JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The lobby and concession area of the Varsity Twin Cinema is adorned with giant framed posters and photos of film classics. The theater, with its two screening rooms, will shut down tomorrow after showing films since 1939.
Varsity theater folds
The venue for independent, foreign and art films will close after 67 years
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The nostalgic Varsity Twin Cinema is closing its doors for the last time tomorrow after 67 years.
The theater, which opened in 1939, has finally succumbed to the influx of multiplex cinemas on Oahu.
Owner Consolidated Theatres said that Varsity, known for independent, foreign and art films, has seen a dramatic decline in attendance since the opening of the Ward Cinemas in 2001.
"The days of the single- and double-screen theaters have passed," said Scott Brazwell, vice president of operations for Consolidated Theatres. "Guests are looking for more amenities in a different type of environment now."
Varsity's 15 employees have been offered positions at other Consolidated locations, though some are choosing to retire or to leave the company, he said.
Brazwell did not know Consolidated's plans for the 1.7-acre site, though Kamehameha Schools, which owns the surrounding land, has been interested in the property.
"The closing presents an interesting opportunity for us," said Kekoa Paulsen, Kamehameha spokesman.
Consolidated said there are no plans to close any of its remaining nine movie complexes.
The Aikahi Twin in Kailua, the company's last double-screen theater, also has seen a drop in attendance over the years.
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Scott Kunimura will have to find another low-key community theater to enjoy his favorite pastime.
Sudden news of tomorrow's closing of the Varsity Twin Cinema came as a shock to the Kaimuki resident, who has been a customer since the 1950s when it was a cozy, single-screen theater.
Kunimura, 60, and girlfriend Joanne Shibuya rushed to view their last movie, "Away From Her," yesterday afternoon at the University Avenue theater they have patronized at least twice a month in the last year.
"It's just another old-time local establishment that's going," said Shibuya, 54, who took art and history classes there in the 1970s while at the University of Hawaii. "We like the smaller, neighborhood theaters. This one leaving is definitely going to leave a void."
The theater, which offers independent, foreign and art films, has an old-time nostalgic feel that has attracted residents such as Janice Williams and Marie Graeb from as far as Kailua.
"We're devastated," said Graeb, who has been coming to the theater for the past 20 years.
For movie buffs such as Tootsie Kobelansky and Luci Kam, owners of Hair Razing Experience across the street at Puck's Alley, the closure of one of Hawaii's last double-screen cinemas is the end of an era.
The co-owners of the neighboring business have watched movies at Varsity off and on for the past 30 years and have gone as far as implementing a movie-rating chart, which is tallied each quarter with customer comments posted at the reception desk.
"We talk about movies a lot with our clients," Kobelansky said, adding that people even call the salon to ask what good movies are playing. "It's very sad. We can't just run across the street and go to the movies anymore."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The distinctive Varsity Twin Cinema marquee, showing its last two film titles yesterday, will soon be a thing of the past.
The closing of one of the last small community theaters is going to change the look and feel of the university area, Shibuya said.
Owners Consolidated Theatres decided just last week that Sunday would be the final day of operations after years of declining attendance and low profitability.
The company has begun offering independent and art films such as the "Curse of the Golden Flower," "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Waitress" at the Ward and Kahala multiplexes, and said attendance there has been good.
The news came as a shock to employees as well as customers, who found out about the closure in local newspaper ads that ran this week.
Norman Magno, 48, of Moiliili took his wife on their first date there in 1976. He even remembered the movie playing at the time: "Norman ... Is That You?"
He took her to their second movie the week after, and by their third date at Varsity, "I knew she was my girlfriend," he said.
"I've seen a lot of buildings with good memories go, but new memories will come about from new buildings for other people."
Ray Santo, 53, of Kailua, who also has come to Varsity since the 1970s, said that while the closure of a longtime landmark is unfortunate, it could be good for the community in the long run.
"If it's not paying off for the theater, maybe they can find something good to put up for the community," he said. "You got to move on. The community has changed. It's sad, but it's a sign of the times."
Consolidated, now owned by Pacific Theatres, opened the Varsity Theater in September 1939 as a single-screen cinema. It became a double-screen theater in the 1980s.