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Bit of Magic for the Crenshaw District : Earvin Johnson and Sony join to bring a first-rate theater to area that sorely needed one

The Magic Johnson Theatres complex attracted record crowds when it opened recently at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The 12-screen movie facility fills a void in the Crenshaw district, which has surprisingly few movie houses. The area’s last first-run theater, the Baldwin Hills, closed in bankruptcy shortly after the Northridge earthquake of January, 1994.

Earvin Johnson, the retired Laker basketball star, deserves credit for daring to seek change. He partnered with Sony Pictures to build the $11-million, state-of-the-art entertainment complex. The red-and-white building is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, serving a need and also improving the area’s economic vitality by boosting foot traffic through nearby stores.

The screens are large and the sound systems powerful. The individual theaters are roomy, with plush seats that rock and contain cup holders. In other words, they provide to the Crenshaw area the same amenities found in fine movie houses in many other parts of the city.

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To allay customers’ concerns about safety, the Magic Johnson Theatres employ off-duty police officers and an omnipresent, blue-smocked security team. The wearing of hats and gang colors is prohibited. In a short film before every feature, Johnson appeals for respectful behavior. If these steps work, theaters should consider similar tactics in Westwood, at Universal Studios and at other sites where trouble has broken out.

Obsessing about crime is known to drive away investors. Not Johnson. He deserves credit for investing in a neighborhood that had been written off by movie chains and many other major retailers.

A millionaire easily could have invested in less risky ventures. Magic Johnson opted for the Crenshaw deal because where others saw only roadblocks he saw opportunities. For that he deserves praise, and profits.


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