Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Movie Theaters of St. Louis

St. Louis has four full-time movie theaters. Each venue offers something completely unique and makes a night out at the movies a great experience. While four theaters may not sound like a lot for a city of ~319,000, it works. Among the four, there is a good mix of first run, blockbusters, family, art house and the occasional classics thrown in for good measure.

But, it is the overall experience, the vibe, the place that differentiates the city's theaters from the typical experience you get in the staid designs or faux retro feel of modern multiplexes surrounded by surface parking far from the central city.

The Chase Park Plaza Cinemas, one of the four I'll discuss, claims to be:

"the civilized alternative to the megaplex"

I agree with that assessment, and it seems to apply not only to the Chase but to the other three as well.

You can catch a movie with a little more of that old world charm in  either the Hi-Pointe Neighborhood, the Central West End, Midtown or Downtown.

So lets take a look at each.

1. The Hi-Pointe Theater (1005 McCausland Avenue, Hi-Pointe Neighborhood, 63117)

This theater is one of the things that makes St. Louis great.  From the metal and neon marquee, to the curved stainless steel and glass box office, to the concession stand, to the seats and...even the bathrooms are cool with mostly original fixtures.  This is the coolest venue simply because it is like stepping into another time when you enter. The Hi-Pointe is the oldest continuously operating venue in the city and stepping into the lobby is like time-travel as the owners have tried to maintain the original character of the interior as well as the exterior.  And its location near Forest Park, Dogtown, The Cheshire Inn and the massive Amoco Sign, just add to the ambiance of this place on the very western edge of St. Louis.

This is a fun place to take people from out of town and a great return for date nights.

 St. Louis City Talk circa 2010

St. Louis City Talk circa 2010

Notice the billboard and grey paneling over the marquee in the shots above taken in 2010?  As of publishing, the front facade is getting a makeover.  The brick and windows on the second floor are now on display and the grey paneling is no more, giving the building an even more authentic look...check it out:


"An understated and wonderful St. Louis gem, the Hi-Pointe Theatre was built in 1922 at the incredible intersection of Interstate 64, Clayton Road, Clayton Avenue, McCausland Avenue, Forest Avenue, Oakland Avenue and Skinker Boulevard, today also the home of the world’s largest Amoco sign and just at the southwest corner of Forest Park. Taking its name from the surrounding neighborhood, it is the highest point in the City of St. Louis. Unlike other theaters of its time, the Hi-Pointe was always intended to show movies—not vaudeville or plays—on the big screen in a huge, comfortable auditorium. 
During the early days of cinema, the Warner Bros. Circuit of Theatres operated the Hi-Pointe, followed by Fanchon & Marco, St. Louis Amusement and St. Louis’s Arthur Enterprises. 
St. Louisans George and Georgia James have owned the theater since the 1970s. Their daughter, Diana and her husband Bill Grayson have expanded the Hi-Pointe's repertoire adding a second screen with 'The Backlot' and are continuing the family tradition these days. 
The theater has benefited from many renovations over its history. The aquamarine seating, long a favorite of St. Louis moviegoers, was added in 1963. Today, the theater boasts a huge new screen and explosive Dolby Digital sound while preserving the theater’s historic and neighborhood cachet, including a cozy lobby, turquoise curtains, quaint second-floor restrooms and men’s urinals noted by the Riverfront Times as “best in St. Louis.” 
As the oldest continuously operating single screen movie theater in the St. Louis metropolitan area, the Hi-Pointe is proud to continue its 90-year tradition today. The theater features convenient parking, student discounts, reasonable ticket prices, and awesome popcorn that won’t require a bank loan. 
Moviegoers from all over the region love the Hi-Pointe, and it’s frequently voted St. Louis’s favorite theater. 
See the newest movies in style at St. Louis’s oldest theater!"

As noted above, the current owners recently opened "The Backlot", a second screen on the second floor of the building directly behind the main theater.  This brick beauty was converted to a 50-seat, single screen theater with a nice sized screen (19 x 8 feet) and comfortable, reclining seats.  They have beer, wine, cocktails and all the usual salty and sweet snacks you would expect all for a reasonable price.  The theater is on the second floor and there are offices on the first floor.  



My favorite approach to the Backlot is from McCausland through a narrow brick gangway that just makes the city experience that much better.

my girl on her way to the Backlot

Parking is adjacent and plentiful and of course accessible by foot, bike and Metro Bus.  This place is a St. Louis treasure.  Congrats to the owners for the investment, good stewardship, and love for St. Louis movie traditions and of course, brick architecture. 

2. The Moolah Theater (3821 Lindell Boulevard, Midtown Neighborhood, 63108)

Get ready folks, this one is something to behold.  From the minute you arrive, you know you are somewhere special.  Centered between the bustling Central West End and the main St. Louis University campus centered near Grand and Lindell, this location is easily accessible from anywhere.


Walking up to this beauty created in the Moorish vein is something to behold with it's blue and yellow terra cotta trim, pharoah's head sculpture and lavish archways.  The building opened in 1914 and was the home of the Moolah Shriner's a Masonic Organization that used the building until the 1980s when they vacated St. Louis for the staid and safe suburbs in 1988.  The building was left to rot and fell into severe disrepair.  It's amazing how destructive the legacy of abandonment and middle class flight can be on a city...but, thanks to good stewards of St. Louis history and architecture, Amy and Amrit Gill, a massive multi-million dollar renovation took place around 2003. The Moolah was converted to apartments and the existing single screen theater opened in 2004.





