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Matthew Holbrook grew up watching the original "Star Wars" trilogy at home on VHS tapes.

He was 4 years old when the final film, "Return of the Jedi," was released in theaters and never thought he'd have the chance to see Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader face off on the big screen.

But in 1997, "A New Hope," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Jedi" were theatrically re-released to commemorate a remastered 20th anniversary edition of the trilogy.

Holbrook remembers sitting next to his girlfriend, eating popcorn and watching "Star Wars" on the biggest screen in town at Riverdale's Cinedome 70 theater.

"I was just in heaven," Holbrook said. "I already loved Star Wars before that but for me, it made me love it even more."

Before IMAX screens and stadium-style seating became commonplace for movie theaters, the Cinedome 70 stood out for the look, feel and sound of its film presentations.

Sandwiched between Interstates 15 and 84 on Riverdale Road, the theater consisted of twin domed auditoriums connected by a vaulted lobby, with each dome standing 60 feet tall and 110 feet across.

Inside each dome were curved, 70-foot screens and roughly 800 rocking chairs on tiered levels to maximize visibility.

"We didn't call it stadium seating but every row was higher than the next row," said Nancy Tullis, whose husband Darrell was one of the theater's original owners. "We were way ahead of the time on that."

Built in 1970, the theater featured 70-millimeter film projectors, a high-resolution format that includes additional audio channels for more immersive sight and sound.

"They were the biggest screens in Utah," Tullis said. "It felt like you were right in the middle of the production."

'A lot of showmanship' • The Tullis family's first venture into the theater business came two decades before the Cinedome, when Joy Naylor and Roy Tullis — Darrell Tullis' father — created the Riverdale Drive-In in 1947, at the time Utah's first drive-in theater.

Roy Tullis chose an indoor design for his next theater, Nancy Tullis said, due to the seasonal limits of the drive-in format, which were exacerbated when Utah began using Daylight Saving Time.

"You could not get a picture on the screen in July until a quarter to 10 [p.m.]," she said. "It just wasn't dark enough."

After researching several theaters in California, and Salt Lake City's single-dome Century 21, Roy and Darrell Tullis selected the twin-dome design for the Cinedome 70.

The building included several nods to classic theaters like Radio City Music Hall, Nancy Tullis said. An organ was placed in the lobby for live music between screenings, cascading lamps were hung from the ceiling and before each film began, large curtains were pulled back to reveal the mammoth curved screens.

"They just wanted it to be the nicest theater in Utah when they built it," Nancy Tullis said. "They built a lot of things around Ogden and they never built anything halfway. They were master craftsmen."

Ogden resident John Garner worked at the Cinedome for roughly a decade beginning in 1979. In its early years, he said, the theater positioned itself as Weber County's primary destination for major blockbusters like "Jaws," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and the original "Star Wars" trilogy.

"When one of those big movies was there it was like going to a party every night," he said.

Gardner started as an usher and in later years worked in the box office and prepared movie advertisements for the Ogden Standard-Examiner.

When "Alien" was released in 1979, Garner said he and other staff members knew when to enter the domes, like clockwork, to see 800 people react to the film's first big scare.

"It was so fun to go up into the theater twice a night and see that audience go berserk and scream when the alien popped out of that guy," he said.

Nancy Tullis recalls with pride how the Cinedome outgrossed its rival, Salt Lake City's Centre Theater, during the opening weekend of Star Wars in 1977.

"We had a lot of people coming up from Salt Lake," she said. "It was such a great presentation that they walked in from all over to see it on the screen."

Mark Tullis, Nancy Tullis' son, remembers the Cinedome going the extra mile for high-profile films, like installing speakers to enhance the destruction scenes in 1974's "Earthquake," using fog machines for 1980's "The Fog" and decorating the theater with fish nets for 1972's "The Poseidon Adventure."

The auditorium's entries were set up as spook alleys to coincide with horror films, local astronomers gave free telescope demonstrations in the parking lot during the run of "2001: A Space Odyssey" and the theater hosted a dance competition in conjunction with "Grease."

"It was a very fun place to work at and there was a lot of showmanship," Mark Tullis said.

'Writing was on the wall' • The economic realities of movie theaters make it difficult for independent theaters like the Cinedome to compete, Nancy Tullis said. The bulk of income from ticket sales is returned to a film's distributor, she said, with theaters relying largely on concessions to turn a profit.

That system has encouraged the consolidation of theater chains that can afford the upfront costs of new releases, and buildings with multiple, smaller auditoriums rather than the Cinedome's 800-seat rooms.

"The writing was on the wall at the very end," Nancy Tullis said.

The Tullis family had operated the theater for 15 years before it was leased to Plitt Theaters in 1985. After a series of management changes, the Cinedome closed its doors in 2001.

Cinedome fans mourned the loss, launching social media campaigns and urging city leaders and community businesses to step in and save the domes.

But those efforts were unsuccessful. In 2010, the property was demolished and the twin domes were replaced by a Larry H. Miller car dealership.

"I was sad," Holbrook said. "The new theaters — they're fine. But they don't have the same old-school feel of that theater."

A spokeswoman for the Larry H. Miller group, which owns Utah's Megaplex Theaters chain, declined to comment. But she said that Megaplex Theaters' auditoriums average between 250 and 300 seats.

Mark Tullis, who was a college student when the family relinquished operations of the theater, said the family feels no ill-will toward the Miller group. By the time the Cinedome was demolished, it had been closed for nearly a decade and was in disrepair.

The family had hoped to find a buyer that would maintain the building, but structural improvements were required to bring the theater up to code. "That was a big disincentive," he said. The eventual buyer hoped to reopen the theater, Mark Tullis said, but later sold to the Miller group.

The Cinedome's memory lives on in the hearts of its fans and on tribute forums on social media. In April, Holbrook created a contest on the Facebook page for his insurance business, offering a $50 gift card for individuals who entered a drawing by sharing memories of the Cinedome 70.

The post generated more than 100 comments, with praise like "the best thing about this theater was that there not a bad seat in the house ... and the screens were HUGE!"

"It is, by far, my most popular post that I've ever had on my business Facebook page," Holbrook said.

Garner said the closure of the Cinedome was "heartbreaking." He still wishes something could have been done to restore and maintain the glamour of the Cinedome.

"It was just a movie-going dream experience that is, sadly, gone now," he said.

Twitter: @bjaminwood

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