What Was Under That Silver Dome?

I heard there once was a cool silver-domed building near Maryland Parkway. What was that place, and what happened to it?

You must be thinking of the amazing mid-century modern marvel of awesome that was the shiny metal dome of Cinerama. Opened in 1965, the Vegas version of the Cinerama Corporation’s noble experiment in the fledgling massive movie experience was located at the intersection of Paradise and Viking roads.

Launched with the 70-millimeter screening of the John Wayne/Rita Hayworth film Circus World, Cinerama was off and running. Throughout its two-decade-ish life as a theater, Cinerama’s enveloping projection dazzled film fans with everything from big Hollywood (Grand Prix, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Earthquake—in Sensurround!), to a spate of lesser-known 1970s R-rated gems (The Student Nurses). I vaguely remember Mom dropping me off sometime in the mid-1970s to see a re-release of the Thor Heyerdahl documentary Kon-Tiki.

It wasn’t just the combination of a massive screen (90 feet by 43 feet) said to be the world’s largest, an advanced sound system and comfy seats that made Cinerama impressive. The theater’s space-age aluminum roof technology was exhibited at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Also, the theater was built when movie watching was an experience unto itself, rather than a smartphone app. Cinerama’s huge, modern glass entryway led into an expansive, wood-paneled lobby that always shone and smelled like Liquid Gold wood polish. Sinking deep into a reclining loge seat with a bucket of popcorn made for a supremely upmarket afternoon for a Vegas kid raised on Disney screenings at the Huntridge.

So, what happened to this architectural marvel and example of classic Las Vegas luxe? The same thing that happened to most of our mid-century landmarks (the Convention Center Rotunda, the Stardust): It was demolished for something bigger, if not better. As multiplexes made an impact on the moviegoing experience, and Hollywood began churning out more films to fill them, single-screen theaters devolved into bad business ideas. With a quick finagling of its sign to “Centerama” (using a religious cross as the “t”), Cinerama briefly became a church. Soon, as Las Vegas ballooned, the land became incredibly valuable. Today, Viking Road at Paradise is gone, replaced by Corporate Drive, the main entrance to the Hughes Center. Ironic, given Hughes’ own involvement in moviemaking.

Questions? AskaNative@VegasSeven.com.