Friday, July 17, 2009

BAC Cinema

Now this, my friends, is a sign! I was browsing through pics on Flickr not too long ago and came across this beauty in plasticfootball's photostream. The sign was for what was then the BAC Quad Cinema in Belleville, IL. At night, it would light up with brilliant red, orange and yellow neon lights. Prior to a Belleville ordinance that banned motion in large signage (an ordinance that has since been repealed as far as I know), the flames would shoot out of the torches. This sign was pretty cool. Unfortunately, sometime in 1997, 30 years after it's debut, the sign was taken down.

This photo makes me feel nostalgic. First off, Belleville is my home town (well, Swansea, actually, but it might as well be Belleville). Secondly, I used to work at this theater. It was my second job when I was 16 back in 1993. And finally, I saw the best movies of my childhood here: the entire Star Wars Trilogy, all the Indiana Jones movies, E.T., Star Trek II, Fantasia and several others. This photo brings back a lot of memories.

The cinema opened in 1966 as a single screen movie house with an impressively huge auditorium. Seating capacity was 800, and it boasted what was then the largest movie screen East of the Mississippi. The huge, curved screen was adorned with gold curtains, and when the movie started, they would open to reveal movie heaven. The seats were plush and comfy and they reclined a bit.

The lobby had this awesome concession stand. It was tight to work in and was kind of obsolete by the 90s, but it certainly had style.

In 1985, to compete with Wehrenberg's St. Clair 10 Cine that was getting ready to open in Fairview Heights, BAC added a new lobby and three additional screens on the West side of the original building. It then became the BAC Quad Cine. The new lobby was more spacious, and the concession counter was more accommodating to the workers who schlepped behind there. Additionally, the box office was moved from the old side to the new side. By the time I was working there, the old concession was no longer used on a regular basis, but we did open it once or twice for big openings, and on one particularly big film, we even reopened the old box office.

The theater was leased to Kerasotes Theaters in the mid 1990s. But unfortunately the annex was having some structural issues, and by 2000, the entire building was shut down for good. The sign was dismantled and scrapped in 1997.

Its sad to see this theater sitting empty. I would actually support the demolition of the newer structure, but the main house still has plenty of life left in it. I really hope someone comes along and buys it and returns it to its former glory.

Oh, and one small bit of my personal history with this place: when I was a kid, I remembered seeing a giant mural hanging on the wall in the main theater when Return of the Jedi came out. The mural was from a local painter, and depicted a collage of Star Wars characters and scenes. It was really amazing. When I worked there, the guy training me took me behind the screen in the big auditorium and showed me the painting. There it was... just sitting there collecting dust. It had been back there for literally ten years! In 1999, when Phantom Menace came out, I went here to see it at midnight. Much to my surprise, they had cleaned it off and re-hung it on the lobby wall. Where it is now, I'd like to know


Anonymous said...

I came across your post in searching for the BAC promo clip that ran before shows in the early/mid 90s. All the staff in uniforms were lined up in the concession area and they did this military jump/turn thing. And then cut to someone on a walkie talkie, looking really serious about something. God, it killed me. Do you remember it? I'm dying to see it again. Thanks for linking to the great pics. I miss that place.

Anonymous said...

I saw Star Wars here in 1977. I remember the restaurant nextstore was called the Grist Mill or something. Saw lots of movies here as my dad was stationed on SAFB.