Star Twin Cinemas I & II
3033 N.W. 79th Street,
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Previous Names: Star Mall Twin Cinema I & II
The Star Mall Twin Cinemas I & II complex was a short-lived “luxury twin” that was built during a time in cinema exhibition that featured automated, more diminutive twin-screen suburban movie theaters. The theater’s programmatic policies proved to be a major mismatch with the mall’s target audience of family-friendly retailers. Its departure from the center was likely seen as a positive by all parties except for a die-hard cadre of movie patrons and transients. But in retrospect, the theater’s attempts to reach a new breed of urban moviegoers of the 1970’s should not be overlooked.
Robert Chuckrow, Harold E. Elovich and Murray Smith announced the 79th Street Mall project in 1969 opening in 1970. For the Liberty City neighborhood, this regional mall commercial development was seen as a positive step especially coming out of a tough time for the area. This news included but was not limited to a three-day riot in Liberty City during the August 1968 Republican Convention; the disruption to the African American neighborhood’s continuity caused by the new and nearby Interstate 95 project; and the increasing bad relations between Liberty City residents and Miami police all occurring as economic hardship and disparity were on the rise.
Anchored by Woolworth’s big box discount store, Woolco, a Food Fair grocer, and an Eckerd, drug store, the first phase of the 79th Street Mall complex launched in 1970. In 1972, the project was then completed during which time an enclosed area for smaller retailers called the Star Mall was built and leased. The entire complex was officially known as the 79th Street Star Mall when it was fully online in 1973. At that point, the center added a theatre at 3033 NW 79th St. The Star Mall Twin Cinemas I & II was opened by Southland Cinemas on February 9, 1973 with Charles Bronson in “The Mechanic” and Sidney Poitier in “Buck and the Preacher” and a Disney double-feature with Angela Lansbury in “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and Kurt Russell in “The Barefoot Executive”.
Family fare appears to have quickly fallen into disfavor as the Star Twin was known for three primary genres in its five-year run: 1) Blaxpolitation films shown either in double or triple features; 2) Chopsockey Martial Arts films shown in double or triple features; and 3) X-rated adult films shown as double features and some bills featuring rarely-booked all African-American casts. The plaza went by the 79th Street Mall moniker and also by the Woolco Mall name, an informal homage to the center’s main anchor. The 79th Street Mall was sold in just eight months after the Star Mall and its theater’s launch. It was not the most encouraging sign. And, unfortunately, the economic woes of the neighborhood would absolutely sink the fortunes of the complex with vacancies occurring well before 15-year leasing points.
If reports are correct from the era, the theatre struggled with crime rates and programming that was attracting an unsavoury crowd. The Star Twin closed just shy of its fifth anniversary on February 2, 1978 with a triple feature with two Blaxploitation titles (“JD’s Revenge" and “Truck Turner”) with “Food of the Gods.” On Screen II were Adult Features (unnamed in advertisements). And even that five-year run appears to have had some discontinuity.
The Center was then sold again at a loss in 1979 as high interest rates and inflation took its toll on local consumers. The new operators did a cursory refresh in hopes of landing new retailers without success. As for the theater’s departure, Chopsocky film bookings were picked up at Wometco’s drive-in that was less than a mile away for patrons desiring those films. Any hopes that the 79th Street Mall would continue as a middle-class retailing hub or rebirth of the cinema were dashed when the Woolco chain was discontinued in February of 1983. While another big retailer, Zayre, picked up some Woolco vacancies, they and absolutely nobody else wanted to move in to the retailing center leading to the closure of the 79th Street Mall within a space of weeks.
The entire complex was rebooted eight months later on October 30, 1983 as Flea Market U.S.A. The Woolco store was carved up into 500 vendor booths. To show how far the fortunes of one James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, had fallen, Brown was affordable and open to signing on as the opening attraction for the new flea market. Neither was it one of the shining moments for the legendary performer nor was his court date three days later in Sacramento for failing to pay child support. But the good news was that for both James Brown and the retailing complex, they would mount robust comebacks. Flea Market U.S.A. was a hit.
If reports are correct, the former mall theater lobby, managers office, and box office were converted to a governmental office for Food Stamp enrolment and distribution. It is believed that the auditoriums remained in place until the Flea Market closed after a 15-year run and the building was demolished in 2019. That demolition occurred both to make way for a future residential development as the area was seeing a market turnaround and also likely due to the end of a 50-year agreement that ridded the building from the tax rolls.
If remembered at all, the Star Mall Cinemas I & II nimbly moved away from underperforming Hollywood family and mainstream programming to target its local clientele. Those pre-video era selections of X-rated porno chic and rarely seen African-American pornographic titles combined with Blaxploitation and Chopsocky sub-run double- and triple-features proved invaluable to a small group of area movie fans (and transients) while either alienating or - at best - getting indifferent shrugs from the majority of the 79th Street Mall’s retailers and consumers. We salute you, Star Mall Cinemas I & II.
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