The Edwards Cinemas theater on Bradley Road closed Nov. 10, and movie titles are now stripped from the marquee, the smell of popcorn is gone and the once-full theaters empty.
Looking through the glass front doors of the theater, near the box office, dim lights still glow, the bright neon lights now out. The empty concession stands have seen the soda dispensers, popcorn machines and other equipment removed from behind counters. An array of theater memorabilia is strewn across the floor.
It appears after nearly 30 years, the theater has shut down. When contacted this week regarding the status of the theater at 1521 Bradley Road, a Regal Cinema representative said only that the "theater location is no longer a part of the Regal family." The customer service rep directed movie-goers to the nearest Regal location at 100 Town Center East.
The closure and uncertain future of the facility is another blow to local cinema fans. The Hi-Way Drive In on Santa Maria Way closed earlier this year. Closures also hit Goleta's West Wind Drive-In in September and the Buellton Plaza Theater in 2021.
This Edwards Cinema opened after years of development on Oct. 7, 1993. It had 10 screens and was able to seat 2,000 visitors. Three theater chains, Edwards, United Artists and Regal, were all merged into one company in 2002, becoming Regal Entertainment Group. That company is now based in Knoxville, Tennessee.
The nearby Taco Bell and Red Lobster opened shortly after the theater in 1993. Since its opening, many Central Coast residents have spent time waiting outside in line for movie premieres with friends and family members ready to enjoy a movie.
The nostalgia of looking up at the huge movie announcement board where show titles were displayed is no longer possible at the Santa Maria location. The outside movie poster display cases and every screen in the theater are all blank.
When the theater opened, it was a brand new cinematic experience for the public and its closing and uncertain future saddened some locals, including Jacob Gustafson, a film teacher at Righetti High School.
“If I had known (it was closing), I would have brought my kids one last time like I did with the Santa Maria Drive In and the Goleta Drive In,” Gustafson said. “I wish I had a chance to wander its halls, let my children play the arcade games and enjoy a film one last time."
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When the Edwards Cinema opened, featuring top films like Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes in "Demolition Man", the main competition was the United Artists three-screen cinema at the Town Center Mall. That venue became a discount movie theater before eventually closing and becoming the MotionZ laser tag arena in 2004.
The three-screen theater at the mall opened in 1976, joining the small cinema venues at the Orcutt theater at Oak Knolls Plaza, the theater at Peppertree on Broadway and Donovan and the Santa Maria Theater at 207 S. Broadway.
When the Edwards Cinema location opened in 1993, there was the United Artists venue at the Town Center Mall, the Hi-Way Drive-In and the Park-Aire Drive-In on East Donovan. The 10-screen Festival Cinemas in Arroyo Grande was open and Lompoc had the four-screen theater on Barton Avenue and the Gemini two-screen location.
The 14-screen Regal Edwards location opened at the Town Center mall in 2013 and the older Edwards location became a discount theater, mostly showing movies on their second run. Like many theaters, the older Edwards location faced permanent closure in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. During this time, the new Regal theater in the Town Center Mall and the Arroyo Grande location closed their doors for sustained periods of time, though both cineplexes have recovered.
After more than a year of closure amid the pandemic, from March 2020 to April 2021, the old theater on Bradley Road reopened its doors to the public for one last try, drawing in movie-fans who wanted to save a few bucks thanks to lower prices.
Discounted tickets were available for $3.50 a showing or a select day during the week deemed as dollar day. These prices allowed all families in tighter financial situations to enjoy the theater experience.
Going to the movies has been known as a shared experience as fellow movie-goers end up laughing, crying or being scared together.
“Theaters are wonderful places that help to build community," Gustafson said. "To share experiences with families, friends and new friends met at the theater. Our options are shrinking and soon, they might all disappear if we don't support them."