I'm not sure when the Richland Mall Theater was built. I can remember going to movies before it was built (specifically at The Atlantic Twin and various theaters on Main Street), and my coherent memories start around 1965, so it can't have been built too long before the first picture I saw there 1968's "Oliver!". What I most remember about that movie is that it seemed interminable to a seven-year-old. IMDB clocks it at two hours 33 minutes, so I'm not surprised I felt that way -- I expect I'd feel that way now too!
The theater was on an outparcel of the "original" open-air Richland Mall. I recall it as more or less at the section of the parking lot fartherest down Beltline from Forest Drive, but I've been wrong here before about the original Richland Mall orientation vs the orientation of the current mall. I think it was more or less where Bank of America and the empty Black Lion building now are, as shown in the second picture, but I could be mistaken.
The layout of the theater was a central ticket window with doors on both sides, a central concession counter and a corridor to each screen at the left and right sides of the lobby. I say 'each' screen, there were only two -- though at the time even two was an innovation. As you can see from the ad in the 15 April 1973 issue of The State the theater was a "Rocking Chair" theater, and this figured heavily into their initial advertising. What this actually meant was that the seats were more thickly padded than "regular" theater seats, and they did indeed have springs such that you could rock them frontwards and backwards a certain extent -- and of course a certain number of kids were always going to be obnoxious about that! (The Palmetto at 1417 Main Street was also a "Rocking Chair" theater -- I expect it shared ownership with the Richland Mall Theater).
The whole "rocking chair" bit paled for me though. What I was always interested in was the theater's "time capsule". This was a bronze plaque set into the concrete of the theater's right-hand sidewalk. It was engraved to say when it was buried and when it was to be opened. I don't remember the date set for exhumation, but I assume it was probably 50 years after the theater opened, so around 2018. I was an avid science fiction reader, but somehow I couldn't even imagine a date that far into the future that involved me personally. In the event, it turns out I'm doing much better than the theater, and though of course you never know, I fully expect to be here in 2018, but the time capsule is long since gone. I don't really remember when the theater was razed to make way for Richland Fashion Mall, but I suspect that it was after I left town in 1985. Otherwise, I think I would have heard what happened to the time capsule. I'm sure it must have been dug up, but whether they opted to open it at that time or to continue to wait, I don't know.
Although I saw a good number of first-run movies at the theaters over the years, I think the bulk of my experience with them came through their summer kids' matinees. The idea was that a) it gets really hot in South Carolina in the summer, b) moms get really tired of having the kids around all day during the summer and c) we could use some matinee business at the concession stands. What Richland Mall (and other theaters) would do was have kid-oriented second-run movies every weekday during the summer for a nominal price (say, $1.00). Moms would drop their kids off (unsupervised!) at the theater and shop Richland Mall while they were out of their hair, the kids would get to see a fun movie and have lots of Milk Duds and popcorn out of the heat, and the theater would get to rake in concession sales during normally idle time.
Some movies I specifically recall seeing this way were Alkazam the Great (a US dubbed [Frankie Avalon!] version of the classic Chinese "Monkey King" story), The Apple Dumpling Gang, Blue Water, White Death (the precursor to today's "Shark Week".., and a bit strong for the kiddies, really..) and The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (a now forgotten Disney flick that I loved!).
These programs still exist in some form during the summer, but as most moms work now and most households have air-conditioning, it's just not the same.
I'm trying to think what the last show I saw at the Richland Mall Theaters was. I'm not sure, but it could have been a midnight-movie showing of Peter Falk's classic The In Laws ("Serpentine, Shep! Serpentine!").
The new Richland Fashion Mall did (and does) have theaters on the top deck, but I don't believe they are related to the original Richland Mall Theaters. (And if they were, they aren't now, having changed ownership at least once, from "Litchfield" to "Regal").
"Please sir, I want some more."
UPDATE 21 June 2010: Added [at top] pictures of Richland Mall Theater and a Richland Mall view with the theater in the distance from an old Chamber of Commerce promotional book.
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