“Movie Houses of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, we have an entry from our new newswriter Samantha Wilson. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.
Location: 471 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, CA
Opened: February 11, 1928
No. of screens: 1
Current first-run titles: The charm of La Paloma comes in the fact that you never quite know what’s going to be featured in a given week at the theater. With one screen available, there’s a semblance of a schedule drawn up: there’s always a somewhat obscure first-run showing (currently Mud), and a big name usually sneaks its way in – right now it’s The Lone Ranger.
Repertory Programming: Friday nights always have and will belong to midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For teenagers experiencing a rite of passage and seasoned fans who have memorized all the callbacks to heart, it means a packed house every weekend and a line down the block. Everyone in the area has been to La Paloma at least once growing up for a RHPS viewing. I still remember getting smeared with lipstick and being forced to Time Warp at 15 with the best of ‘em. The theatre also has a reputation for showing surf movies, especially local films and documentaries, so it’s a guarantee that there will be one surf-themed showing in a given week whenever you visit.
Special Events: La Paloma hosts the North County branch of the San Diego Italian Film Festival each year in April and July. The theatre also holds a number of concerts on its little stage at the foot of the screen (originally for Vaudeville!). Over the years, concerts have included Jerry Garcia, Eddie Vedder and Jonathan Foreman (Switchfoot grew up in the same town, so they’re always around in some capacity). Nowadays, there hasn’t been anything huge, just “A Night with (Insert Singer-Songwriter Here)” type deals, but the events still draw crowds to the small stage. The local kids’ community theater also uses the venue every once in awhile for their productions.
Why I Worship Here: Going to La Paloma feels like you’re walking in on something special, like a part of history that maybe you weren’t supposed to touch. Built in the 1920s, the theater still possesses the same Art Deco aesthetic and ornate features from the day it was built. Sure, the red velvet (velour?) seats are a little musty and lumpy, but it’s all part of the experience. You’re getting up out of them to Time Warp anyway.
There’s something to be said about the location as well. Located on the 101 in San Diego, the theater is a couple blocks away from the beach and on the main drag of downtown Encinitas. It’s just beautiful. The theater itself is small and a bit unsteady, attributes that are heightened by the fact that the building backs directly up to train tracks. It’s my favorite part of catching a movie here; whenever a train rolls by, the floors rumble and the screen shakes, while the dialogue is inevitably drowned out by the passing horn. And yet, it’s somehow romantic.
And it’s impossible to deny the historical significance of the theater when speaking about its current relevance. La Paloma has been running since 1928 and is one of the first theaters to start showing “talkies” on its screen. Knowing that I’ve stuffed my face with sour patch kids in the same place where history was made is kind of an honor.
Recent Screening of Note: This screening is not very recent, but it is the most dear to my heart at the La Paloma (and it did happen within the last couple years, so bear with me). The theater screened the original Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo right before the American version debuted, so people were very excited, as none of the other theaters in San Diego ever showed the film. And that’s part of the beauty of this place: you get to see films that other theaters would never even think to carry, in the most beautiful theater you could imagine, to boot. It was the cherry on the sundae of a wonderful evening to see several horrified moviegoers who clearly hadn’t been forewarned flee the room when the movie got a little too uncomfortable.
Devotion to the Concessions: If you’re looking for your standard movie theater fare, La Paloma’s got you covered, but there’s nothing too special in terms of concessions at the theater. The prices are a bit more reasonable than at a regular movieplex, I will give them that for sure. I am not sure if this is still true, but when I was a teen the concession stand sold prop bags for Rocky Horror nights, so you didn’t have to deal with the annoyance of figuring out exactly how much confetti you needed by yourself. Smart, lucrative move, you guys.
Last Word: Don’t let the size of La Paloma fool you. The beauty and grandeur of the theater’s interior, and the quality of their programming should make this a must-visit for anyone in the area. Catching a movie right by the beach – it’s nothing short of paradise.
Top photo credit: cherbonsy via Flickr