Farewell to another Honolulu landmark
The 69-year-old Varsity Theater in Moiliili has been torn down.
Honolulu lost another piece of old-time character when the Varsity Theater was demolished this week, a casualty in the economic evolution of entertainment and utility of valuable land.
For many longtime residents, it was treasured as more than one of Hawaii's last free-standing movie houses. It was an icon of days when going to the movies was a special event, when the aroma of popcorn didn't emanate from the office microwave, before Netflix and endless repeats on cable television stole the marvelous illusion of stories unfolding on big screens.
The theater was surrounded by small businesses that drew customers from its audiences, supporting through various decades crack seed and saimin shops, pizza parlors and plate-lunch spots. Many a University of Hawaii student sat in its seats to learn world history in the daytime and returned at night to watch a movie, convening for post-show pupu at Kuhio Grill and Charley's Tavern.
Varsity shared its Charles W. Dickey architectural heritage with the original Waikiki Theater, now downgraded to a facade for retail stores and chain restaurants that erase island identities in the city's tourist district.
Built in 1939, the Moiliili theater began losing attendance as a newer model for movie venues -- the mall multiplex -- revised the organic complexes of neighborhood theaters and businesses to sustain the less-profitable entertainment enterprise.
Varsity's site will be paved for a parking lot until owner Kamehameha Schools can decide what to do with the land. The decision to raze the building was purely economic, the cost to repair structural problems too high, distinctive character and nostalgia notwithstanding.
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