New Edwards Theaters Light the Way

IRVINE — Been through the El Toro Y at night lately and confused it with the drive into Las Vegas? Don’t worry, it’s just the Irvine Entertainment Center.

By Marc S. Posner
Saddleback Valley Voice
Reading this today, the lede may seem a bit hyperbole, but considering the lack of development — remember, there was an active military airport essentially adjacent — at the time, the feeling of seeing the Irvine Entertainment Center (now the Spectrum) was a lot like the first glance of State Line when headed to Las Vegas.

With more than five miles of neon lights, the 21-theater, restaurant-laden complex opened to star-struck eyes this week.

With 6,400 seats on a pie-shaped 158,000 square foot wedge of land formed by the intersection of the Santa Ana (5) and San Diego (405) freeways, “The Big One” is being billed by Edwards Theatres executives as the largest theater “megaplex” in the world.

Serious moviegoers have flocked to Fashion Island to catch premiers of their favorite flicks, waiting in lines for hours because “The Big Newport” had the largest screen on the West Coast.

No more.

At Edwards’ new flagship movie house, four of the screens are larger that at “The Big Newport.”

Measuring 35 by 90 feet, they’re so large a new projector bulb was invented so the picture would be bright enough.

“I can’t even tell you what state of the art means because it changes everyday,” joked Frederick Evans, president of The Irvine Co.’s retail property division, at a recent press event.

“But, it’s in there,” he said, pointing at the mammoth building that was under construction until hours before Tuesday night’s charity premier.

The new centerpiece of the Irvine Spectrum, largely a business complex to this point, officially opened to the public on Wednesday, just in time for the holiday movie rush.

Officials from The Irvine Co. and Edwards Theatres estimate the center will draw 4 or 5 million customers each year.

The first visitors to the theaters got their choice of: Toy Story, Money Train, Nick of Time, Casino, Goldeneye, The American President, Ace Ventura, The Crossing Guard, Get Shorty, Carrington and Leaving Las Vegas.

Most of those are being shown on more than one screen.

At the snack bar — actually, snack bars plural (seven concession stands support the main 100-foot eatery) — you’ll find egg rolls, chicken tenders, cheese cake, pizza, bakes potatoes, garden burgers, hamburgers, hot dogs, sausages, sandwiches, pastries, bagels, cinnamon buns, frozen ice cream desserts, fresh-baked churros, exotic iced drinks, blended coffee drinks, cappuccino, lattes, and smooties.

That’s in addition to the usual assortment of nachos, pretzels, candy, popcorn and soda.

Still got an appetite?

The center’s got four marquee restaurants, including the Wolfgang Puck Cafe, and a food court.

“Merchants are the soul of a center,” said Keith Eyrich, and Irvine Co. vice president. “We are very fortunate to have world-class merchants.”

Many of the 33 restaurants and stores are opening their first California locations, he said.

They include Bertolini’s Trattoria, Blueberry Hill Gourmet Hamburgers, Champps Americana, Sega City and Sloppy Joe’s Bar.

Other shops include Barnes and Noble Booksellers, Blockbuster Music, Diedrich Coffee and Out-Takes, a store that uses video technology to place customers into scenes of real movies.

The food court includes a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream shop, Pasta Bravo, Sabatino’s Sausage and Rubios Fish Tacos.

“We anticipate putting on a lot of weight here,” said Larry Poricelli, general manager for the Edwards Theatres chain, that now operates 86 movie complexes in Southern California and has another 19 under construction.

Originally, “The Big One” was supposed to have 16 screens. But Edwards founder, Jim Edwards, decided to expand to 21 “to signify the 21st Century,” Poricelli said.

“This is the way we think the future will go in movie theaters,” he said. “Mr. Edwards wanted to bring back the hay day (of Hollywood).”

Large murals in the main lobby and the building’s overall design, along with the neon, assist in that goal.

Still, modern comforts make “The Big One” a far cry from theaters of that golden era, such as the Lido, Edwards’ antique on the Newport Peninsula. Even newer theaters, like those in Lake Forest’s Saddleback Plaza, are dated by the company’s latest project.

One example is the seats: Four different styles are used in the 21 theaters, including some that rock and others with orthopedic comforts.

The final theater, still under construction, is a 6 1/2-story high, 90-foot wide IMAX screen which will feature $500 personal headsets with built-in sound for three-dimensional movies. It’s more advanced than the only comparable IMAX theater in New York, those involved in the project said.

Poricelli likened the experience to virtual reality, and offered customers a promise: “We’re going to try anything new.”