I just learned that a small piece of my personal history was no more. The old South Hills movie theatre in Dormont has been demolished. Now, obviously, I am not the first middle-aged person to see his childhood movie house torn down, nor will I be the last. Nevertheless, I will mourn this passing and commemorate the place that the South Hills Theatre will always occupy in my heart.
Before being carved up into four ridiculously sized “cinemas,” the South Hills Theatre was a cavernous place with a huge balcony. In the old days, the place had hosted all sorts of performances, such as organ concerts, before becoming predominately a movie house. But, I wouldn’t know about the rest of the building because I sat in the same seat every time I visited.
It began in the summer of 1972 or 1973, when the theatre ran a promotion, showing a different classic film every night for $1.00 admission. My best friend Frank and I must have seen at least 30 movies that summer, mostly old black and white films like they would later show on AMC and Turner Classics. But, of course, this was before cable TV took over our leisure time. Frank and I would sit in the same two seats, about three or four rows from the front, on the right aisle. We often joked that we would someday buy those seats and have them bronzed in memorial of our loyalty.
Of course, summer came to an end as it always does. After high school, I found less reason and time to visit the South Hills. Like little jackie paper, I left my magic dragon behind and over time its scales fell off as well. I remember returning some years ago and feeling great sadness for its dilapidated condition. I suppose that the place (now renamed Cinema 4) actually died for me that day.
So, now the South Hills Theatre is irretrievably gone forever. Gone are those fantasies of hitting the lottery and buying the place on a lark. Gone are those dreams of reliving that wonderful summer of discovering a new classic every night in my personal seat. Like my youth, those wonderful times of learning to drive and eating Mineo’s pizza with high school friends, live only in my memories.
But, while the bricks and mortar may no longer retain their solid configuration in the real world, the South Hills Theatre stands unmolested in my mind. My love of films engendered by that wonderful place lives on strong. My appreciation of classics stands strong against the wrecking balls of unimaginative writing and needless remakes. The body of the South Hills Theatre may be dead, but its soul lives on with every film I recommend to a young person who thinks that CGI can substitute for good acting. Rest in Peace, South Hills Theatre!