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Indian Hills Cinerama
Omaha, USA

This article first appeared in
..in 70mm
The 70mm Newsletter

Text and pictures by Matt Lutthans Cinerama Society of Seattle Issue 65 - July 2001

Here's an Aug. 2000 update on what is going on with the Indian Hills Cinerama in Omaha, for those of you who are interested. I'll start from the very beginning; some of you may wish to scan past the introductory stuff.

The Indian Hills opened as a new Super Cinerama in 1962, and was one of the three Cooper-design round Cinerama buildings, a virtual twin to the buildings in Minneapolis and Denver. It's strip screen was (and its' current single sheet screen is) 35x105, which I believe is the largest Cinerama screen installed in America. Capacity is around 800. "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm" and "How the West Was Won" played there, then it was converted for 70mm. In 1977, a 2nd theatre, "The Cameo," seating about 250, was added on to the left of the original auditorium, which was left completely intact. In the 1980s, another 2 auditoriums were added on the right. Upon its closing on September 29, 2000, it was operated by Carmike, which had just filed for bankruptcy and was closing many of its leased facilities. They were in the process of installing new carpet, but had only finished the "bowl" area up by the screen. The seats had all been re-done within the last few years, and all of the digital sound formats had been installed.

When Larry Karstens called me to say that the theatre was closing, I hopped on a plane and flew back to see the final shows, take pictures, meet people, etc. One of the people I met was film historian Bruce Crawford. The three of us spent the day lamenting the fate of the theatre, and trying to drum up publicity in an effort to attract another chain that could take over operation. A couple of blurbs appeared in the Omaha World-Herald, and we also wrote/called some potential operators, but to no avail. This continued for a few weeks. In November, I sent an e-mail to Larry and to Rich Vincent saying something to the effect of, "Nobody else is going to take over operation of the building, so why don't we?" As it turns out, Rich had been thinking the same thing. At that point, we began contacting investors, the property manager, film equipment vendors, bookers, etc., and Rich is currently about to finish up his financial spreadsheet based on info gathered over the last couple of months. We also have been talking with Larry Smith and John Harvey about bringing in actual 3-strip, and with Hurley Screen Corp. about getting a new strip screen to replace the current single-sheet deeply curved screen. Dave Strohmaier has also been lending his help/expertise.
This whole thing is much like the process was in Seattle four years ago. Very small steps, no steps, more small steps, then-- BAM!-- something actually happens! The time involved is driving us all nuts, but we do see that we are making progress, and I suspect that we will have much more to report in the weeks ahead.

In case you were wondering, it is definitely our goal to bring back Cinerama for some special screenings. When that happens, we will publicize it much better than some other recent events. ...and yes, our strips will overlap!

Further in 70mm reading:

Matt Lutthans

Internet link:

Indian Hills Down
June 2001 update by Ed Reitan

In a press conference on Wednesday, June 20, 2001, officials of the Nebraska Methodist Health System, the new owner of the Omaha Indian Hills Cinerama Theater, announced their plans to demolish the Theater, as soon as possible. 

In a further insult to the theater, the press conference was conducted in front of the Indian Hills and announced the theater would be replaced by a parking lot. The Indian Hills is one of the only three Cinerama theatres that, up to now, have survived (Seattle, Hollywood Dome, and the Indian Hills).

Although well informed by private individuals, and by a series of articles in the Omaha World Herald, on the historical significance of both the building and Cinerama, NMHS felt the site would be immediately better used as a parking lot. Pleas from myself in direct meetings with NMHS to at least save and use the central Cinerama theater for their own auditorium were ignored (I also proposed for NMHS to remove two side buildings with their three smaller screens - freeing up more parking space).

Incredibly, Larry Karstens and Matt Lutthans, who that same day had expected to negotiate a lease from Methodist to resume film exhibition, appeared with NMHS at that press conference and made statements in support of the Methodist action. This may have terminally damaged any other hopes to save the Indian Hills. After they could not get their lease of the Indian Hills, they expressed no other need or approach for preservation and expressed their agreement with the Methodist action. Karstens said, "We are in full agreement with Methodist that, as sad as it is for us, it's the right decision." I believe Karstens and Lutthans owe some kind of explanation of what went on in Omaha.
NMHS had an innovative excuse for their action that resembled a scare tactic. NMHS CEO Steven Long said, "This is an old building that has an awful lot of asbestos, electrical, heating and air conditioning problems." (built in 1961?). Contractors hired to analyze the building's condition estimated it would cost $1.7 million to repair and renovate Indian Hills, NMHS said. NMHS did not provide any substantiation of details.

A contractor has told me that asbestos isolation is relatively inexpensive. Incredibly, he said that the expensive asbestos removal process has to be done anyway to allow demolition. NMHS also pointed to a road widening as a potential problem. The City has not finalized plans for these actions and there are a number of ready solutions. Methodist nicely had the whole package wrapped up in one short day, with the assistance and blessing of Karstens and Lutthans!
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Updated 21-01-24