The Ciné Capri story began in 1964 when the Federal District Court of New York approved Arizona Paramount Theatres’ application to construct and operate a new motion picture theater in the Barrows Plaza at 24th Street and Camelback Road in Phoenix, Arizona. This step was necessary due to antitrust laws at the time.
Once court approval was granted, the Ciné Capri came to life when George M. Aurelius, vice president and general manager of Arizona Paramount Corporation and Henry George Greene, A.I.A., N.C.A.R.B., consulting architect to ABC Theatres, teamed with W.E. “Bill” Homes, Jr., president of Homes & Son Construction Company, Inc., and Ralph Haver, president of Haver, Nunn & Jensen, architects for Barrows Plaza. Rounding out the group was Spero L. Kontos, president of the Los Angeles based John Filbert Company. Their goal was to design, build and outfit a unique, state-of-the-art, motion picture facility that would complement potential neighborhood development and accommodate ever-changing film distribution and exhibition patterns.
–edited from George Aurelius’ personal notes, July, 1998
Construction soon began on the new theater. In fact, I’ll never forget one lazy Sunday afternoon when my dad asked me if I wanted to go see a movie theater. And me, being a bored kid on a Sunday, said, “Of course!” Here I was, thinking my dad was taking me to the movies. Imagine my surprise when we arrived at a construction site. Whatever it was, the walls were just starting to appear, so the first words out of my mouth were, “Where’s the theater?”
My father replied, “You’re standing in the middle of it.” He went back to checking on whatever it was that he had to check on, and that’s when I realized this building was something special. It was the only job site that I recall my father taking me to see.
These are the only known construction photos of the building, and they were taken sometime later. According to George Aurelius’ notes, to position the 124 foot long roof beams, a pair of cranes worked on opposite sides of the building. The crane operators, unable to see one another, communicated by two-way radio. Each beam was carefully hoisted over the top of the building, inched to its location, and then lowered into position.
At the time of its completion, the Cine Capri was a remarkable, state of the art motion picture theater. It was a 16,500 square-foot facility, featuring strikingly beautiful dual colonnades flanking both sides of the theater. The ten pre-cast white, sculpted, concrete columns weighed seven tons each, and supported overhangs with copper fascias cured to achieve an antique green patina. The patio off the east lobby provided shelter for waiting patrons and intermission breaks, while the larger western portico served as the main entrance. The entire lower building facade was overlaid with imported hexagonal jade Italian tile. In the center was a multi-panelled, twenty-four foot long, custom, antique stained glass window which served as the focal point, day and night, from inside and out. Low profile desert landscaping surrounded the Ciné Capri, featuring assorted palm trees, Russian Olive, and Italian Cypress trees punctuating the perimeter.
Upon entering the theater, patrons found themselves in a spacious two level lobby with clean modern lines. From the center could be seen Camelback Mountain and its Praying Monk rock formation. A generous oval confection area was situated in front of the auditorium back wall with working gold waterfall draperies duplicating the lavish auditorium decor.
The auditorium was enveloped in a lavish display of 4000 yards of lustrous antique gold fabric covering the proscenium and walls from carpet to ceiling, flooded from above with brilliant down lighting. The electronically synchronized gold front cascade drape moved on cue vertically at different speeds to reveal the title curtain behind, which opened horizontally to expose the film on a giant, curved screen which extended out to the fifth row of seats. This action of the draperies typically evoked spontaneous applause from the audiences.
With the Ciné Capri, continental seating was introduced to the community. This was a sloping floor plan in which the rows of seats flowed from side aisle to side aisle; eliminating the center aisle. The eight hundred high back, maroon rocking chairs were designed for comfort and perfect vision from every seat.
The Ciné Capri was also the first multipurpose theater in the southwest specifically designed to project all film aspect ratios of that time, including Cinemascope, Vista-Vision, and Cinerama from its 70/35mm projectors and stereophonic sound system, offering everything optically and visually available from around the world for superb tonal quality and visual pleasure.
–edited from George Aurelius’ personal notes, July, 1998
The Cine Capri celebrated its grand opening on Thursday, March 31, 1966, and it would be more than an evening premier. It would be an all day event to raise money for local charities.
