Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Dream is gone

This is old news, but I just found out about it and it really hits home.

The Dream Theater in Monterey, CA was built by artisan hands, with community in their hearts and minds, in the early-to-mid 1970s (I think).  It was a wonderful and beautiful small theater, originally a single screen but they added a smaller screening room in the mid '80s that could seat about 30 people.  It was loved very much by its patrons and owners.

And me.

It was wonderfully, perhaps even gaudily, decorated in 1970s "hippy-chic," art-deco inspired style.  Lots of color, natural woods, and stained glass.  The ceiling was illuminated in delicious, swirling patterns, and it would slowly change colors until the movie began.  It featured a real silver screen, protected and covered by 3 layers of curtains:  in front was a lush red velvet, horizontally opening curtain, then a vertically rising gold lame drape (also known as an "Austrian"), and finally a shimmering white, horizontally opening screen protecting curtain.
Every movie started in proper, grand style, as you watched those 3 curtains opening up, "revealing" the experience you were about to have onscreen.  It was reminiscent of the "good old days" of Hollywood, when a movie was a Big Deal, not just what you always do on Friday nights.

They had three different kinds of comfortable seats.
The front row was big, comfy reclined seats, right down on the floor and leaned back to the perfect angle to see the large screen up in front of you, framed by cushioned arm rests wide enough to actually share with your neighbor (the only such arm rests I've ever seen in a theater).  Behind those were rows of the more standard, but still well-cushioned, rocking theater seats.  The back row was all loveseats, compartmentalized with little three foot walls for privacy.

It was just lovely.  As a movie lover and traveler I've seen a lot of theaters, but I've never seen another one that was anything like the aptly named Dream.

I have fond memories of the Dream Theater.  My friend, Ricky, lived a couple of miles away in Pacific Grove, and on MANY Saturdays I stayed the night at his house so we could sneak out and go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight, after which we would go to the corner Bob's for pancakes and coffee.  I was a young teenager, a very impressionable time of my life with lots of experiences happening, and those nights at the Dream had at least a little to do with who I would later become.

I don't remember how or where I heard of the Rocky, but the Dream Theater was the first place I ever saw it and heard the immortal lyric, "Don't dream it, be it," which immediately became a permanent part of my life's philosophy.  Everything I consider myself to be, or at least the best parts, can be traced back to having heard those words, and that theater was the first place I ever heard them.

I, and several of my friends, became very hardcore fans of the Rocky in those days.  We would walk around in school singing the songs, or even reciting the entire script word for word.

The first time I ever made out with a girl, it was in the back row of the Dream Theater.  Sadly, I can't recall her name at the moment, but I can remember the experience... obviously that's one of "the big ones" in our lives.  Not only was it my first "make out session," but it was also my first real date.  I have no idea if she ever saw the Rocky after that, but I know she didn't see it that night.

On Halloween 1987 another girl I was hot for, Barbra, and I stayed at Ricky's house.  I was dressed as a rock star, guitar and all... including some boots with 4" heels, which I regretted painfully by the end of the night (hey, it was the "glam rock" era, it's not MY fault).  She was dressed as one of my groupies.
We made it to the Dream early, and were lucky enough to get front row seats.  When I say lucky, in this case I mean it.  The theater could seat, as I recall, about 200 people.  They stopped selling tickets at 250, leaving it standing room only and likely a fire hazard.  Someone opened the emergency door and let in lots more people, and by the time the movie started that night the place was elbow to elbow.  Barbra, Ricky and I, sitting low in the front seats, could just barely see the top of the screen, but we were excited to be there anyway.

That was the night I had my first sexual experience.  Under the cover of being surrounded by people, obviously looking at something besides us, I put my hand under Barbra's skirt and touched a girl "there" for the first time.  She was wearing pantyhose, and I stayed outside of them, amazed as a teenager would be that I was getting to touch anything at all.  A couple of hours later I found out that I had been "missing" the whole time, but you wouldn't have known it from her reaction.  She was obviously enjoying the experience.

Incidentally, I say "first sexual experience" because I didn't lose my virginity that night.  I DID wind up getting beyond the pantyhose, but I was nervous... I was doing really well at what I was doing, and was afraid that if I tried to do anything else I would get it wrong, be too awkward, whatever.  I didn't lose my virginity till several months later, with a different girl, but that "first sexual experience" is still a cherished memory in my life, and it began in the Dream Theater.

