By Kevin Newhouse
Not too long ago, a friend had pointed out that several of my recent articles and social media posts have been focused on the closure of long time establishments in Aptos. In a lighthearted way she asked me to stop bumming her out. I know her comment was made in a joking manner but at the same time she was speaking from the heart. People are really bummed out to see so many familiar businesses call it a day. Just in the last 6 months, we’ve had to say goodbye to Village Fair Antiques, The Windjammer, Sushi on the Run, and most recently Aptos Cinemas aka The Aptos Twin movie theatre. In addition to these closures, we recently learned the Aptos Village Rattan is closing its doors on March 19… but that’s a story for another time! Today, we remember the Aptos Twin.
The Aptos Twin may not have been the nicest theatre around. With only two screens, your movie options were limited. And for many years prior to the upgrades, we tolerated the sticky floors and uncomfortable metal backed Heywood-Wakefield seats from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. But there was something about the theatre that our town loved. It was our theatre. For nearly 46 years it screened the stories that made us smile, laugh, gasp, scream, and cry. It never failed to keep us entertained and it was right here in Aptos.
The theatre was equipped with 2 screens, hence the name Aptos Twin. The larger auditorium could seat approximately 525 and the smaller could seat roughly 225. The two-screen movie theatre concept was fairly new as most movie houses were still single screen. The idea is to keep the bigger auditorium for newer releases and as the crowds dwindle down, move it to the smaller auditorium so that another new release could be played in the big auditorium. The smaller auditorium would also be used for staging plays, hosting lectures, and according to building contractor John Pollard, to run “better class” adult films (although I don’t know if any adult films were ever played there)!
The Aptos Twin was part of the fourth and final stage of construction for the Rancho Del Mar shopping center. Its first stage, which included the Safeway building and County Bank of Santa Cruz (which later became The Windjammer and The Rancho Del Mar Café), celebrated its opening day on June 21, 1961. The second stage was completed in 1964 and the third in 1968. The fourth stage added 25 new businesses to the already existing 41 and was completed in 1970.
In March of 1970, just as the theatre’s construction was near completion, the marquee read, “Open Soon. If the rain ever stops.” Apparently it had been a wet start to the year and construction had been delayed. However, the town folks had read the sign and took it to mean that the theatre was about to open its doors and the first movie was going to be “If the Rain Ever Stops.” A funny misinterpretation indeed! However, the rain did eventually stop so the note was removed from the marquee and construction continued.
The highly anticipated opening of the theatre finally occurred on Thursday, April 9 1970 with the screening of “Anne of the Thousand Days” (featuring Richard Burton and Genevieve Bujold) on screen 1. The first night was celebrated with a champagne reception and fundraiser. The net profit from opening night, $1,319.85, went to the Florence Critenton Auxiliary, a local charity. The following night, both auditoriums were open with Walt Disney Production’s “King of the Grizzlies” playing on screen 2.
The Aptos Twin operated as a United Artists Theatre until April 1998, when Culver Theatres Inc. bought the lease, made some improvements, and changed the name to Aptos Cinemas.
Ownership changed once again in 2006 when Nickelodeon Theatres, who also owned The Nickelodeon and Del Mar Theatre, purchased the cinema.
In September 2013, a $250,000 remodel of the theatre included new plush seating, a digital screen with 3-D technology, and personal captioning for the hearing impaired. Because the seats were so much bigger than before, the capacity of auditoriums decreased to 240 in the big room and 92 in the small room.
In December 2015, Landmark Theatre purchased the 3 theatres (Nickelodeon, Del Mar, and Aptos) from Nickelodeon Theatres.
Unfortunately, just one month later, it was announced that the Aptos Cinemas would be closed for good. Landmark Theatres and Terramar Retail Centers (the owners of Rancho Del Mar) couldn’t come to a rental agreement and the last movie was played on January 26, 2016.
When the news first came out, everyone was very shocked and a lot of blame was thrown around. Most of it was based on assumptions. As we all know, it is never wise to trust what you see or read about on social media. What really happened is quite an interesting story but it is not the focus of my column. I am here to write about local history.
I want this article to remind everyone of the good times and entertainment the Aptos Twin brought to this town for so many years. I, too, am sad to say goodbye but I am grateful for the memories.
For more information about the Aptos History Museum, upcoming events, or becoming a member of the museum, please visit www.aptoshistory.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram @aptos_history_museum.