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Whatever happened to ... Riverdale’s Cinedome theater?

First Published      Last Updated Aug 05 2016 10:27 pm


The theater stood out for the look, feel, sound of film presentations in the days before IMAX.

Editor's note • In this regular series, The Tribune explores the once-favorite places of Utahns, from restaurants to recreation to retail. If you have a spot you'd like us to explore, email whateverhappenedto@sltrib.com with your ideas.

Matthew Holbrook grew up watching the original "Star Wars" trilogy at home on VHS tapes.

He was 4 years old when the final film, "Return of the Jedi," was released in theaters and never thought he'd have the chance to see Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader face off on the big screen.

But in 1997, "A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Jedi" were theatrically re-released to commemorate a remastered 20th anniversary edition of the trilogy.




Holbrook remembers sitting next to his girlfriend, eating popcorn and watching "Star Wars" on the biggest screen in town at Riverdale's Cinedome 70 theater.

"I was just in heaven," Holbrook said. "I already loved Star Wars before that but for me, it made me love it even more."

Before IMAX screens and stadium-style seating became commonplace for movie theaters, the Cinedome 70 stood out for the look, feel and sound of its film presentations.

Sandwiched between Interstates 15 and 84 on Riverdale Road, the theater consisted of twin domed auditoriums connected by a vaulted lobby, with each dome standing 60 feet tall and 110 feet across.

Inside each dome were curved, 70-foot screens and roughly 800 rocking chairs on tiered levels to maximize visibility.

"We didn't call it stadium seating but every row was higher than the next row," said Nancy Tullis, whose husband Darrell was one of the theater's original owners. "We were way ahead of the time on that."

Built in 1970, the theater featured 70-millimeter film projectors, a high-resolution format that includes additional audio channels for more immersive sight and sound.

"They were the biggest screens in Utah," Tullis said. "It felt like you were right in the middle of the production."

'A lot of showmanship' • The Tullis family's first venture into the theater business came two decades before the Cinedome, when Joy Naylor and Roy Tullis — Darrell Tullis' father — created the Riverdale Drive-In in 1947, at the time Utah's first drive-in theater.

Roy Tullis chose an indoor design for his next theater, Nancy Tullis said, due to the seasonal limits of the drive-in format, which were exacerbated when Utah began using Daylight Saving Time.

"You could not get a picture on the screen in July until a quarter to 10 [p.m.]," she said. "It just wasn't dark enough."

After researching several theaters in California, and Salt Lake City's single-dome Century 21, Roy and Darrell Tullis selected the twin-dome design for the Cinedome 70.

The building included several nods to classic theaters like Radio City Music Hall, Nancy Tullis said. An organ was placed in the lobby for live music between screenings, cascading lamps were hung from the ceiling and before each film began, large curtains were pulled back to reveal the mammoth curved screens.

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