Juan Serna and Lindsay Taylor could have bought tickets online for the first movie Sunday morning at the dome. But for old-time's sake, the two 30-somethings stood in the box-office line and remembered how they camped out overnight to see "Star Wars" in the 1970s. They loved every minute spent on the asphalt with their fellow fans at the time.

"The charm is gone," Tayor said. "This is a sad direction for San Jose."

Serna turned around and pointed across Winchester Avenue to Santana Row, an upscale, suburban shopping center he likened to the sinister empire in the movie.

"I hope they don't tear down this theater for more crap like that," Serna said.

Expired lease

For diehard movie fans of their generation, the domed theaters in southwest San Jose were perfectly symmetrical shrines fit for the action-packed, computer-assisted Hollywood blockbusters that first emerged in the 1970s. Now they resemble temples of doom, relics in the age of home media centers and on-demand television viewing.

The movie operator's lease for the Century 21, 22 and 23 theaters expired Monday, just months shy of Century 21's 50th birthday. A demolition permit is awaiting the city's approval. But wait! The Indiana Joneses of domed theaters aren't giving up so easily.


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A public movement is afoot to save at least one of the five remaining domes -- Century 21 -- as a historic landmark. It's the only one left with a single screen. The others were partitioned years ago, rendering them less architecturally authentic than the old 21.

Wistful fans who showed up Sunday seemed to expect the worst, that bulldozers would roll in soon. But in general, they expressed some hope that Century 21 could be saved -- not so much as an significant specimen of mid-century modernism, but as something better described as cultural preservation, a way of life worth holding onto and adapting to modern lifestyles and economics.

"It's a venue of popular culture of the mid-20th century," Abbott said. "But there's more to it. It's where families came together. It's where people came on dates and met their loved ones."

Possible new lives

Serna and Taylor wondered if the interior could host a nightclub or restaurant and still show movies on occasion. Some fans argued for converting Century 21 into a 3-D IMAX theater. Another suggested a theater for live entertainment, from hard rock to classical music. Still, their mood generally was somber and realistic in a valley where creative destruction is almost a religion.

Giovanni Paquiz dropped by with his wife and young daughter to "reminisce." He had worked at the domes in high school and college, rising to assistant manager.

"This place put me through college," the James Lick High School teacher said. "But I don't know if it will be saved. I don't think there's enough money in nostalgia now. You don't need to come here anymore when you can get any movies you want on TV or Amazon."

The last movie scheduled at Century 21 Sunday was "Raiders of the Lost Ark." At the end of the movie, the Ark of the Covenant is put in government hands for secret study. Similarly, the fate of Century 21 will be decided by government.

Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767 and follow him on Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.