I had hopes that the facade of Varsity Theater would be spared long before Bishop Estate announced two weeks ago that the 70-year-old landmark would be destroyed. This morning (Monday), as I returned home from downtown, I was in shock at seeing the facade being pummeled by a backhoe that somehow got onto the roof. As I looked in my rear-view mirror, the workers sprayed water onto the facade and the backhoe blasted away. The facade, which one announced titles like "ROCKY" to the Mo'ili'ili community, rocked up and down for a good minute before it finally smashed to the pavement. Within 15 minutes, the backhoe had sent me into a surreal state of shock. All of it was down, tattered, crumbled and twisted concrete and steel. Looking at it now, it was like they cut the off the head of a giant turtle, but its body -- the theater -- still stands.
Later in the day, a bank teller across the street asked how I was doing. "I feel sick," I said. "They just wrecked my favorite theater." The teller assured me that the owner of a restaurant across the street had saved the signage of the facade, as well as the ancient film projectors that used to sit near the curb. I wasn't assured, though. The facade and the theater will be replaced by a parking lot, and then later, student housing. All the mold and asbestos in the world will tumble down to make those developments happen. I just wish the facade could've been saved. Maybe it can be replicated one day.
The theater itself still stands, but will be demolished soon enough. That's when the finality will really be upon us, those of us who grew up in this great place and felt a deeply-rooted sense of loss as progress stomps on history and culture.
Rest in peace, Varsity Theater. Gone is Honolulu Stadium. Gone is Chunky's Drive-In. Soon to be gone is Stadium Bowl-O-Drome. The landmarks of my childhood, disappearing one by one.
See photos of the Varsity Theater's final night of operation on Ryan Ozawa's Flickr page.