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It’s curtains for New Loft Theater site at UA

Theater’s racy days recalled

PAUL L. ALLEN Citizen Staff Writer

There are those of us old enough to remember when Brigitte Bardot was more concerned with removing her garments for the movie camera than removing mistreated critters from harm’s way.

It is that age group that may recall a time when Tucson’s former Loft Theater – which was demolished this week – was the cutting edge of risqué that was, well, not necessarily art.

Mind you, we’re talking here about the ”old” Loft, which was later called the New Loft, and not the ”new” Loft Cinema, which reopened on East Speedway Boulevard in 1992.

The old Loft, located along East Sixth Street at 504 N. Fremont Ave., adjacent to the University of Arizona campus, was leveled earlier this week to make way for a UA parking lot.

Robert Feinman remembers the old Loft better than most, having begun to work there as a 20-year-old college student. He was manager of the emporium during its tenure as a ”den of iniquity,” 1969 through 1971.

”The actors and actresses (in the films) were unknowns, and there was no money spent on scenery, no money spent on plot,” he said.

”There was full nudity in color on a large 35-millimeter screen. That’s all anybody cared about,” he said.

The Loft previously had shown European art films.

”They were racier than U.S. films, bold enough in those days to suggest certain sexual things, perhaps give you a brief indirect glimpse of nudity,” said Feinman, who went on to become a successful local radio broadcaster.

”It was probably close to what you now see on prime-time television shows like ‘NYPD Blue.’ ”

Before the Loft ventured into the locally uncharted waters of full nudity, Feinman said, Tucsonans who wished to view such material were forced to patronize various adult novelty/bookstores that rented 8mm films for home viewing.

”In most of those movies in 8mm, the actors still kept their socks on and wore those Lone Ranger masks,” said Feinman.

In 1969, however, Art Theater Guild, a national chain that owned the Loft and many other theaters across the country, decided the time was ripe for something more explicit.

”The movies that we (then) showed didn’t leave anything to the imagination in the form of nudity,” recalled Feinman. ”They were poorly made, made by unknowns, some without sound but with voices added on a soundtrack later.”

Profits from such showings were substantial.

”They were big money-makers for us and they were big money-makers for the distributors,” Feinman said.

Not everybody was thrilled, however. In 1969, city fathers went to court in an attempt to get one of its films banned as obscene.

The movie, ”Starlet,” is described by Feinman as ”your run-of-the-mill, average piece of garbage, not any sexier or better made than any of the others.”

Art Theater Guild hired a young lawyer, Michael J. Brown (now Superior Court presiding judge), who defended the case before Judge Richard O. Roylston.

The judge decided he was getting such diverse opinions about just how nasty the film was – or was not – that the only way to render a plausible decision was to view it personally.

He did so, prompting much media attention.

His decision: Though the film was ”distasteful,” it didn’t qualify as ”obscene” under U.S. Supreme Court guidelines.

Feinman and the theater owners were ecstatic – not because of the decision, necessarily, but because the publicity generated by the trial and by Roylston’s denouncement caused immense interest in the film. During the trial, customers lined outside the theater an hour before opening time.

”As I recall, we must have played this movie for three or four months, two or three times a night, seven nights a week, standing room only, lines around the block,” said Feinman, smiling at the memory.

That reminiscence prompted another – one of a low point in the theater’s fortunes of the time.

Most films that came in were run for at least a week, no matter how bad they turned out to be. However, one was deemed so bad that the Loft ”kicked it back” to the distributor after only two or three days.

Four months later, however, they were literally pleading with the distributor to allow them to show it, Feinman said.

Adverse national publicity had prompted a ”run” on the film, similar to the local reaction to ”Starlet.”

The film: ”Deep Throat.”

Needless to say, the Loft missed out on a sizable hunk of revenue, as the distributor relished his revenge and declined to allow its showing again here.

Despite the XXX-rating of movies, which the Loft touted to full effectiveness, most films usually didn’t show sexual acts, but merely suggested it with sound and strategically arranged camera angles.

The Loft attracted a varied clientele, said the former manager.

”We had everything – college kids, the frat boys, couples, white-collar single people, male and female – and we had the ‘dirty old men in raincoats,’ ” he said.

”Some of them, you could tell that their priority was to get from the lit box office to the darkness of the theater as soon as possible. We had exits that didn’t require you to return up through the lit box office, and those were frequently used at the end of the film.”

By 1971, competition from smaller theaters that cut expenses by using 16-mm projectors and folding chairs, and the growing popularity of a medium that would bring dramatic change – home videocassettes – had eroded the profit margin at the Loft, and the owners of the theater decided it was time for yet another change.

One facet – an effort to distance the theater from its reputation – was a new name, to the New Loft.

After trying several tacks to attract a new clientele – including showing of the Beatles ”Yellow Submarine” and a series of seven Charlie Chaplin films that had been banned from U.S. showing for two decades as a result of the McCarthy hearings – the New Loft eventually drifted back to showing European art films once again.

This continued for some years, with lackluster business, when it finally was shut down.

The building was acquired by UA, and was used briefly in 1991 for classes while the UA’s new fine arts complex was being built.

Now, apparently, the need to find a place to park one’s vehicle outweighs the need to find a place to pique one’s libido, and the Loft that was is no more.


Robert Feinman, who as a college student managed the Loft from 1969 to 1971, looks over the demolished theater at 504 N. Fremont Ave.


The building housed University of Arizona classes in 1991.

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