Military movie houses made memories for many
Architecture historians Ken Hays with the Army and Jeff Dodge with the Navy helped compile this list of military theaters:
» Schofield Barracks: In addition to the classic movie palace Sergeant Smith Theater, open-air theaters dotted the base during the war, said Hays. Each of the famous Schofield "Quads" also had its own theater, a smaller art deco masterpiece. Of these, only the Quad F Theater is still standing, currently used as a gymnasium. The stage and art deco detailing remain, albeit fading.
» Fort Shafter: Richardson Theatre, constructed in 1948, is a prime example of American Moderne architecture, all smoothly swooping surfaces and chrome. "Like a classic '50s diner!" explained Hays. A multiuse complex, it stopped showing movies in 1987 when it became the home of Army Community Theatre. Richardson Theatre is due for a face lift to restore original railings, stainless-steel doors and acid-washed concrete details. When built, Richardson, like Tripler Hospital (and the smaller Tripler theater, now demolished), was painted pink.
» Fort Ruger: The cantonment's movie theater became the home of Honolulu Community Theater in 1952, later to become Diamond Head Theatre.
» Wahiawa: The Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station Building No. 4 was constructed in 1941 as a dual-use structure, with a "stripped-down, very interesting modernist approach" to theaters, said Dodge. The building is little used today.
» Ford Island:
Building No. 65, now gone, was a 1932 arched wooden construction that doubled as a gymnasium. Building No. 89, at the ferry landing, a concrete-and-pile structure so substantial that it doubled as a bomb shelter, was completed later in the war. Movies played at the 400-seat theater until 1980.
"Even during the great period of military-theater construction during World War II, the Ford Island Theater stands out as a unique structure," said Dodge. "The Modernism style stripped down the building to a clean, simple box with minimum exterior detailing. The smooth plastered walls are almost reflective against a blue sky. All the visual focus was placed on the grand entrance stair and expansive open lanai.
"The Ford Island Theater's Moderne design was really a prewar vision, which was immediately stifled with camouflage paint and nightly blackouts. The theater would not be painted a lighter color, as originally intended, until after the war."
Recently, $14 million was spent on "adaptive reuse" of Ford Island Theater - which is on the National Register - converting it into a conference center. The theater lobby and box office were retained, and even feature '40s-era movie posters.
» Submarine Base:
Sharkey Theater was probably named for the naval pugilist whose heavyweight title bout in 1896 - refereed by Wyatt Earp - was the sporting event of the 19th century, but it also might have been named by Chester Nimitz in honor of friend Lt. William Sharkey, killed in a battery explosion aboard a submarine in 1918. Sharkey Theater has existed in various guises since the Great War. One of the oldest movie palaces in the islands, it also hosted Sunday services before the Sub Base chapel was constructed in 1944. Sharkey Theater received a roof at about the same time.
» Marine Barracks: Building No. 222, next to the original Marine brig and adjacent to the primary Marine Barracks complex at Pearl Harbor, was constructed in 1918 as a multiuse recreation center for leathernecks. Until 1947 the building was primarily a gymnasium with a stage at one end for presentations and screenings. After remodeling in 1964, which added a sloped floor and permanent seats, it became a dedicated theater. Although currently used for storage, the glass-block box office and movie-poster recesses are recognizable features.
» Marine Corps Base Hawaii: The K-Bay Theater at Kaneohe is a relatively modern structure that seats 850. It's not known whether the former naval station facility had a theater.
» Hickam Air Force Base:
Located in the heart of the base, the Hickam No. 1 Theater was constructed in 1949 but stopped showing films in 1982. It has since been renovated as the Aloha Conference Center, opening in 2003. The current Hickam Memorial Theater is a relatively new structure with modern projection facilities. Open-air theaters included the Hickam No. 2, next to the Officers Club (the sloping grade for seats is still evidence of the site) and Hickam No. 3, in the Area No. 61 housing complex. Not a trace of that theater remains.
GONE, NOT FORGOTTEN
» Ewa Mooring Mast Field:
An overgrown site with seating banks might have been the location of a base theater.
» Fort DeRussy: A large, open-air theater, well known during the war years, disappeared during the Vietnam era.
» Camp Smith: A theater was once attached or adjacent to the C.W. Dickey-designed main building on the base campus.
» Barbers Point: A large, wood-frame theater was abandoned to termites some years ago. It's gone.
» Wheeler Field: The air base's only theater, a "rather bland" Spanish Colonial pastiche, was torn down in the 1990s.
» Makalapa: The "Admirals' Row" suburb of Pearl Harbor had at least two outdoor theaters, one of which was located in a natural amphitheater close to CINCPAC headquarters. It featured a partial roof and showed films into the 1970s. - Burl Burlingame