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I was writing an article on endangered animals when I heard news that Camelview Theater in Scottsdale, Arizona is in danger of being torn down in favor of making room for a 2000+ seat megaplex theater, which would be part of an expansion of Fashion Square Mall. Just like endangered animals will be gone forever if we don’t save them, the same is true for historic buildings.

According to Nick Blumberg of KJZZ, “Camelview may be on the chopping block. Dan Harkins leases the land from Camelview’s neighbors, Scottsdale Fashion Square. The mall wants to expand, and that might mean tearing down the last theater Red Harkins helped build.”

But he goes on to say the independent movie experience will likely survive. Dan Harkins, current lessor and operator of Camelview Theater, says, “my vision is that someday, we could combine Fashion Square with Camelview and make a nice 12- or 14-plex, giving us some much more latitude to book the theater correctly, and book the art and foreign films, too. I predict that a theater like Camelview will always exist in this market.”

The problem is that you can’t reproduce “a theater like Camelview” because it is unique and historic, offering a one-of-a-kind movie-going experience. Once it’s torn down, it’ll be gone forever. It’s great that Phoenix residents will still have a place to catch independent movies, but it’s terrible that it will have to be in a vanilla, mass-produced, characterless megaplex which you will find anywhere from from Sierra Vista, Arizona to the Ahwatukee neighborhood in Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona.

Having lived in Portland, Oregon for seven months now, I am a frequent patron of the multiple historic theaters here. In Portland, I have the option of visiting a typical movie megaplex or I have the option of watching an independent or second-run movie at a neighborhood historic theater. I have walked to the historic Bagdad Theater, and biked to the Laurelhurst Theater, the Hollywood Theater and The Clinton Street Theater to enjoy all sorts of movies and shows. I rarely even go to movie multiplexes because it’s a lot more fun to go to the quaint, historic movie theaters. The Bagdad, Laurelhurst Theater, Hollywood Theater and the Clinton Street Theater DEFINE the neighborhoods they are in. Without them, neighborhoods wouldn’t have the same character.

That is what Camelview does for central Scottsdale, especially the Fashion Square area. It DEFINES that place, because of its unique and historic architecture. The Camelview experience is so much more than the movies that are shown in it. The experience is inextricably entwined with the actual building. The mushroom shade structure in the front makes the area memorable with a local, Phoenix-specific, midcentury modern flair. With plans to replace this unique building with just another movie megaplex that you could just as easily find in any suburb in the US, Scottsdale will have lost something that makes it authentic and will just become another colorless, placeless suburb that’s destroyed its heritage.

You will not find another Camelview anywhere else in the world. Why would Phoenix, a place that has lost so much of its character and unique personality to insensitive demolition and redevelopment, tear down one of the ONLY operating historic theaters in the region in favor of yet another movie megaplex?

What can we do to stop this? At this point, it’s not clear. But one thing we can do is let it be known that the greater Phoenix community LOVES Camelview Theater and that it will not stand for this part of the city’s heritage to be torn down. Make some noise about this! Tell your friends. Spread the word on Facebook and Twitter and other social media channels. Make it known to the world that you don’t want the irreplaceable Camelview Theater to be taken away forever. You can also contact Steve Venker of the City of Scottsdale Historic Preservation Officer, at jvenker@scottsdaleaz.gov or 480-312-2831. In addition, you can attend and voice your concern about the possible demolition of the theater at the Scottsdale Historic Preservation Commission which meets on the second Thursday of each month at 5:30 p.m. Meeting location information are here: http://www.scottsdaleaz.gov/boards/HistPres.asp

Also, if you love Camelview and don’t want to see it torn down, please share your experiences of going to the theater in the comment section! And join the group Save Camelview and share your stories on there as well!

Plus, sign this petition to ask Macerich not to demolish Camelview!!!

Photo Credit: Lead image courtesy of Walt Lockley.

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12 Responses

  1. Philip Reina says:

    Excellent article Taz!
    Let me know how I can help!

    I love this theater and been attending for about 30 years.

  2. Mitch says:

    Camelview is THE place to go to for independent films in Phoenix, and taking it away ould be an absolute travesty. though I’ve only been going there for about a year or two how could I forget the joy I felt in seeing The Artist before it came to big multiplexes, or going on a movie date complete with an old school movie theater charm? Camelview forever!

  3. Dusty says:

    I try to never miss a movie that comes to the Camelview 5. I love that there is a theater that shows exclusively independent and foreign films. Even though there are other theaters, such at Valley Arts Tempe and Shea 14, that do show a limited amount of indy flims. there are none that are as easily accessible to park or that have as much architectural charm. Not to mention that they have loyal employees that have worked there over the 10 year span that I have been going there. This theater is a historical landmark that should remain standing in the Old Town Scottsdale area .

  4. Alex says:

    I’ll be the first to admit that the inside of camelview is nothing special. Make adjustments. Make a better theater. But don’t let consumerism win this one. It’s a fine theater that could be better. Give it some love( particularly that horrible screen tucked in the corner) and keep distributing good cinema to this city. There’s no reason to cut the nose to spite the face. Who actually likes multiplexes? If you’re going to change anything, give us something to be proud of and remember that your walls host perhaps the greatest medium of modern art.

  5. Lisa Parks says:

    The Camelview is one of the few things that actually get me to venture into Scottsdale. It always feels like a special outing to see a movie there and I’ll take that any day over a multiplex.

  6. Micki Wacker says:

    I can’t believe they want to do this….The Camelview is pretty much the only Theater with really good films. I am no longer in Arizona but I hope that all of the Ciné Fans are going to take action!
    I personally don’t care about mega movie theaters, but rather appreciate a smaller size Theater with great Independent Films. Culture, Culture, why are you in so much danger?

  7. laura moorhead says:

    I love going to Camelview for those movies that you can’t see at a megaplex. Its a special outing and experience. I understand that they are trying to keep the independent movement alive with a new theatre, but it would NOT be the same. That won’t entice me to make a special trip to Scottsdale when I have a number of cookie cutter theatres minutes away already. Camelview offers a unique experience, like the pictures they show, and destroying it for the sake of corporate expansion, would also destroy the art form it once stood for.

  8. Katrina says:

    It was the first theater that I saw a foreign subtitled movie at, it was an amazing experience.

  9. Andrew says:

    I couldn’t agree with this article more. Tearing down the Camelview would be yet another move toward removing all character from the Phoenix-metro area. I don’t get to the Camelview as much as I used to, but I’m still there several times a year and it always feels like a special experience. Creating yet another sanitized multiplex theater– even if it does show art and foreign films– would diminish that movie going experience significantly.

  10. [...] the usual things which was to go see a movie. It was the movie “Enough Said” and was at a unique movie theater that plays indie flicks and is fighting for its life due to the moss creeping development around [...]

  11. [...] Why We Should Save Camelview Theater, One of the Last Remaining Historic Theaters in Phoenix [...]

  12. Roger says:

    What about the Apache Drive-In down in Globe? I’d much rather see that screen saved, it’s every bit as historic if not moreso (built in 1954), and the only “real” single-screen drive-in left in the state.

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