June 25, 2009

Last Picture Show is over at Regency Cinema

Update, 7/06: The end came swiftly, starting today, as a two-man wrecking crew began making short work of Regency Cinema, above.

Original post:

There'll be no "Last Picture Show" (Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Cloris Leachman, 1971) at the Regency Cinema.

After 28 years of operation -- the movie theater opened with Regency Mall in 1981 -- the theater is about to be torn down. Regency Cinema became obsolete in 2006, when its owner, Marcus Theatres Corp., opened the 13-screen Marcus Cinema a few miles away in Sturtevant's Renaissance Business Park. Regency held on for a while as a $1 budget theater, never gaining much traction, and closing for good in April.

Now -- on July 6 -- demolition will begin by Azarian Wrecking Company. It's not expected to take more than a few weeks to level the building and plant grass on the site.

Ron Kimberlain, right, property accounts manager of CBL Associates -- owner of Regency Mall -- said Marcus is sharing in the cost of demolition, in part to make sure that no competitor opens in the building, but also to remove its signage. "Having the building gone also makes the site easier to sell," Kimberlain said. (Ed. note: Wishful thinking in this economy.)

A vacant building is also a magnet for vandalism, Kimberlain noted, looking up at the damaged E in the large CINEMA sign on the front of the building. Inside, the movie theater shows many signs of destruction, but it's not from vandals but rather from the fire department and SWAT team training that has been going on since the theater closed. There are missing ceiling tiles, holes in doors, even holes in walls.

One lesson it is clear the trainees learned is this: It's easy to knock a hole in a sheetrock wall, but if there's cement block behind it -- as there is throughout much of the Regency Cinema -- you're not getting through. Training has been done by the Racine Fire Department, Racine Canine unit, and city and county SWAT teams.

"I told the guys, 'I don't care what you do to the building. Have fun!" Kimberlain said. "Even the SWAT guys got to kick in some doors."

Besides the eight theaters on the first floor, there is a second floor mostly taken up by a maze-like corridor and a projection room that overlooks all of the theaters. Most of the equipment is gone, but there are a couple of huge (and woefully obsolete) CINEMECANIGA projectors from Milan, Italy. Ebay, anyone?

With most of the lights off, and the theaters dark, Regency has a Freddy Krueger or Friday the 13th aura about it, enhanced by the holes in the wall, piles of plaster on the floor and the watermarks at the below-ground end of one of the theaters -- evidence of recent flooding. But Freddy and Jason won't be returning, either.


  1. "Most of the equipment is gone, but there are a couple of huge (and woefully obsolete) CINEMECANIGA projectors from Milan, Italy."

    Obsolete? I'll be those projectors have better quality lenses than the projectors in the 13 new screen.

  2. I liked the movie The Last Picture Show.

  3. Why didn't they turn Westgate into the budget cinema? I think they would have had better luck doing that than the Regency Mall site.

    1. Because they couldn't get out of their lease with the mall so they kept Regency as a budget theater after the new Renaissance opened.

  4. Budget cinemas do not really work these days given all the other outlets to see movies: Netflix, online streaming, ppv., etc.

  5. Agreed 8:58...

    Most of the films I saw screening at the Regency the last few years of it's existence were usually already out on DVD (Netflix, Blockbuster Total Access, RedBox, Hollywood Video). Why bother going out, especially if you already had a decent TV and a decent home theater system? The outdated Regency screens weren't exactly UltraScreen or IMAX.

  6. Tearing down the building worked so well for the Chi Chi's. Should sell any day now.

  7. Wasn't a furniture store supposed to move in on the Chi Chi's lot awhile back? My memory is fuzzy. I thought I remember hearing that rumor/report/whatever after the economy started to tank or just before....

  8. An absolute disgrace, the fact, that is, that we have one theater...in Sturtevant. We could not care enough to salvage, as have many visionary cities, our old theaters, not one.

    Now this great budget Regency goes down...one more negative.

    The Bottoms/Bridges/Shephard film was a great one. Just saw on tv.

    Onward Racine, open up and start the progress...please?

  9. A city of 81,000 people and not one theatre within city limits. It is unbelievable all of the businesses that have left Racine.

  10. This is sad.

  11. continue the blieght.....put up a payday loan or a dollar store at the vacant site

  12. I think the Uptown theater is "technically" still there, although it would take a ton of $$ to restore it.

  13. If anyone wonders why Racine doesnt have a theatre within city limits must never have attended a movie at the now destroyed Regency cinema; it was all crooks, vandals and thugs-before it smartly closed.

  14. get used to it Racine. Until crime stops, employment begins, and the hoodlums leave-this is what you can expect. Our city is laughable, embarrassing, and unremarkable. If you disagree, you are in denial.

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  16. Anon 7:37--I couldn't agree more. Every day we are faced with growing (or consistant) crime. Let's hire the guy from Death Wish to clean up the city. Dirty Harry can join him.