My family moved away from the Monterey area a couple of years later, and I've yet to go back and visit.  I've always planned on doing so, to see the places I used to go to as a teen.  I've thought of the Dream very fondly very often in my life, and have always dreamed I'd one day go back there.  It's the one place in that area that I'd MOST like to see again.  I would love to see another movie there, perhaps even The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  I'd love to sit in that unique front row and gaze comfortably up at that beautiful screen.  I've held a dream in my heart that one day I might make out with another lover in that back row, maybe even "get lucky."

And now that dream is dead.  The Dream is gone.  I will never get to have that experience again, or even simply see the place where it happened.

I just found out that, sometime in the mid-1990s (I think), the city of Monterey bulldozed the Dream Theater to make way for a fucking strip mall.

I'm trying to keep this blog clean, and I will do my utmost best to never use the "F" word here again, but I also believe in the appropriate use of "foul language" when being descriptive.  I believe it's appropriate here.

A FUCKING strip mall.

My heart is broken.  I feel like a little piece of me is gone, ripped loose by ragged claws.  I feel like I just learned that one of my best friends from high school was murdered.

It didn't "die of old age."  It didn't get bought and changed by the new owner.  It isn't "not what it used to be."  It was BULLDOZED.  As if we have too many beautiful, quaint theaters, and not enough fucking strip malls.

We all go to movies, and we all had experiences involving them when we were young.  I'm sure that most of our "first dates" were at the movies, it's part of our culture.  But this place was truly special.  It wasn't just some giganto-multiplex, it was something beautiful.  It was built with people's hands and hearts.  When you saw a movie there you felt like "HOLLYWOOD."

And now it's gone.  I can't even find pictures of its interior on the web.

My experiences there, and my feeling of loss, would be enough to break my heart.  But there's more to it than that.

Nowadays in my life my mission, the thing that concerns me the most, is the steady and constant destruction of CULTURE in this country.  I have and will go on and on about our "culture of shopping."  I see a lot that disturbs me, but this is the first time something has so truly and deeply "hit home" with me.  Until now, I have been railing against things I SEE, and try to keep my own distance from.  I try not to let the things that bother me affect my own life...  I try to inform and teach by my own example.

This time it's ME.  The Dream Theater was CULTURE.  REAL culture, and MY culture.  I feel like a part of ME has been mercilessly killed off.  TO MAKE ROOM FOR A FUCKING STRIP MALL.

Come ON, people!
When do we say, "enough is enough?"  How many places do there have to be to buy cheap shoes and TVs?
How many modern coffeeshops and fast food restaurants do there have to be before we decide there's one "close enough to home?"

One day we will all look around, and EVERYTHING that MEANS anything to ANY of us will be gone.


And you can't rebuild the Dream Theater.

What happens when you go on a second honeymoon to the place where you met your wife, and it's gone?
What happens when you want to go back to the little bed and breakfast where you conceived your first child, and it's now a Holiday Inn?
Where did you have your first kiss?
Where is the first place you ever fell in love?
Or heard the Beatles?
Where did you go to cry when you broke up with your first boyfriend?

Do you want your child's fondest memories to be made in some mall or fast food restaurant?

But it will be OK, right?  Just fine.  No problem.  When we feel bad because we have no culture, or because we have no place left to reminisce on our childhoods or other formative parts of our lives, we can all just go buy a new pair of shoes, a new shirt, a new CD, and we'll feel just dandy, right?

There's nothing I could possibly buy right now that could make me feel better about losing the Dream.



  1. OMG. I don't know what to say. A little history may be in order. My father was in the service and I lived in Ft Ord from Oct of '86 until May of '88. I went to a dozen midnight showings of the Rocky during that time at the The Dream. It's such a small world. I can't believe it's gone. For strip mall?

    One of the best times I ever had was a Halloween showing of Rocky at midnight. There is nothing like the Row at midnight on Halloween. Nothing.

    And now, I have to ask, what school did you go to in Monterey? =)

  2. Well, I never went to school in Monterey.

    You know exactly what school I went to, for about a year anyway. And, well, I didn't go there a whole lot either. ;)

    I've been playing around, hoping you'd catch on ever since I found your blog, but you haven't blogged enough for me to get a good dialog going and have the "game" work out quite like I wanted.

