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When I lived in Tulsa, we frequented this theater countless times. Notable movies that stand out were “Mystery Science Theater 3000”. I saw the shows on television but had no idea there was a movie. I insisted my parents take me. My mother and I saw it, laughed hysterically, and then later that same day, saw it again with my grandmother.
Coincidentally, the accompanying theater image shows “Star Trek”, which happened to be the film, “Star Trek Generations”. I was a big fan of the ST: TNG television show, often using them as a catalyst to fall asleep dreaming of wondrous things, so I insisted we see the movie. My parents and I saw it one afternoon and thought it was so good, we got my grandmother and brought her back the same day to see it with us again. So, I find it amusing that particular film is on the “now showing”.
I’m not sure if anyone remembers but around this time, HBO promoted their new series “Perversions of Science”, which didn’t last long. However, this theater had many of the show’s promotional items for grabs in the lobby, which I picked up and still retain. Many of them were similar to postcards, featuring different shows of the series. They also had “Josta” soda cards, as well.
My family and I saw a lot of movies at this theater. Of course, as a kid, the action flicks stand out more prevalently. I was an avid comic book collector at the time and had frequented Wizard’s Asylum’s Defcon comic conventions, especially the year they had Todd McFarlane as a guest. So, I was stoked when this theater hosted the premiere of “Spawn”. Being a basketball fan, as well, I was excited to see Space Jam here, too.
The movie that really stands out for me, though was Jackie Chan’s “Rumble in the Bronx”. The story behind that film, for me, was that my parents wanted to see a different movie that I had no real interest in seeing. So, when we got inside, I took off in a different direction to see something else. The movie I chose was “Rumble in the Bronx”. I mean, the title sounded cool and it just had to be better than what my parents were seeing, right? I went into that film knowing nothing about it and nothing about Jackie Chan. It was dubbed, which also threw me because it wasn’t often that I saw those types of movies. But wow, I could not believe the action sequences! I had seen a tremendous amount of action movies up to that point but I had seen nothing like what I was seeing on the screen. I wasn’t even aware that a human could do the things that Chan was doing. And to top it off, as the credits were rolling, behind-the-scenes bits were shown of Chan and his team pulling off the stunts, Chan insisting on jumping from a neighboring parking garage roof to a fire escape on the outside of an adjacent building. He subsequently broke his ankle/foot and the crew made a fabric slipper that looked like his sneaker to slide over his cast so he could continue shooting. Simply amazing and when I met back with my parents, I retold what I saw as best I could as if I had witnessed something completely unbelievable. And truly, I had. This is the experience movie theaters give us; rare, fascinating moments in time that you can share with family, friends, and complete strangers and best of all, memories.
Since this theater is no longer opened and I doubt that it’s going to garner much interest unless someone is looking for something in particular, I thought I might share my memories….
This theater opened in the summer of 1998, the same summer that I was hired for my first job as one of their new staff. During my interview, I was told that one of the big attractions of this new theater was the colossal Auditorium #8, which held just short of 500 viewers at a time and housed a screen that was much bigger than any IMAX, and was the largest in Oklahoma. The other was that every auditorium was stocked with specially tuned THX speakers, a feature that helped us capture the showing rights to Star Wars: Episode 1. I had other summer plans, working with my uncle’s production studio for about a month, but when I returned, the theater was rocking with the blockbuster summer Disney movie, Mulan.
I would describe my first day as somewhat of a baptism by fire. I got a crash course in working behind concession by one of the managers, Chan, which lasted all of about 60 seconds. At the end of the tutorial, he told us new staffers that once the front folding doors were pulled back, we would be swarmed with sales. He wasn’t kidding. I worked all day without a break, floating and filling popcorn bags and buckets and filling drink cups, simply because there was no slowdown in customer traffic. We had shows starting every 30 minutes, which became standard with any popular film.
Eventually, I worked myself out of concession and was able to learn how to be an usher. I wanted to learn every position and maybe even become a manager. Usher work in this theater was grueling and honestly, you had to be in great physical shape. To start, the theater is filled with stairs. There are three sets of main stairs just behind the ticket taker (we called it “door”) that can take the wind out of anyone and if you wanted to ride the elevator, you had to walk about half the distance of the theaters downstairs to access the lift wing. There was another set of stairs down that corridor to access theaters 3 thru 7. Upstairs, after climbing the 3 sets of stairs, you were greeted by another small set of stairs just past concession to access theaters 8 thru 12. Suffice to say, customers did A LOT of walking but then again, so did the employees. I found usher work to be very physical. Theaters were letting out practically back to back so I would have to obtain a schedule of approximate end times and if theaters were ending at the same time, I would position extra trash cans outside those theaters I wouldn’t be able to service immediately. There were many times that I either worked alone or with another single person, either upstairs or downstairs, and I’d scour the recently emptied theaters for leftover trash, which always filled more than one 55 gallon trash can. We would dump the 55 gallon trash bags into a tilt-cart and then wheel it down the back alleys of the mall to the interior loading dock where the trash compactors were stationed. Dumping the trash was horrible because the bags we used were so thin, they practically burst open every time, showering us with rotten soda, popcorn and candy. It was disgusting. But we were always moving and sweating; it was very laborious. On a side note, you should have seen us change light bulbs in the ceilings because the heights in some areas were 50 feet or more. We had industrial A-frame ladders that still couldn’t get us up there so people would climb to the very top and then try to use poles with bulb snaggers on them. It was horribly dangerous work for $5.25 an hour.
