In the early 1900's, sheds and other temporary buildings served as venues for screening silent movies in a number of towns in Eretz Israel, but most of these enterprises only lasted for a few years. Construction of modern cinemas, in permanent stone structures, started in earnest in the late 1920's, reaching its peak in the mid-1950's. These cinemas, from large ones located in entertainment centers to small neighborhood cinemas, became a hub of community life. During the peak year of 1966, 2.6 million Israelis frequented cinemas more than 50 million times. But two years later television broadcasting began and Israelis chose to stay home and watch this new marvel, causing cinemas to begin to close down, first in smaller outlying towns and later on in large cities as well. Most of the 330 standalone cinemas were torn down and some were redesigned as multiplex cinemas. Since the mid-1980s, most cinemas are tucked away inside shopping malls and entertainment centers. The option of watching movies via other media such as videotape, DVD and home computers has made the old cinemas into a thing of the past.
Zion Cinema, Jerusalem
In 1917, owner Israel Gutt decided to name the silent movie shed that had been built five years earlier in a square on Jaffa Road, on a lot previously owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, "Zion". Heavy snow caused the wooden shed to collapse in 1920 and a new 600-seat cinema was built there in its stead. A stage for performing operas and plays was added, chandeliers were hung and central heating was installed.
Zion Square was a focal point for Jerusalemites. Numerous cafes and businesses were located there, but it was the cinema that gave the area its name, as well as its spirit. In October 1967, three Palestinian youths placed a bomb in the cinema during the early evening show. The charge was discovered and removed in time and the late show took place as scheduled. The next day, during an evening of solidarity held in the cinema, Mayor Teddy Kollek proclaimed that "no one will scare us away from going to the movies." Five years later, Zion Cinema was closed down. The building was demolished in 1979 and a bank was subsequently built on the site.
Armon Cinema, Haifa
The Armon Cinema was opened in 1935. It was Haifa's largest cinema, seating an audience of nearly 1800 movie-goers. Its size and location in the heart of the city's entertainment center made the Armon Cinema a cultural institution. As the city lacked other suitable halls, the cinema regularly hosted performances of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israeli Opera, and also served as a venue for election gatherings. Watching movies in the Armon Cinema was a pleasant, comfortable experience. On summer nights the roof was opened above the heads of those sitting in the balcony. Before matinees, one of the ushers would shut the cinema windows with a long pole, arousing cheers from children in the audience, who knew this was a sign that the show was about to begin.
Haifa residents also remember the Armon Cinema because of the groups of youths who used to gather out front. They would arrive on motorcycles and sit idly on the curbside iron fences, at times harassing female passers-by, thus earning themselves the nickname "Armon Commandos". The Armon Cinema closed down in 1987 and was subsequently demolished. Today, a high-rise office building has taken its place.