    Think a little more, check my profile, and if it still isn't clear I'll make it that way for you.

    And oh yeah... check your comments on "Back in the Saddle."

  3. Thanks, Ziv! I really appreciate your taking the time to read and enjoy it.

  4. Wow. I'm really sorry to hear that. I've never been there, but I can't stand it when cultural or historical icons are torn down to make room for crap. What a sad state of affairs the world is coming to. And the really sad part is, most people today are too shallow and ignorant to even notice what's happening all around them.

  5. It's a funny thing...when I read your blogs all I can think about is the futility of fighting "progress". I think I want to run away and live in the wilderness, or at least on the Appalachian Trail. Problem withthat is my mind eventually tells me that the AT will also eventually be ruined by society and it's crawl towards "owning" every piece of space available to do what? Build places withthe most earning potential? Ugh.
    Thanks for getting me fired up today.

  6. You're welcome! Thanks for being capable of BEING fired up.

    Here's the thing, just because people CALL this the march of progress it doesn't mean it IS progress.
    People being more controlled isn't progress. Well, not for THEM anyway... it's proFIT for a few people, not proGRESS for everyone.

    In "progress" things CHANGE, but they don't all become exactly the same thing.
    I think PROGRESS, in this instance and example, would be that the theater got updated and expanded, not destroyed.

  7. Hi Michael,

    I'm John Harris, co-creator of the Dream Theater and 812 Cinema in Monterey. I can't tell you how much your post means. It is tru, the Dream was built to be just that. Dream Theater, the rock group, loved the theater also and came to me to inquire if they could use our name. Since they have become famous and it all began with seeing films at our theater. I do have a good deal of photos if you would like to post. Thanks again./John

  8. I worked at the Dream for over 20 years, I have some great memories of the RHPS and other events from those days. It broke my heart when I heard they tore it down.

  9. John-
    You can't tell ME how much MY post means? I'm glad I could warm your heart a bit. I'm glad you found my blog and found at least one (other) person your work really meant something to.
    YOUR saying that my post meant something to you was the warmest feeling I've had as a direct result of this blog. Thank you VERY much for reading it.

    You wouldn't happen to be the lovely woman who let all us freaks in a little before midnight and then gave us the rules and the "you now have 3 minutes to..." speech, were you?

    I've been taking a bit of a break from writing, been moving mostly. But I keep getting drawn back to this post, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I still cry every time I read it.
    Perhaps I'll cease the hiatus and use the inspiration that's been reignited by the Dream to get back to work.

    Thanks for the comments!

  10. Michael- I was probably the guy selling you your ticket, or running the candy counter during that period. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did.

    John- I think of the Dream every time I pass you on Carmel Valley Road.

    Panny- Where did you end up? FYI Would you believe Wyggs is married with a daughter and living in Australia.

    Mike Wecker

  11. Great Blog Mike, I had book marked it awhile back when I saw it on the Star forum, and had forgot about it until today when I was going through my bookmarks on my computer.
    I always enjoy reading a good blog, keep up the great thoughts.

    (Bingy5150 on the forum)

  12. Mike

    It broke my heart as well to see it gone. I wanted to take my children there to see a part of my life, something they could enjoy and say they were a part of, but that will never happen. And nice to know I was an integral part of someone's life.

    Love ya, Psycho

  13. I worked at the Dream when I was 19. It was my first job when I moved to Monterey 17 years ago. I knew NOBODY and formed a few friendships one of which I still cherish today. I loved John and Patricia and I am proud to be a part of it's history. When I tell people I used to work there, everyone always tells me how much they loved it and their own memories of this place that was so much more than a movie theater. I drive down Lighthouse Ave almost everyday and never don't think of what should be there instead of a retail shop.


  14. I'll always have great memories of the Dream Theater, and will never be able to watch Rocky Horror without thinking of the Dream.

    I was there at DLI in 88 and saw Rocky for the first time. One of the best times was seeing the Wizard of OZ followed by Rocky Horror on Halloween.

    Thanks for the great memories in that beautiful and special place. It's heartbreaking that a true cultural icon was sacrificed in the name of "progress". Those of us who were there won't forget.


  15. I remember the Dream...

    Goodbye Mr.Maple


  16. Just an update note. The beautiful Dream Theater stained glass style sign has been restored, lit and hung at Museum of Monterey. It's great to see her alive again. /john