I'd driven by dozens of times and never noticed it. Tucked away from the main parking lot, vines had begun to cover the corners of the building. Pieces of sheet metal were hanging from what once might have been a modern looking building.
A Wheel of Fortune aficionado may have been able to make sense of the remaining letters on the marquee. It probably said "Home Alone", "Kindergarten Cop", and "House Party" or some other movies from 1990.
That's when the movie theater was shut down. It was built on the edge of a hill, and half of it was now a few inches down that hill. The building had cracked apart and been condemned.
We parked our car in a dark corner of the lot. There were six of us, each toting a mag lite we'd purchased minutes before at Home Depot.
The front door was locked, but that wasn't a surprise. The back door was locked too. We circled around to the box office, trying to see if we could somehow squeeze in through the ticket window. We couldn't.
I walked along the side of the building, desperate for any way to get in.
There was a set of exit-only double doors. I almost passed it by, assuming it would be useless, but at the last second I noticed that near the top one of the doors protruded by a fraction of an inch.
I grabbed a stick and jammed it between the doors. After a few tries I managed to pry the door open by half an inch. I stuck in my fingers and pulled the door open.
We piled in through the door. The floor was completely covered in sand. I thought that it felt like walking into a pyramid in Egypt.
Was anyone in here? If I was homeless I'd live here, I thought.
We slowly crept down the dark hallway. The only light was from our flashlights. After all, theaters are designed to be as dark as possible.
Around the corner was the actual theater. A giant tattered screen hung on a wall. Through the rips you could see where the speakers used to be. All of the seats had been removed, leaving a giant sloped room. The floors were covered in debris and sand, the only identifiable remains were the two aisle carpets that ran from the top to the bottom.
It was eerie being alone in a room that was designed to be full of people.
The concessions stand turned out to be a bonanza. There were two coke machines there, which we considered taking but figured would be too heavy. A Dove ice cream freezer was earmarked to be taken back to our dorm.
"Hey... have some coupons!"
I threw the book of coupons at Al.
"These aren't coupons. These are gift certificates."
Whoa. That was pretty cool. The nearby mall was the same brand of theater, so they might work there. The design looked dated, of course, but they'd have to accept them, right?
We dug around and found another book. Twenty dollars each, plus some coupons in the back of each book.
Al and I went upstair to the projection rooms. Between them was a big storage room full of paperwork and letterhead. In the corner was an unopened box.
I opened the box and yelled.
"Oh my god! Look at this!"
Al came over. Inside were bricks and bricks of gift certificates. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth.
We finished exploring (although we'd later come back many times, including once to test a flamethrower we built), and quickly drove to one of our apartments. We laid the gift certificates out on a bed and counted them.
In the end we had $3,600 worth of gift certificates, which we split six ways.
Still in disbelief, we met at the theater the next day to see if the tickets would work. I got suckered into going first.
"One ticket, please."
I handed him seven dollars worth of gift certificates.
He looked at them.
"Haven't seen this type in a while."
He glanced up, and then returned to his computer. My ticket printed out.
"Enjoy the show."
For the rest of the summer we saw every movie that came out. Every time we went we'd get pizza, slushies, popcorn, and candy (which the gift certificates also work on). I never spent all of mine... I lost the remaining few around the time I moved to LA many years later.
Note for those of you who think this is horrible and immoral : The way gift certificates work is that the franchise purchases them from the main office and then sells them for more to movie patrons. These were paid for by the defunct movie theater, so the theater we spent them on got their money back when they redeemed them from headquarters.