Perhaps in this age of the antiseptic multiplex atmosphere and assorted corporate banalities that ensue, the diamond concept of the movie theater as a sort of makeshift cathedral for filmgoing worship doesn’t exist anymore. I know my golden era of cinema awareness came at the twilight of the mall multiplex craze, where I was still able to enjoy a few of the decaying treasures of previous moviegoing trends before their eventual demolition. At the time I visited these gems, I just lived in the moment, barely able to process anything besides purchasing a cheap ticket and an oily bucket of popcorn. Nowadays I yearn for the theaters of my youth, especially when visiting the soulless moviegoer farms that pass for cinemas today.
Last month, while delighting in my time at home in Minneapolis for the holidays, I stole a few subzero moments and drove cautiously over to the Terrace Theater, located in the confused ‘burb of Robbinsdale. Closed since 1999, the theater has been left to endure the brutal Minnesota winters and summers without any sort of passionate caretaker, with only crude sheets of cracked wood to keep squatters and troublemakers out. Certainly the theater deserved a far more respectable fate than this.
I have fond memories of my brief time with the Terrace. While it wasn’t a neighborhood destination for me, the theater represented a piece of the city’s past “modern” glory, proudly utilizing a single screen and sprawling balcony layout (1300 seats in all) from its grand opening in 1951 to the 1990s, when new management turned a single glorious screen into three, thus removing any crucial individuality and sending the theater down a path to assured ruin.
Seeing the theater now, a decrepit, frostbitten shadow of its former self evoked many indefinable feelings within me. Nostalgia has that puzzling effect on my soul, especially around dead movie theaters. The Terrace is where I biked as a pup with my dear friends and watched double features of pictures such as “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Adventures in Babysitting,” and I fell madly in love not with Elizabeth Shue, but with perhaps the most euphoric opening credits I’ve even seen kickstart a film. It’s where I witnessed the trailer for “Robocop” and wondered why the hell something called “Robocop” was rated R, thus keeping it out my grubby hands for another long decade of puberty blues. The Terrace is also where I viewed “The Princess Bride” and wondered then what I wonder now: what exactly is it about that movie that bewitches people so completely? I even lost my virginity there. To a pearl of a woman named Gloria. She worked the concession stand, about 50 years of age if the sun hit her correctly…I kid. This is back when girls, with the possible exception of Elizabeth Shue, were icky.
The Terrace lobby was cavernous, fertile, and held a lounge specifically constructed for television viewing, bravely reminding visitors of the now seriously square 1950’s origin of the structure. The foyer welcomed visitors with opulence and architectural bravado, providing visual stimulation before the big show began. Unlike today’s big box cinemas that immediately divide attendees once past the sullen excuse for an usher, the Terrace was a communal experience that began once you parked (or locked up your bike) and lasted all the way through the reflective ride home. There were a few places of such unreal moviegoing luxury spread around Minneapolis, but the Terrace was so alien in its design and location that to this day people don’t know what the hell to do with it.
After the great divide into a triplex, things were never the same at the Terrace. Watching films in the main theater felt cramped, with this huge screen disorienting the audience with its unnatural sight and sound, unable to spread itself out as easily as before. And the two tiny “balcony” theaters? Forget it. It was like watching a film inside a boxcar, with balsa wood used to divide the houses, making acoustics even worse. The Terrace dream was shattered forever.
In the autumn of 1998, I attended a showing of “Lethal Weapon 4” on a whim there, as if to visit a dying friend. The friend was in complete disarray and unable to greet me back with any sort of recognizable enthusiasm, making for a troublesome night of aching memories and a developing sense of anger. I didn’t know it was going to be the last film I would see at the Terrace, but in my heart I recognized I wouldn’t be back. It just wasn’t the same castle that once awed me into popcorn-munching paralysis. I couldn’t bear the heartache, so I never returned.
In 2009, the Terrace is a dirty, rusted shell waiting for somebody to come along and casually tear it down. From what I’ve read and heard, most of the interior is gutted, the rest molded over. It will never be a movie theater again, and that’s a shame. A reality, but a shame. Still, as long as it stands I will try to visit the Terrace as much as I possibly can, perhaps showing more enthusiasm than I would with my own family. There’s simply too much history there to let it slip away due to my normal state of indifference. Goddamn I miss that movie theater.