Ken Cinema 100th Anniversary

Ken Cinema 100th Anniversary

The Ken Theater was built in 1912 in the then
new community of Kensington in San Diego. 1912 was also the year the American film industry
began taking baby steps with films like DW Griffiths’ “The Musketeers of Pig Alley.”
But as with many theaters back then, it wasn’t fully committed to the movies says the Ken
Cinema’s current manager John Luis. JOHN LUIS: Behind the screen here there is
an actual stage, and a lot of movie theaters, they’d use stages for vaudeville between the
reels. Luis says The Ken was built about the same
time as the Spreckels Theater downtown but for a very different crowd.

JOHN LUIS: This was built as sort of a ‘boonies’ theatre, and it was competing against the
downtown theatres. Downtown at that time was about 10 cents a film and here it was cheap,
a bargain at 5 cents. And you might see something like Griffiths’
pioneering 1916 film “Intolerance.” Landmark Theaters took over the Ken in 1975. It also
took over a lot of history and memories says Ken Cinema assistant manager Sophia Verbiscar.

SOPHIA VERBISCAR: We  have posters, boxes and boxes of posters I don’t even know how
far they go back. We have so many mystery reels of just film, we don’t know what’s
on them… I don’t think a week goes by that someone doesn’t come in here re-living
memories from the place. GUY HANFORD: The Ken Cinema, wow, that’s interesting,
I came out here when I was in the 8th grade and my parents bought this building here,
which was a gift shop at the time. And next door was the theater of course, Bob Berkun
was the owner and he asked me one night, ‘Hey, how would you like to work at the theater,’
and I said sure. And what it involved was cleaning the theater up every night and changing
the marquee on Thursday nights and so I got a dollar and a nickel a night and I’m not
sure I got anything extra for changing the marquee. 

SOPHIA VERBISCAR: There was actually this woman I think who worked here, probably in
the 50s and 60s when Bob was the owner… she told me that he used to have a mirror
right at the end of the booth stairs, that he could watch from the booth what they were
doing at the stand. 
You can find very tangible history in the
lobby with this classic carbon arc projector that was retired in 2006. JOHN LUIS: What distinguishes this from the
modern projector is there’s a lead element, it’s basically a giant pencil and when you
run high current electricity through this, it creates an arc gap and that spark is what
creates the light for the film. And what’s also unique about these or the detriment of
these is that they only last for about 20 minutes cause this element will burn down
over time and hence that’s why we have 20 minute reels… So now we are going into our
booth. Okay so these are all the fire doors that existed back in 1912. Nitrate film was
very flammable so if in fact there was a fire there was a fuse here that burned and these
would slam down and shut so that fire wouldn’t go outside of the booth. It would protect
people in the audience, of course the projectionist would have to scramble out of the booth. We
have 35mm projection right here. This is our digital projector, and this is our platter
system. The recent platter technology means a projectionist
takes the individual 20 minute reels and splices them together on an editing bench to create
one giant reel to place on a platter and to run through a single projector. JOHN LUIS: So all the film would rest on this
turntable and as you play the film it will go through the projector and then back out
onto this top platter. So you have the film exiting one platter and then entering the
next platter…. And then start… [Rocky Horror comes on]. JOHN LUIS: We’re very well known as a midnight
movie theatre. So, for example we’ve always had Rocky Horror Picture Show for some time.
  As well as a sing-a-long “Sound of Music.” GUY HANFORD: It was so great because you had
the bouncing ball and you had all the words. And then you had all these people, sometimes
guys with full beards and biker outfits during their regular day wearing nun’s habits coming
in there singing, it was fantastic and the place was packed. JOHN LUIS: So, were fully interactive and
we do a lot of crazy things here. BETH ACCOMANDO: Like the Spam tossing contest… The Ken also has some other unique features. JOHN LUIS: We have a viewing window here.
This was used for when patrons wanted to have a smoke but couldn’t smoke inside the theatre…
Okay, as you can see this is our crying room. So, mothers, caregivers with their babies
could go into this room, watch the movie in this soundproof room, which also had a speaker.
You don’t see these features in today’s modern multiplexes. BETH: And the Ken has the tiniest women’s
bathroom. But these are all aspects that longtime patrons
have come to love. And folks like Guy Hanford hope the theater remains in the community
for years to come. GUY HANFORD: If you are not going here to
the theater at the Ken you are missing one of the rare archival places that you have
here in the community.

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