On May 25, 2012 the Pacific (formerly Mann) Manhattan Village Theater in Manhattan Beach, CA closed its doors.
Why should you care? Truthfully you probably shouldn’t, as in its final days the place was a skuzzy discount venue in every respect but the price. This is to say that it screened scratched-up second run film prints with antiquated projection equipment in auditoriums that hadn’t been renovated in decades, yet still charged $11.50 for admission. I will, however, say this for the Mann/Pacific Village Theater: it managed to survive for 31 years, far outlasting every other movie theater in the area.
“The Mann” has been a constant in my life since it opened back in June of 1981. Having grown up in a neighborhood within easy walking distance of the Mann, I was there opening week (for SUPERMAN II) and over the years saw more movies in that theater than in any other, experiencing everything from UNDER THE RAINBOW and WILD AT HEART to FIGHT CLUB and THE ARTIST within the Mann’s walls.
The Mann was in many respects a typical example of the so-called shoebox multiplexes that proliferated in the seventies, although it was unique in that its six auditoriums were all the same size (even back in 1981 most theaters had at least a couple big screens) and the fact that it was a free-standing structure not buried within an indoor shopping mall. Then there was the incredibly imposing marquee that overlooked Sepulveda Boulevard, which was impossible to miss by anyone driving north on that street. I believe it was that marquee more than any other factor that ensured the Mann’s steady profit flow over the years.
I began working for the Mann in February 1990, spending the next two years ushering and the following two manning the projectors. I’m tempted to say the Mann was my “second home” during those four years, yet for at least three of them that place (based on the countless double shifts I worked) could more accurately be termed my first home. Someday I’ll write a full accounting about my employment at the Mann and the fun times I had, including the fabled “ARACHNOPHOBIA Gig” in which several of my co-workers pelted patrons of that film with popcorn kernels thrown from the projection booth, or the time I got punched by a woman during a screening of the chick flick DON’T TELL HER IT’S ME, or when I spent the opening night of THE ADDAMS FAMILY costumed and made up as Lurch, or the time I got into a huge fight with a particularly temperamental sound board in the projection booth (resulting in a lot of swearing on my part that was fully audible to the patrons of a G-rated family film playing below), or those occasions when I and my fellow employees congregated on the theater roof on to view the 4th of July fireworks.
Of course by the time of my employment, 10 years into the Mann’s existence, the place was already looking pretty archaic. The early nineties, remember, saw the advent of stadium seating and THX sound. The Mann had neither of those things, and nor did it ever get much in the way of a renovation in its first decade. The reason, as I understood it, was due not to the Mann’s problems but rather its success: the chain’s overseers apparently had a policy of lavishing their attention on those venues that weren’t doing so well, figuring the successful theaters, like the one under discussion, didn’t need any help.
The Mann’s glory days, unfortunately, didn’t last. Competition was a big hurdle, starting with an AMC multiplex located a couple miles away that opened in 1989. That theater closed down 10 years later, but during its heyday it give the Mann a run for its money by booking all the best, or at least most financially lucrative, movies of the time. Unless a movie happened to be distributed by Paramount (which owned the Mann Theater chain) the AMC got dibs, meaning it showed PRETTY WOMAN, TOTAL RECALL, GOODFELLAS and JURASSIC PARK while we at the Mann had to make do with the likes of RICH GIRL, SHORT TIME, COMPANY BUSINESS, BIG GIRLS DON’T CRY, FUNNY ABOUT LOVE and McBAIN. Every now and then we’d get lucky, as when the Mann got an unassuming little movie called THE CRYING GAME that unexpectedly became one of 1993’s biggest hits, but among the “small” films screened by the Mann losers like LIFE WITH MIKEY and WHO’S THE MAN? were far more common.
I terminated my employment in early 1994, and the Mann’s downward slide began shortly afterward. By the late nineties it seemed the theater was on its last legs, but then in 1997 it got a Paramount-bolstered reprieve: the booking of TITANIC. That, however, didn’t stop The Mann from being purchased by Pacific Theaters in 1999.
The purchase seemed odd, as Pacific had already opened a much bigger multiplex across the street from the Mann. Exactly what Pacific’s honchos intended to do with this second venue I never figured out, and evidently neither did they. In 2000 it was announced that the (former) Mann would be turned into an art movie venue, a decree that lasted all of five minutes.
By the mid-00’s it seemed the theater was essentially scrambling for any movie it could get. That did admittedly make for an interesting mix of big studio and independent films, but they were usually all second run, i.e. handed down from other theaters–and by the theater’s final year every movie it played was second run (which brought things full circle from my days as an employee at the Mann, when on Thursday nights I used to deliver cans of celluloid to a discount theater in Redondo Beach).
Other things Pacific changed about the Mann? Surprisingly, not all that much. The bathrooms were renovated and all the auditoriums were graced with new seats, but otherwise the place stayed pretty much the same as it was when I worked there. Having recently taken a peak into the projection booth, I can also assure you that the projectors were the very ones I operated twenty years ago–which, of course, were the same projectors the theater opened with back in 1981!
Over the past decade I made a point of patronizing the former Mann a few times each year, just as one might periodically check in on a senile relative. In so doing I was made witness to the sad transformation of the lively and teeming venue I once knew to the desolate ghetto it ended up. Not that any of this is of any concern now, as it seems this particular senile relative has finally been put out of his misery. RIP.