The morning began with the arrival of Charlton Heston at Sky Harbor Airport. From there he was taken to the Cine Capri to host a youth drama clinic in the theater auditorium for several dozen high school and college drama students. This was followed by an afternoon invitational reception for VIP guests to meet personally with Mr. Heston. Those in attendance included community leaders, city and state officials, press, radio and television personnel, film studio and distribution executives, and neighborhood merchants. Also represented were theater executives, the architects, contractors, members of the building trades, crafts, suppliers, the Phoenix Art Council and the Phoenix Midtown Rotary Club Officials and sponsors of the evening charity program.
–edited from George Aurelius’ personal notes, July, 1998.
Waiting premiere attendees and fans who had come for the evening festivities gathered outside the theater and were entertained by the Scottsdale High School marching band. The outside grand opening activities concluded with the arrival of Charlton Heston in an open convertible. He was then slowly escorted through the crowd to the entrance where he “officially” launched the theater with a ribbon cutting ceremony.
Once inside the theater, patrons filed into the auditorium for the evening inaugural program, where Mr. Heston addressed the audience, suggesting they were most fortunate to have “this new, outstanding prototype of the motion picture theater of tomorrow” for them to enjoy.
The lights dimmed, the front drapes rose, and the opening credits fell on the title curtain which opened to reveal the premiere showing of the 20th Century Fox film, The Agony and The Ecstasy starring Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison. Thus a world class theater was born as the Ciné Capri officially came to life and began its distinguished third of a century run of great storytelling and dream spinning for all to enjoy.
–edited from George Aurelius’ personal notes, July, 1998
The Cine Capri opened to the general public on April 1, 1966. A few years later Arizona Paramount Corporation and ABC Paramount disposed of their theater holdings and withdrew from the community, and over the next three decades the Ciné Capri would be operated by several different companies, including Nace and Plitt. During this time the Cine Capri became a favorite venue for Valley movie lovers.
Like many Phoenicians, I too have many fond memories of the original Cine Capri. This theater hosted my eleventh birthday party when my friends and I went to see the animated version of Disney’s Jungle Book. It was where my mother practically ripped my arm from the socket during the snake pit scene in True Grit. (Mother had a horrible fear of snakes.) It was where my parents would later take me to see The Godfather, and it was where I had a first date with a college boyfriend when we saw, Logan’s Run. Then there was Star Wars. The following summer the same boyfriend and I stood in line to see Star Wars. And he liked it so much we went back a few days later. As I recall, Star Wars played at the Cine Capri for at least a year, perhaps longer.
In August, 1988, the locally owned Harkins Theatres chain assumed the lease for the Cine Capri. Like the Arizona Paramount Corporation, Harkins Theaters goes way back in Valley theater history. In fact, George Aurelius and Red Harkins, Dan Harkins’ father, were old friends, back in the day.
Sadly, Harkins would be the final operator of the original Cine Capri.
The ground on which the original Cine Capri stood never belonged to ABC Paramount, or any other Cine Capri leaseholder. The Cine Capri was actually a tenant, with a multi-year lease, and in 1996 the property owners announced their redevelopment plans, which, unfortunately, did not include keeping the original Cine Capri. The property owners lived out of state, and were completely unaware of just how well-loved this Valley landmark was, but they would soon be made aware.
Enter Greg Stangel. I only met Mr. Stangel briefly, and, by all outward appearances, he epitomized Joe Sixpack. He was a seemly ordinary guy who loved going to the movies, and he especially loved going to the movies at the Cine Capri. But Greg Stangel was no ordinary guy. As soon as he heard about the plans to demolish the Cine Capri, he started up a petition drive to save The Cine Capri. And people signed the petition. Lots and lots of people signed it. In fact, over 200,000 people signed it, and it became the most successful petition drive in Arizona history, at least in the number of signatures gathered.
A Save the Cine Capri committee was formed. It consisted of writers, architects, such as Harold Williams, local radio and television personality Pat McMahon, Wayne Kullander, executive vice president for Harkins Theaters, and Dan Harkins himself. According to Harold Williams, the committee tried to register the building on the National Register of Historic Places, but it apparently wasn’t old enough to qualify. I was living out of state when the efforts to save the theater began, and I didn’t move back to Phoenix until September, 1997. By then my dad, W.E. “Bill” Homes, Jr., the retired CEO of Homes & Son Construction Company, who built the theater, was dying of cancer. He and I talked about the building, and the efforts to save it. He too hoped it would be spared, but even if it wasn’t, he figured they would probably build a new theater someday.
