On Father’s Day last year, the screens at the Varsity faded to black for the last time. Operator Consolidated Theatres gave movie lovers only two days’ notice of the shutdown, citing dwindling attendance at one of the state’s last stand-alone movie houses. My wife and I made a special pilgrimage to attend the last showing at the Varsity, “The Valet.” We met dozens of misty-eyed people (including long-time manager Crystal Kawai), friends and strangers together mourning the end of an era.
The hope was to give the building a second lease on life as commercial space (much in the same way the old Cinerama theater on S. King Street became a Checker Auto Parts store), but major structural damage was recently discovered, ruling out an easy renovation. With vandals and homeless squatters moving in, landowner Kamehameha Schools decided it was time for the Honolulu landmark to come down.
Some fixtures and artifacts from the Varsity were given to local businesses, schools, and collectors. Most notably, the neon Varsity sign that topped the marquee went to The Varsity, a bar across the street that adopted the theater’s name when it replaced Magoo’s. It’ll take a lot of repairs and special accommodations from the city, but there’s a chance the comforting glow of the Varsity name will shine down on University Avenue again.
Local blogger Paul Honda was shocked to stumble across the demolition in progress yesterday, and posted some heartbreaking photos. I prefer to remember the theater as it was… or at least as it was on its last day as a working movie house.