Q: What do the movies “Oh God You Devil” and “City Heat” have in common?
A: They were the first two movies to play when Ridgecrest Cinemas held its grand opening on Dec. 21, 1984 – 34 years ago today. The cinema had two screens back then, and the festive opening – which was a fundraiser for the Ridgecrest Community Hospital Foundation – included a pre-theater party at Clancy’s Claim Company. Owners Betty and John Parlet were on hand, serving up the popcorn at the opening night event.
For those who don’t remember, the theater was an exciting development. After the Ridge Theater on China Lake Boulevard (where the Burger King is now) closed in the mid-1970s, the only indoor theater in the area was the Station Theater on the Naval Weapons Center. People made do with the Crest Drive-In, until that closed as well.
The advent of a new indoor theater with multiple screens was a big deal indeed.
Plans were originally for two more screens, but then that turned into three for a total of five. The theater eventually grew to its current count of eight screens. Theaters 1 through 5 have traditional sloped floors. Theaters 6, 7 and 8 are stadium theaters, so customers have to walk up to get to the seating.
An interesting trivia fact: the marquee in front still says “Cinemas 5” and does not have room to list the current roster of 8 movies.
Like any theater, Ridgecrest Cinemas has seen its share of controversy over the years. The film “Malcolm X” played at the cinema, but there were complaints because it was not advertised on the marquee. The controversial movie “The Last Temptation of Christ” did not play at all as the result of petitions from local residents asking that it not be shown.
The theater has been a social hub of the community for many years, although now obviously competing with other forms of entertainment.
Currently, Mike McGee, Mark McGee and Dave Campbell own Ridgecrest Cinemas.
General Manager Kelly Walden told the Daily Independent she and the entire staff have been on a quest to make it fun to go to the movies again. As such, they have introduced special events such as the Throwback Series, in which classic movies are once again shown on the big screen. These proved wildly popular last summer with huge crowds showing up to see classics such as “The Exorcist,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “Gone with the Wind,” and, of course, “Top Gun.” Another innovation: a bar with specialty drinks at some showings.
Another recent development is healthier snack bar options.
Walden said the throwback movies will continue: look for a possible one around Valentine’s Day. The theater also hosts birthday parties and Toddler Takeovers, in which parents and toddlers attend special morning showings.
“We are trying to do special events all the time,” Walden said. The Cinemas also took part in the Christmas parade and Santa’s Art Shop recently. She said they try to do some sort of special event at least monthly.
“We have been trying to get a lot of swag from all our companies that we can give away on social media just to make it more exciting,” she said.
In honor of its anniversary, Ridgecrest Cinemas will be doing giveaways today. And, because it also happens to be National Ugly Sweater day as well, there will be an Ugly Sweater contest. There will be a customer ugly sweater competition and one for employees as well. All customers who come to the theater in an ugly sweater today will get a $1 discount on their concession purchases.
Note: However, beginning in 2019, Ridgecrest Cinemas will not be accepting paper discounts/coupons.
For more on Ridgecrest Cinemas, search on Ridgecrest Cinemas on Facebook, see the website at https://www.ridgecrestcinemas.com/ or call 760-446-7771 for automated information.