Sadly, despite the giant grassroots effort, and the bitter fight that ensued, the property owners prevailed, and in February, 1998, the beautiful Cine Capri was razed to the ground. Of all the iconic Phoenix movie houses, only the Orpheum remains.
But not to worry. The story of the original Cine Capri was far from over.
So here I am, thinking I’ve got this. I’ve got a highly skilled man working on the Cine Capri model, I’m working on the charity fund raiser for the museum opening, and we’re all good. Then I get a phone call from Harold Williams. Someone needs to recreate the famous stained glass window from the lobby, and that assignment goes to me.
Ever had one of those moments when you hear yourself saying, “Sure, I’d be happy to. No problem,” while at the same time, the voice in your head is shouting, “How the hell am I going to pull this one off?” Yep, it was that kind of a moment. Granted, I had a degree in art, but I’d spent the last few years laying out magazine pages and print ads on a Mac. This project would be something completely different, and something I’d never done before. Gulp!
Harold sent me a photo of the window, which I enlarged and taped to my kitchen window, and then I traced the basic outlines with a pencil. The next step was to dig up my old t-square and triangles, (could thing I hung on to them after going digital), and tighten up the drawing, taking my best guess as I added the details that didn’t present well in the photo. With that the hardest part was done. All that was left to do was to scan the drawing into the computer, fill in the colors with PhotoShop, and take the file to Image Craft for outputting the file onto clear film. Thank goodness Doyle, my model builder, sent me a detail drawing from the blueprints, so they would have the proper scale for the output. Then, voila, it was done. The “window” went back to Doyle, and it remains on the model today.
The original window was created by a glass artist in New York. At the time the original Cine Capri was built, Camelback Mountain could be seen from this window, and the stain glass was designed to be a representation of the sun rising over Camelback Mountain. As the neighborhood grew and developed, the view of the mountain became obstructed, but I think “Uncle” George had this in mind when he had the window commissioned. Unfortunately, he no longer had any record of who the artist was, much less have any of the artist’s drawings, which means I’ll never know for certain if my recreation is completely accurate or not. It is, however, a very close facsimile.
The Cine Capri Model was officially unveiled to the public on Saturday, May 15, 1999, at the Arizona Historical Society Museum, (now the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park). The festivities included a silent auction and a slide show presentation in the museum auditorium chronicling the history of the original Cine Capri. The silent auction included paintings of the Cine Capri, opening night photos signed by Charlton Heston, and an original, unpublished Family Circus cartoon created by Bil Keane exclusively for this event. After the slide show, the model was officially unveiled to the public, with George Aurelius, Wayne Kullander, and local architect Harold Williams, a member of the Save the Cine Capri committee doing the honors.
Along with preserving the memory of this iconic Phoenix landmark, this event raised money in my father’s memory for two Valley charities; The John C. Lincoln Health Foundation and The Arizona Historical Society.
My dad, W.E. “Bill” Homes, Jr., served on the John C. Lincoln hospital board of directors for twenty years, six of them as chairman. During his tenure, John C. Lincoln Hospital became a Level One trauma center.
The other charity was the Arizona Historical Society, without whose help this project would not have been possible. Their mission is, “tocollect, preserve, interpret, and disseminate the history of Arizona and the West,” and the original Cine Capri was most certainly a part of central Arizona history.
Thanks to silent auction, and donations from other friends and supporters, each charity received a generous donation, and the museum was gifted with the Cine Capri Model, which remains in their permanent collection.
In the spring of 2003, I was asked to help with the museum display for the New Cine Capri at the Scottsdale 101. Of course I was more than happy to provide historic photos from the original theater.
The museum was located on a sidewall in the lobby, complete with some of the salvaged ceramic jade tile from the original theater. The first half of the display would tell the story of the construction of the original theater, with the second half being about its demise.
A few days before the grand opening we all met at the new Cine Capri to put the display together. While the construction crew was busy putting the final touches on the building, a group of volunteers, including yours truly, and someone The Arizona Historical Society Museum, began putting the exhibit together under the supervision of Brian Laurel, marketing director for Harkins Theaters. We started with the usual prep work of vigorously cleaning the display area, as dust can be extremely harmful to historic artifacts. Then it was time to cut pieces of the original gold curtains, hang photos, and organize the rest of the display. By the end of the day we were tired, but our task was complete, and we were pleased with the results. It truly was a labor of love.