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Varsity Theater Honolulu 1939-2008


Home | Demolition, March 2008 | End of an Era | Remembering the Varsity Theater | A classic interior | Neon Glory | Conclusion


Without warning, the Varsity Theater was demolished on March 25, 2008.

Whenever a classic movie theater of this kind is lost, a piece of our history is gone forever.

Hopefully, this website will help preserve at least the memory of the Varsity Theater.


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Varsity theater torn down for parking lot

By Andrew Gomes

Advertiser Staff Writer

The old Varsity theater building in Mo'ili'ili was reduced to rubble yesterday after its owner, Kamehameha Schools, said recently uncovered structural damage made it cost prohibitive to save the building considered a landmark by some.

Though the building designed by noted architect C.W. Dickey is now gone like the era of single-screen movie theaters, parts of the theater, from bathroom sinks to the neon V-A-R-S-I-T-Y sign, were donated to nearby schools, organizations and businesses for reuse.

"The theater itself had many memories for a lot of people (but) the longer it stood there the more of a liability it was," said Kamehameha Schools spokesman Kekoa Paulsen.

Paulsen said that after Kamehameha Schools acquired the building from a California-based affiliate of Consolidated Theatres that had closed the Varsity in June 2006, the trust initially envisioned renovating the building's interior and leasing it to a commercial tenant until a longer-term redevelopment plan was devised.

But Paulsen said structural damage that included cracked walls from foundation settling pushed the estimated renovation cost to around $3 million to $5 million, which made the interim leasing plan financially infeasible.

"Some of the cracks ran all the way up to the ceiling," he said.

So the former theater site is destined to become a public parking lot for at least the next three to five years.

In an effort to preserve some nostalgia of the theater built in 1939, Kamehameha Schools offered parts of the Varsity Twin Cinema for free to interested groups starting with schools and nearby community groups.

Paulsen said Kaimuki High School acquired the two picture screens, some art deco light fixtures and about 150 letters used on the theater's marquee.

The horizontal neon V-A-R-S-I-T-Y sign above the movie title marquee was given to The Varsity, a bar across University Avenue from the theater site.

"The Varsity theater is our namesake," said Nick Schlapak, managing partner of the bar formerly the home of Magoo's Pizza.

"It's a piece of history for the neighborhood."

Schlapak said the galvanized steel sign with white neon lights inside each letter was broken and had been vandalized, but should be repairable.

Schlapak said he'd like to put the sign outside the bar if the city grants a permit. The bar also adopted two large cast iron projectors that stood like statues outside the theater that are intended for display.

Paulsen said several organizations looked through the Varsity for collectibles or reusable fixtures that included the theater's popcorn machine and bathroom sinks, though some items including theater seating and tattered wall curtains attracted no takers.


The Varsity Theater is demolished on March 25, 2008. Photo by Craig Kojima, Honolulu Star-Bulletin.