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Former Plaza Theater being torn down due to hazardous waste, state of disrepair

Former Plaza Theater being torn down due to hazardous waste, state of disrepair

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A weekend hotspot for Lynchburg residents from the 1960s until the early 1990s is being demolished.

The old Plaza Theater, on the corner of Judith and Wadsworth streets at the edge of the Plaza shopping center, is in the process of being torn down due to its state of disrepair.

The shopping center is owned by LU Plaza Holdings LLC. Craig Pettitt, vice president of real estate at Liberty University, said the demolition of the nearly 16,000-square-foot building has long been in the works.

“It will look better gone,” he said. “It was in a state of disrepair due to hazardous waste and mold in the building. The best option was to demolish it and get it down and out of there for the safety of everyone.”

The shopping center opened as Pittman Plaza in 1960. The theater opened in November 1963 and closed in 1992. It has not been occupied since then.

The Plaza shopping center still has another movie theater in its lower level: Venue Cinemas, which opened in November 2016.

Pettitt said there is no plan for development for the old theater's space, but it makes way for a new opportunity in the future.

The $136,000 theater was built by C.L. Lewis & Co. and was operated by the Charlotte, N.C. chain of Stewart & Everett Theaters Inc. It had 764 seats in three sections and no balcony, according to archives from The News & Advance.

1963-06-12 Theater Framework Rises

June 12, 1963 - [Original caption] Theater Framework Rises - Construction work is progressing on schedule for the $136,000 theater building at Pittman Plaza. The 764-seat indoor theater is being built by C.L. Lewis & Co., Lynchburg construction firm. The theater will be operated by the Charlotte, N.C. chain of Stewart & Everett Theaters Inc., and is slated to open later this summer.

George Smith stood Thursday morning looking at the old theater and watching crews from WEL Inc. begin tearing down parts of the theater he gained so many memories from.

“It’s sort of heart-wrenching,” he said. “It brings back memories because I remember the Plaza as it once was. The Sears was here, everything was here in this one general location. This is the last, so to speak, of the Mohicans.”

He said news of the demolition was a “total shock” to him.

In its heyday, Smith remembers coming to the theater on the weekends to catch a movie or two. Sundays were the best day to come, he said, because of the matinees.

He doesn’t know what should be built in the theaters place but thinks the area needs another grocery store since Super Dollar Discount Foods in the Plaza closed in Feb. 2018.

Ann Iñiguez, a Lynchburg resident, said she has fond memories of going to see movies in the theater as a child.

“It is a shame that the building was left empty all these years and has to be torn down, although if it is unsafe, I can see why,” she said. “I remember waiting in line in the early ‘80s to see movies like ‘Splash’ and how the line extended a few stores back.”

1965-09-08 Plaza movie line

Sep. 8, 1965 - Machine Age -A short circuit in a popcorn machine filled the Plaza Theater with smoke yesterday and forced a temporary halt in the program. The feature playing? "Willie McBean and His Magic Machine."

1980-05-08 plaza projection.jpg

May 8, 1980 - Don Godsey, projectionist, threads machine at Plaza Theater.

1986-07-11 plaza theater

July 11, 1986 - Buying movie tickets from Crissy Weigenberger at The Plaza are Jaye Eggleston, wife Cathy and son Matt.

From the archives: Pittman Plaza

Right at the start of its highly anticipated opening in 1960, Pittman Plaza became the retail destination for the Lynchburg area for more than the next two decades. The shopping center started on land adjacent to a then-new Sears Roebuck & Co. (now the Lynchburg Public Library), and grew in stages to encompass more than two dozen stores -- including Leggett's, Miller & Rhoads and J.C. Penney -- as well as a bowling alley and movie theater. 

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