I also found usher work to be filthy because we were often told to clean and maintain the restrooms. Almost every single night, someone blew up and I wondered if it was being done on purpose. It started as feces smeared on the stall walls and eventually graduated to people defecating in both the sinks and urinals, which brings me to a particular story: one busy evening upstairs, we checked the restroom and the second to last stall toilet refused to flush. So, my partner and I wrapped the toilet in a plastic bag, locked the stall door from the inside and crawled out underneath so the stall would remained closed. The toilet remained nonfunctional for 3 more weeks until again, one busy night, a customer complained about the state of the upstairs restrooms. I went in to check and lo, found that stall that we locked now wide open. Someone tore open the plastic bag and used it, prompting other customers to do the same. The toilet didn’t flush so all the feces and urine poured over the sides like a pot of French onion soup. I mean, the only way to get the door open was to crawl underneath and unlock it. Someone really did that? In any case, despite my alerting management, the toilet continued to sit in that state for another month. Finally one afternoon, I came back to work and heard a rumbling in the hall. Just around the corner, a plumber was working on the toilet and had a small robot machine parked outside the restroom door. It had a clear dome so you could see whatever he was trying to break up flying around in there and the damn thing was as loud as a rock polisher. When he saw me arrive, he shut the machine down and wiped his brow. He was clearly perturbed, stating “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I’ve never seen anything like it…it’s been left so long, it’s gone solid and down into the pipe. You need a chisel just to get through!”
These sort of “events” became regular each week and in my opinion, signaled the downhill spiral of the theater’s status. No one respected us, not even our own management, who were eventually fired a few months after I was hired for embezzlement; an entire weekend’s worth of earnings was never deposited in the bank, the investigators were unable to pinpoint exactly who did the deed so every manager working that weekend was fired. We brought in some managers from Eton Square, particularly Jill who was amazing, but the quality of the staff plummeted. No one took pride in their work, left the auditoriums filthy, had bad attitudes, breaking in and stealing items, etc. The following year, 1999, AMC built their 20 auditorium theater directly across the street and immediately began gathering up all the hit films. We got stuck with movies that were better served as “straight to DVD”, which attracted a completely different clientele. Hollywood Theaters also decided they no longer wanted to pay for security so when very violent fights broke out, customers and staff had no protection. It was very grim, indeed. You can read a story on this here: https://www.yelp.com/biz/regal-cinemas-promenade-palace-12-tulsa?hrid=U9Lt6GuoRUIr2BnSv2t3ag&utm_campaign=www_review_share_popup&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=(direct)
One story I will share on this trend was that I had worked a Saturday night and I was scheduled for “all shows”, which basically meant that I would stay inside the theater until the very last auditorium emptied, I would clean out all of the theaters, and ensure that everyone had left. At this time, the company did very briefly hire another security company, though most were untrained and simply wore a badge as a deterrent. I escorted the security officer that night through the auditoriums and bathrooms, found no one, and went home. I came back early the next morning to a parade of police cars outside the front door. When I came in the front door, one of the officers began questioning me as I walked toward the rear. At the back of the hall near the elevators, staff from House of Vacuums were equipped with heavy machinery working on a circle of stained carpet the size of a swimming pool. So, what happened that night, you ask? Apparently, someone hid inside the theater somewhere until after hours and then headed to the elevator. Now, the theater office and projection booths were situated on the second and fourth floors, only accessible with a special key that management retained. This mysterious individual, whom I personally believe was an ex-employee, got inside the elevator and stacked trash cans on top of each other to create a ladder to the elevator roof. There, the climbed into the shaft and pounded a hole into the wall of the second floor, reached through, and pushed the button so the elevator would stop on the second floor. The second floor served many purposes; it was a projection booth for theaters 1 thru 7, an excess stockroom mostly for fountain drink boxes, and also contained the office. The intruder stabbed 38 fountain drink boxes with a sharp object, which caused them to leak syrup all over the projection booth floors, eventually seeping into the auditoriums below. The syrup also drained into the hallways outside the theaters, hence House of Vacuums’ presence. They worked on trying to extract all the syrup from the floors from 10 AM until 6 PM. Then, the intruder bashed in the office door and tried to pull up the safe, which was bolted to the floor. They were unsuccessful so they proceeded to create messes throughout. I believe it was an ex-employee because only employees knew what was on the second floor or that even a second floor existed. This event was the first break-in and more followed, with television monitors being ripped from the ceilings, the arcade being ransacked and the coin machine beaten and pulled down the hall to the first corridor. Our “screening room”, a plush auditorium with velvet seats, tables and wait staff, was splashed with paint, urine and feces.
As much as I hate to admit it, I continued to press on working here, despite it all. I guess I figured being promoted would somehow make it worthwhile or that once a manager, I would be able to make a difference. Chalk it up to being young. Anyway, I was told multiple times over the course of a few days from different managers that my work ethic was exemplary and that once I finished high school, I would be promoted. That was only a couple of weeks away so I was thrilled. Imagine my chagrin when I came in just days later to find that another individual had been promoted. This person displayed no work ethic, had a bad attitude and didn’t put forth even 10% of the effort that the rest of us had each night. My promotion, whether I received it or not, meant nothing after I saw that. To me, I earned my promotion. The other person only attained the title because they were able to work the hours. So, I left the theater after a few weeks and went to work in food management.
It’s actually very sad what happened to this theater because I have many fond memories, it was my very first job, I met a lot of crazy, funny, and unique people, forged a lot of relationships, both friendly and romantic, and if you were ever needed content for a story, this place gave you something special every night. There’s not one corner of this place that I could look and not think of something. Hell, I used to do my college homework in the lobby dining area just to feel close to the people who worked there. The theater had a heart, that’s for sure, and I’ll always miss it.