Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Columbia Theater - Khamphaengphet, Thailand

The city of Khamphaengphet is an anomaly among Thai towns. It feels well-planned. This fact is evidenced by its broad, unobstructed sidewalks, among other points of civic consciousness. Forming the city's western boundary, the Ping River bank has been outfitted with a spacious, tree-covered park for people to hang out in - a hallmark of municipal pride. But conspicuously absent from Khamphaengphet's civic infrastructure is - yeah, you guessed it - a stand-alone movie theater. They've all been closed down and only one still stands - the Columbia Theater.

Through the opening between the buildings stands the former Columbia Theater, now a supermarket.

After falling on hard times, the Columbia Theater was abandoned by its owner before being seized by Khamphaengphet municipality in the mid-1990's. Instead of razing the decrepit building and selling off the cleared land, the good city found a buyer who promptly converted it into a supermarket called "Nicksland Trading."

A plastic roof, an addition since it became a supermarket, blocks a view of the entire facade.

Set back from the main street behind a wall of retail buildings, the former Columbia Theater has almost no obvious signs of its past incarnation. But if you know what you're looking for and take a walk around to the sides of the building, it becomes clear that what is now Nicksland Trading was once a snazzy movie theater.

The Columbia Theater opened sometime in the early 1970's.
On a separate note, it might be worth mentioning that in the 1950's and 60's a number of the American film studios financed the construction of movie theaters in Thailand as a way to ensure distribution of their films in this then-newly emerging Asian market. In Bangkok, for instance, the Paramount Theater was built by Paramount Pictures. There were others as well. I can't say with any accuracy, as nobody was able to confirm one way or the other, but it's possible that the Columbia Theater, all the way up there in little Khamphangphet, was financed by Columbia Pictures. I'm guessing not, however.

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