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Magic Debut for Inner-City Movie House : Entertainment: About 30,000 patrons flock to central L.A.'s first high-tech theater. A chain spokesman says the opening is among its best ever.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you build it, they will come.

That maxim of faith from the film “Field of Dreams” came to dramatic life last week as Crenshaw residents streamed into the Magic Johnson Theatres, a project that bucked the economic odds to bring state-of-the-art movies to central Los Angeles for the first time.

“It’s very nice,” said resident Mike Hevans, pausing on the steps of the 12-screen theater building next to Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. “It’s very positive. . . . It means more business for the mall. I was here for the opening [June 30], and people said, ‘I’ve never seen so many people at the mall before.’ ”

MJT President Ken Lombard reported roughly 30,000 customers from June 30 to Tuesday, a strong showing.

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Sony spokesman Mark Pascucci called the opening one of the best in the company’s 150-theater chain. The Magic Johnson Theatres, a partnership with former Laker Earvin (Magic) Johnson and Sony Pictures, is Sony’s first West Coast venture.

“We haven’t had an opening as big as this, with the possible exception of our Manhattan flagship theater,” said Pascucci. “And first-floor tenants at the Baldwin Hills mall are reporting 25% to 50% increases in business over last year at this time.”

August Gagnier, whose Gagnier’s Restaurant suffered a nearly 40% decline in sales during the six months of theater construction, said business returned to pre-construction levels over the weekend.

The theater opening “has definitely helped me get back on track,” he said. “But we have to see what happens in the months ahead, after all the hype settles.”

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Despite the caution, Gagnier, other mall business owners and residents said the opening of the theater in what used to be a mall parking lot was satisfying indeed.

Three years ago, AMC announced a partnership with the owners of Baldwin Theaters on La Brea Avenue, then the only first-run movie complex in central Los Angeles. But the pairing almost immediately came apart, and after AMC sued its partners, the Baldwin Theaters closed last year. Johnson picked up the ball when he announced the Sony partnership not long after.

Lured by such summer blockbuster fare as “Pocahontas,” “The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” “Apollo 13" and “Judge Dredd,” lines packed with families started forming an hour before the noon show time Saturday, the theater’s first full day of operations. Employees stood inside the main entrance, greeting customers brightly and handing out film schedules.

After purchasing tickets, many patrons settled onto sofas to watch previews of upcoming movies on special lobby monitors. Teen-agers played at a video arcade to the beat of pop music, including Michael Jackson’s latest releases, that played over a sound system.

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“This is really great. . . . I’m happy for the neighborhood,” said 82-year-old Vivian Glover, who came to see “Judge Dredd.” “We’ve been needing this for at least 20 years. Just because we live in this area doesn’t mean we only have J.C. Penney money--we have Macy’s money and Macy’s tastes. I love the movies, I love the mall, and I love Magic.”

Glover added that she hoped the theater would remain as secure as it did opening weekend.

To head off any gang presence, blue-jacketed security guards asked customers to remove their caps before entering the theater.

They offered passes for free sodas to those who complied, “just as an incentive until the word gets out that you can’t wear caps inside the theater,” explained one employee. Lombard said that virtually no one refused the request, and that there were no incidents.

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Katharane Gilford, 23, was thrilled to go to a theater that was not only top of the line, but wheelchair-accessible as well. “It was excellent. The employees were friendly and helpful,” she said. “It feels very open, safe and secure. And it’s great to look around and see all these black people.”

For Mahasin Adbullah, 19, only one thing topped the rocking-chair seats and Dolby sound.

“The people,” declared the Pierce College student. “I see a lot of friends here. It’s a great place to hang out.”


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