By David Weiner
I have incredibly fond memories of my local neighborhood movie theater where I grew up. Those of us who have maintained a lifelong love affair with cinema can surely each pinpoint that one movie theater, or that convenient multiplex, from our childhood that provided a wellspring of great movie memories.
The movie theater that made a marked difference in my life was Scarsdale Plaza in the suburbs of Westchester county, New York. A single-screen theater that had surely seen better days by the time I started frequenting it in the late ’70s, Scarsdale Plaza was essentially the last stop for well-worn movie prints before hitting the scrapheap, and I say that with love.
Because their prints were often dusty and scratched and had made the rounds in top-tier movie theaters for at least a few months before this final lap, Scarsdale Plaza charged only $.99 for any show, any time, any day, for as long as I could remember (they always had a jar full of pennies to hand back to customers when they’d hand over a buck). And they would screen a new title every week.
This weekly, last-lap movie arrangement worked out nicely for me, a young kid who would hear about half of these movies from friends at school. By the time a title was hyped enough, we’d have a chance to see it for cheap at the one and only, reliable Scarsdale Plaza.
Mind you, I saw plenty of first-run movies at pricier theaters growing up in the area. In fact, I’d often make the trip to Yonkers to the Central Plaza two-screen theater (where I saw the original STAR WARS trilogy multiple times and a double feature of OUTLAND and EXCALIBUR), or the adjacent four-screened (!) Movieland (where I first saw RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN and THE THING) to see some of my now all-time favorite films.
Scarsdale Plaza was the perfect theater for a kid like me who wanted to escape to the movies as often as possible. It was also a wonderful social hub for my friends, schoolmates, and our families. Often times, after a movie we’d walk down to the Baskin Robbins down the street for an after-movie treat. Or my pals and I would feast on slices of ‘za from S&J’s Pizza two doors down before an evening show. It was a place where I’d sample whatever struck me at the concession stand, often bypassing popcorn for Raisinets, SnowCaps, SweeTarts, Twizzlers, and Good ‘n’ Fruity. And yes, I have the fillings to prove it.
It was the place where I first tried to talk a kindly stranger into getting me into an R-rated movie. It’s also the place where a box of Milk Duds tried to kill me because I inhaled a “dud” laughing so hard during a matinee showing of THE BLUES BROTHERS.
Between the ages of probably 6-14 years old, I saw titles including (in order of memory as I jog my brain) FANTASIA, JAWS, BREAKING AWAY, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, MY BODYGUARD, A LITTLE ROMANCE, THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN, SILENT MOVIE, THE WILDERNESS FAMILY, BROTHER OF THE WIND, WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, WHO’S KILLING THE GREAT CHEFS OF EUROPE?, THE FRISCO KID, GOING IN STYLE, THE IN-LAWS, MOONRAKER, XANADU, PRIVATE BENJAMIN, MEATBALLS, AN OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN, THE GREAT SANTINI, BLUE THUNDER, THE MAIN EVENT, FOUL PLAY, NORTH DALLAS FORTY, ROMANCING THE STONE, THE GOODBYE GIRL, RICH KIDS, HERO AT LARGE, ROCKY II, THE JERK, SUPERMAN II, FAME, AIRPLANE!, THE BAD NEW BEARS, CADDYSHACK, STIR CRAZY, FLASHDANCE, CHEECH & CHONG’S NICE DREAMS, DEAD MEN DON’T WEAR PLAID, DEATHTRAP, RACING WITH THE MOON, MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, TAPS, SPLASH, STRIPES, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT, THE BIG CHILL, THE BLUES BROTHERS, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, and John Badham’s DRACULA.
Seeing 1979’s DRACULA is an especially important memory to me. The week before, ALIEN hit the Plaza. I begged and begged my parents to see the Ridley Scott’s masterpiece on the big screen, but my mother shook her head and simply declared, “No. You’ll have nightmares.” I tried to plead my case, explaining that there was no way I’d get scared because I already knew everything that happens in the film since I had both the large-sized “Movie Novel” and the Heavy Metal comic-book adaptation, but to no avail. Defeated, I resigned myself to the sad fact that I’d never, ever see ALIEN.
Then, the following week, my dad turned to me and said, “You still want to see that ALIEN movie?” D’oh! As Scarsdale Plaza was always the last stop before Disappears-ville for movies, and it wasn’t playing anywhere else in town, I was seriously disappointed with the timing of the last-chance opportunity that was presented. But, Badham’s DRACULA did happen to be playing at the Plaza that week. So we went. It was the first rated-R movie I was “allowed” to see, and it all turned out to be a bittersweet but very happy memory, as Badham’s DRACULA was a superb watch and remains a favorite. And it was a bonding moment of confidence from my dad.
An art-deco theater that housed both films and live stage shows dating back to the early 1930s, the 1,149-seat Scarsdale Plaza saw its share of famous folk frequenting it to catch a movie, reportedly including Paul and Linda McCartney and Judy Garland with daughter Liza Minnelli. But I never saw ’em.
Just four years after my family and I moved away from the area, Scarsdale Plaza shuttered its doors in 1988. They had raised their “bargain” price to $1.50, but apparently that wasn’t enough to keep it in business. It reopened briefly in 1996-1997, but then closed unceremoniously with AIR BUD as its final film. According to CinemaTreasures.org, locals tried to preserve the theater but failed. Sadly, the entire building was razed in 2002 to make way for a luxury apartment complex.
I discovered Scarsdale Plaza was gone for good when I revisited my old stomping grounds in the early 2000s, and was absolutely gutted to see it replaced with the pricey residences of “Scarsdale Commons.” But time marches on, I suppose. And they do say, “you can never go home again.” ‘Tis true.
Still, I will always have warm, nostalgic memories of the movie theater that “made me” — Scarsdale Plaza.
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