24 dome, down the street from the Century 21/22/23 domes on Winchester, recently got torn down, which showed all the movies destined to die at the box office (a very reliable indicator). The remaining domes are next for the wrecking crew.

The families that own the nearby Winchester Mystery House and the land underneath the Century Domes for the last 90 years refused to renew the 50-year lease for the theaters and sought out a developer to revitalize the property. I’m surprised they didn’t try to sell the land. The 11.6-acre property is prime real estate in the heart of Silicon Valley. With the movie crowd watching movies at modern multiplex theaters around the south bay, this area was long overdue for a major change.

The developer for Santana Row across the street, which was the home of the Town & Country Village movie theater before it got razed in 2001, has acquired the new lease. Expect more of the same with mixed-development (i.e., ground-level retail space built from concrete and four-story housing from wood) and seven-story office buildings (the flight paths of nearby airports prohibits skyscrapers in Silicon Valley).

The Flames restaurant, formerly Bob’s Big Boy back in the day, will get demolished to square out the property in front. A small senior citizen mobile home park that I didn’t even know existed behind the Winchester Mystery House and Century 23 theater may get rezoned for development, which is a serious issue for these senior citizens as mobile home parks are disappearing from owners selling out to developers. I very much doubt that a multiplex movie theater would go into that location. The developer for Valley Fair Mall floated a proposal to build one down the street from the Century Domes that died without a whimper.

My friend and I stopped going to the Century Domes after the Borders bookstore closed at Santana Row in 2011. Without a convenient hangout spot, there was no reason to go there. We will be attending the Retro Dome movie, “Raiders of The Lost Ark,” which played for a whole year at Century 21 when it first came out in 1981, on March 30th at 7:00PM. Never mind that we saw “Raiders” when it came out on the IMAX screen a few years ago. This movie is a fitting tribute to a piece of Americana that may disappear soon.