Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lost Attractions: The IMAX Pictorium Theater

Welcome to “Lost Attractions,” a new series that looks at defunct rides and attractions at California’s Great America. Starting off the series is the IMAX Pictorium.


Ever wondered what that big building is next to the Star Tower? Today, it’s used for storage and the Club Blood maze at Halloween Haunt. However, at one time it was known as the Lockheed IMAX Pictorium Theater, featuring a 65 foot tall by 89 foot wide screen. The Pictorium ran from 1978 until 2001, and remained closed until a one-weekend opening in 2004. It has since been closed for good.


The beginning


The Pictorium opened in 1978 with the film “Man Belongs to Earth,” and at the time was the only IMAX theater in California. Dubbed as the “world’s largest motion picture experience,” the Pictorium underwent a $1.5 million renovation in 1992 that gave the theater the ability to screen 3D IMAX films, the first being “The Last Buffalo.” The last film to be shown in the theater (possibly) was “Siegfried & Roy: The Magic Box” in 2001.


The actual audio recording that was used during the intro of the Pictorium’s 1994 showing of “Destiny in Space” has been posted online. The recording (which sounds like the same voice that welcomes you to the Vortex) describes the dimensions of the screen and other information about the theater.

The following pictures are from inside of Six Flags Great America's Pictorium, which is nearly identical to the Santa Clara version:



Recent years

The final days of the Pictorium. "Lockheed Presents: Pictorium" has since been painted over.
However, 2001 was not the last year for the Pictorium. In 2004, Paramount hosted the third annual ParaCon Festival, and anime films were being screened in the Pictorium. According to an article, the IMAX equipment was gutted, and instead, the films were being shown through a video projection system set up in the back row of seats. After this event, the Pictorium was never open as a theater again.

The reasoning behind the Pictorium’s shuttering doesn’t go any farther than “It cost too much to run.” One other factor behind the closing could have been the superior IMAX dome theater that opened in neighboring San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation in 1998. 

Overview of Club Blood, taken high above in the Pictorium (image from www.morganrichardsonart.com).
Beginning in 2008, and continuing today, the Pictorium is home to the Club Blood maze for Halloween Haunt. Guests enter through the back of the building (which looks like it was used as a fire exit). Once inside, you can still see the curtain that covered the screen (which reportedly has been removed). Also, at some points in the maze, you can get a quick peek of the seating, which still seems to be completely intact.

Permits were issued in 2008 to remove the seating and construct a steel platform inside the theater, although if the plans went through is unknown, because the seats can still be clearly seen.

Speculation

Cornstalkers' outhouses behind the Pictorium
It’s possible that the Pictorium is also being used today to store props for Halloween Haunt. During the season, props from Haunt mazes can be seen around the building. Also, this video could have possibly been filmed inside the theater, judging by all the Haunt props and echoes (from a high ceiling, perhaps?). The railing in the background looks similar to the theater’s railings. EDIT: The video was filmed in the Showtime Theater, not the Pictorium.

Other rumors say that the Pictorium is badly water damaged (possible), and that it is haunted (very unlikely).

Do you have any Pictorium memories or images that you would like to share? Feel free to post them in the comments!

Stay tuned for the next installment in the “Lost Attractions” series—Skyhawk!

18 comments:

  1. I say it's haunted by the ghost of the Whizzer.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The video wasn't filmed in this theater. It was done in the showtime theater. Also, there is a good portion of the seats that are still intact. A portion of the front seats was taken out to make way for Club Blood for haunt. It is being used as a storage space for some items for haunt. In the back of the building as shows in the picture you posted the larger props are stored. There are two oversea containers that store the rest in the employee parking lot. From what I have heard working there the Pictorium does have some water damage and at this point it would be to much money to try and restore it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cool stuff, will be looking forward to more CGA retro-ness!

    ReplyDelete
  4. ^^Thanks for the clarification about the video. I made a note in the article. Thanks also for the additional info.

    ^I found some cool Skyhawk images, and even a corny commercial, will be posting soon!

    ReplyDelete
  5. The Pictorium was the Greatest Movie theater to date. I am now finding out today 6/12/12 that the theater has closed. So sad, I compare every IMAX theater to Great America's screen and sound. That was the best thing at Great America. It gave you at least 40 minutes of movie time and chance to seat down and relax in A/C at the park.I haven't been to Great America since 1998, but I can see why, because that park went straight down hill after my last visit. They have removed some of the best feature of this park.I found out because I was trying to find out the size footage of the screen itself and this information came up. I am very pissed off now. They ripped out these attraction to for profits,them greedy ASSHOLES.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You said it. The pictorium was simply awesome. No other movie experience has ever come close to watching a movie in the pictorium. It's such a shame they let if fall apart. I can still remember sitting in the cool A/C theater on a hot day back in the 80's and listening to Walter Kronkite narrate a movie on the space shuttle. I still remember feeling the vibrations when the shuttle left the platform, it was like I was there.
      Disney executives, if you read this, consider adding it as an attraction to disneyland. You won't be sorry.

      Delete
  6. does anyone remember the name of the movie where people were parasailing and windsurfing and running boats in the ocean open sea? I want to see this documentary? again.

    ReplyDelete
  7. As a former Theatre Attendant.. the name of that movie was "Speed".

    ReplyDelete
  8. Question? I vividly remember (back in the mid-to-late 80's or early 90's a movie they used to show in the pictorium at the santa clara great america. I recall seeing some roller coasters in the movie; one of them, I want to say, was a white wooden one (maybe American Eagle or Colossus). I also remember them showing a drag racing competition. Might this have been "Speed" as well?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup. Speed. I was a theater attendant back in the 80's. I would give the opening spiel, and run after the goofs that tried to exit early through the non-curtained doors! The audience would all LEAN to the left then right when the car went racing around the hill side. I remember distinctly water flooding out the floor just below the screen after heavy rains when the bay waters rose.

      Delete
    2. Is Speed available online for viewing? I'd love to watch it again!

      Delete
  9. I worked there during "The Last Buffalo". Awesome theatre. Good times.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Anyone see "Behold Hawaii" there? That was my first film there & it scared the bejeezies out of me lol. Sitting dead middle & that ocean just suddenly appears. When your scared of deep water, its enough to send you into fits of thinking your going to drown. That theater is very dear to me and its so sad that its no longer used.

    ReplyDelete
  11. The finest IMAX theater ever built in California. It had the second largest movie screen made of one continous piece of material in the world at one point.

    It's a shame it has been gutted and will never be restored to its former glory.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I went here many times through the 80's and 90's. It was simply the most incredible movie theater I have ever seen in my lifetime. I have all the IMAX DVD's that were shown here (the space shuttle series), but watching them only makes me long for the real experience. I felt like I was actually in space looking down at the planet, and give me chills just remembering these experiences. Yes, I agree with the previous poster that Disney or someone should recreate this type of theater. It was almost like 3D without the glasses. I could not believe the resolution of the screen, you could not focus on the entire screen. You had to only look at part of it. So every time you saw the same movie you were guaranteed to see something new you did not see the last time. I could write all day and I have mentioned this theater to many people over the past years since it closed. I regularly go to the IMAX at the Metreon in SF and it is so small compared to the Pictorium. I also agree with the first poster. It's must have been haunted by the ghost of the Whizzer.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I always had an eerie feeling walking by the old whizzer site

    ReplyDelete
  14. I remember seeing the whizzer footers in the pond right by carnation ice cream in home town square creepy

    ReplyDelete