The lobby is awesome.  There is a side area to watch movies or the Cards/Blues game if you are waiting for your kids to take in a movie.  There is a great little bar that shows vintage, sometimes kitschy, films and offers up local beers and tasty cocktails.





There is an eight-lane bowling alley downstairs if you want to bowl a few frames, shoot some pool or play some ping pong. Full bar in the bowling alley as well.





The theater is single screen...yeah, that's right multiplexes, a single screen. It is THE largest screen in the region (20 x 45 foot) and the seating is mixed with standard seats, leather couches, love seats and chairs. There is a balcony and a main seating area that accommodates ~500 total patrons.

The ceiling is a work of art and is illuminated with alternating colors and shades of light.

There are plenty of nods to the Shriner's legacy from Fez-shaped lamp shades to art work.



This place is a testament to the value of re-use, re-purposing and historic renovation in place making. St. Louis is better off with this work of art. There is nothing else like it in the region...go enjoy it!

Access by Metro bus, foot and bike are easy, as is the convenient and free structured parking lot directly north of the Moolah.

3. The Chase Park Plaza Theater (212 Kingshighway Boulevard, Central West End Neighborhood, 63108)

How can you not love the Central West End, the most diverse, bustling and well-to-do, yet accessible neighborhood in St. Louis. Vibrant and bustling, this is another fully urban experience.  You can arrive by Metrolink (Central West End red and blue line stop), Metro Bus, foot or cycle. Parking is free in the lot across Lindell at Kingshighway.



The Chase Hotel is work of art and the hallways and lobby are nothing short of stunning. Walking in from the Lindell side is the best point of entry, walking through the revolving doors into the dimly lit box office area complete with Grand piano.  Walk through the hallways amongst the various ballrooms toward the grand hall connecting to the hotel lobby. 

You can't help but feel grand at the Chase.


This 1920's era building is swanky and has that big-city feel. The theaters opened in 1998 and boast some of the vintage charm including an organ player who serenades the audience before the show, Bissinger's chocolate, local beer, wine and ushers who hand out candy on the way out.

Want to impress your significant other or out of town guest? Take them here. The scene is top shelf, elegant and meant to impress. The screens can be a little small, but the handsome murals, intimate setting, sound and picture quality more than make up for the modest screen size.

"The theaters at Chase Park Plaza Cinema consist of five intimate auditoriums with luxury seating, all-digital sound systems and "state of the art" projection. 
This unparalleled design and composition effectively sets a new standard for the St. Louis cinematic experience. 
Renowned architect Salim Rangwala, in conjunction with innovative cinema operator Harman Moseley, worked together with nationally recognized artist Dick Godwin to transform the former Chase Club into five modern day atmospheric theaters. 
With a stadium seating "presentation theater" and trompe l'oeil masterpiece in each auditorium, the Chase Park Plaza Cinema is a high tech representation of the Hollywood studios' great screening rooms of the past. This unique cinema concept is now offered for the first time to the discerning moviegoing public at the extraordinary redevelopment of a St. Louis landmark, the one and only Chase Park Plaza."
If you don't walk the neighborhood after the show, you are missing out.  There are too many great bars, restaurants, dessert shops, etc to mention.

4. The MX Theater (618 Washington Boulevard, Downtown Neighborhood, 63101)

This is St. Louis' newest theater, opening in 2013.  Located in the Mercantile Exchange (MX) district downtown, the building used to house the shuttered St. Louis Centre indoor mall...although it is hard to recognize it today after an amazing redo and modernization.  You can't miss the MX with it's beautiful sign that mimics a classic film reel with alternating red lights illuminating "M-O-V-I-E-S", letter by letter. 

nighttime

 daytime

The style of the interior and exterior of the MX is sleek and modern. The three screen theater has padded seats that recline, and have a pull out lap-table for food and/or beverages.

photo credit:  MX Movies Flickr Page

concession stand

They serve more substantial food including gourmet hot dogs, nachos, tacos, quesadillas and of course toasted ravioli that can be enjoyed in the theater or in the adjacent full bar and dining area called the French Connection Lounge.


The location is fantastic between Laclede's Landing and the more concentrated restaurants and bars along Washington Avenue.  It is accessible by Metrolink, within steps from the Convention Center stop, Metro Bus, foot and cycle.  There are bike racks along Washington right in front of the venue.  Parking is free and super convenient as you enter the garage near Locust and 17th Street and park on the second floor, walk right into the theater and they validate your parking with the purchase of a movie ticket.

The National Blues Museum, slated to open in early 2016, will be located across the street.
Photo source: www.nationalbluesmuseum.org

Pi Pizzeria, Snarf's, Taze Street Food, Takaya New Asian and many other dining options exist within walking distance.  You can't go wrong at this venue and with the structured parking, bike racks, big city skyscrapers and Metrolink stop, it has that big-city feel.

Like many other examples in St. Louis, the setting is as impressive as the destination, you really get an experience along with your ticket, you get to experience places that are special, not just a boring suburban multiplex that you can find from coast to coast.

In part two of this post, I will discuss the cinematic treasures that we have lost over the years.

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