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. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.
Arena Grand Theater
Location: 175 W Nationwide Blvd Columbus, OH 43215
Closed: May 27, 2013
No. of screens: 5 (if memory serves)
Current first-run titles: none
Later this month, I have a planned trip that would see my first return to the state of Ohio in several years. In fact, since moving myself and Reject HQ down to Austin, Texas (home of the oft-talked about Alamo Drafthouse), I have not been back to Ohio — be it my place of birth Cleveland or favorite former town of Columbus — when it hasn’t been the dead of winter. Going back for a visit during the summer yields numerous opportunities that didn’t exist the last time I was there, most notably going outside and doing some exploration. One of my favorite places in the entire state of Ohio to walk around and get into trouble has always been The Arena District in downtown Columbus. When I lived there, it featured a great assortment of bars and restaurants that flanked the Nationwide Arena, where the NHL franchise the Columbus Blue Jackets play. Since I left, they also built a very nice baseball stadium for the local minor league team. It was ever the great meeting place for friends who didn’t want to get caught up amongst the masses on the campus of The Ohio State University. It was also, much to my delight, not far from my favorite restaurant in town, The Thurman Cafe in German Village. I kid you not, they make a hamburger that’s bigger than your face.
All of this carefully groomed aesthetic and fine dining was really just a cover, though, hiding away the crown jewel of the Arena District. Tucked back into one of the corner, just off the main drag of Nationwide Boulevard, is a movie theater. Inside, The Arena Grand was a fabulous modern, open space with a firm dedication to a quality moviegoing experience. The wide-open lobby led to two levels, as the two larger houses were large enough to include balcony seating. Downstairs, a well-stocked concession. Upstairs, a bar and bistro area that would make you a drink, even if it were 11:00am and you were a critic about to go sit through a movie about a dog dying.
Speaking of which, the second floor of The Arena Grand is where one smaller, more intimate screening room lived. A number of times the cadre of local film writers (good friends that I miss dearly) would sit together and take in an advance screening in what felt like our own little private screening room. Everyone remembers the time we sat (and cried) in that screening room through Marley & Me. Although good luck getting anyone to admit it.
This choice for Movie Houses of Worship may seem a bit slight, as not only are we talking about a movie theater that isn’t universally loved or seen to be a local staple. Heck, it’s probably nothing more than an example of the yupification of an otherwise character-filled downtown area. Tickets were a little more expensive than other places in town, parking wasn’t always great and I had plenty of friends in the area who just didn’t want to deal with drunk twenty-somethings stumbling out of the bars late at night, fresh off a night of trying to forget about all the money they owed for that Ohio State education. We’re also talking about a theater that existed for barely over a decade. It closed this past month and will soon be renovated and reopened as a Studio Movie Grill, a knockoff of the aforementioned Alamo Drafthouse that’s spreading like a weed across America.
But I loved the Arena Grand theater. As someone who was born and spent his first 25 years in the humdrum existence known as Ohio, it felt like something a little fancy. It reminded me of my first trip the ArcLight theater in Hollywood. It felt like it had a bit of the glitz of tinseltown that every other suburban movie theater in the state lacked. It was robust and ostentatious, a model of excess, just like the world of cinema itself. And for me, there were plenty of great memories had there. The time I met one of my favorite Blue Jackets player in line for a movie. Seeing Superman Returns with a packed crowd that applauded through the film’s final action set piece (something that happened nowhere else and will never happen again for that particular movie). In 2006, the local alt-weekly paper Columbus alive! held the second annual Deep Focus Film Fest, a short-lived but wonderfully programmed film festival that opened with Rian Johnson’s Brick and the killer French action film District B13. As a native son, I can confirm that few other corners of Ohio would ever be able to find and show such movies.
It is this set of memories, from a time in my life when I was out on my own, trying to figure things out (and in the early stages of creating this very website), that made it a sad moment when I found out that The Arena Grand was shutting its doors. Seeing a movie there was one of the planned stops on my Tour de Ohio 2013. I was hoping to catch Man of Steel there, to bring my odd Arena Grand/Superman experience full-circle. But it’s gone now, forever sanded and polished into the background of a Studio Movie Grill. It makes a little sick to my stomach, something that only one of Thurman’s burgers could possibly cure.
Goodbye Arena Grand theater. Though we were together briefly, you will be missed.