Archives: That time Indian Hills Theater was king and Cinerama was a thing - Omaha.com
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Archives: That time Indian Hills Theater was king and Cinerama was a thing
By Micah Mertes / World-Herald staff writer


Omaha movie theater archives: The ones we've covered so far

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The Indian Hills Theater was an extremely popular spot at 86th and Dodge. Built in 1962 and demolished in 2001, Indian Hills was beloved for its giant Cinerama screen, the biggest in the world. Before it was torn down, Indian Hills was the last theater in the country to be built specifically for Cinerama.

Here's a look back at the old favorite.

First. What was Cinerama?

Well, it was a crazy complicated process in which three cameras were used to film the action and three projectors were used to show it. It was popular but short-lived, reaching the height of its popularity in the late '50s and fading by the mid-'60s.

Here's a how-it-worked diagram from a Cinerama souvenir book.


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The Cooper

Before Indian Hills Theater, there was another Cinerama screen in town: the Cooper Theater on Douglas Street between 14th and 15th. Before being converted to the Cooper in 1958, the spot had served as first the Moon and then Town Theater. In 1960, the Cooper invested $150,000 in a curved Cinerama screen, projectors and booths. At that time, the theater was one of 12 in the country that could show the films.

The Cooper debuted in '58 with "South Pacific," which lasted a record 78 weeks.


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The theater hired attractive young ladies.


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The Cooper played on until June of '74 (the last movie was "Serpico") and was demolished in '76.


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Indian Hills

In 1962, the Indian Hills Theater was built by Swanson Enterprises and was to be operated by the Cooper Foundation of Lincoln, the same group running the downtown Cooper Theater at the time. Indian Hills was touted as the "theater of tomorrow." Its spectacular screen stretched 35 feet high and 105 feet long in a 146-degree curve that seemed to wrap itself around its audience.


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Image from Omaha World-Herald publication titled "Greetings from Omaha Nebraska; A Collection of Omaha Postcards-1890s Through The 1980s."


Indian Hills also hired attractive young ladies.


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In December of 1962, Indian Hills showed its first Cinerama film, "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm." Admission was $1.55 for matinees and $2.20 at night.


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Omahans got their last look at Cinerama at Indian Hills on March 15, 1964, with the final showing of "How the West Was Won."


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But Indian Hills' curved screen provided a great way to see a movie long after Cinerama's demise.

Here's the theater's decidedly non-Cinerama marquee in 1981.


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Moviegoers saw "Return of the Jedi" there in 1983. Also, birth of cosplay?


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Over the years, Indian Hills held various special events, including a 65th anniversary showing of "King Kong," which had in attendance sci-fi/fantasy heroes Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.

I couldn't find any photos of the event in our archives, but Omaha Film Event has quite a few.


Here it is shortly before it closed in 2000. The writing was on the wall after the leaseholder, Carmike Cinemas, declared bankruptcy.


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Methodist Health System bought the property and announced in June 2001 that it would demolish the theater and put in a parking lot, which led to the formation of the Indian Hills Theater Preservation Society. The two-month effort to save it drew support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and from Hollywood stars Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Patricia Neal. Film critic Leonard Maltin shot a public service announcement.


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Omaha's Landmarks Heritage Preservation Commission voted for historic-landmark designation, but Methodist took the theater down a couple of weeks later.

The theater was demolished in August 2001.

Here's former Indian Hills employee Susy Rose shedding a few tears over the theater's demolition.


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And here's the old "hat-box-shaped" theater in scraps following its demolition.


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And just so this doesn't end on such a sad, soul-crushing note, here's one more shot of the theater before it was no more.


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Contact the writer: Micah Mertes

micah.mertes@owh.com    |   402-444-3182    |  

Micah is an online editor for Omaha.com


Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom


Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

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