River Hills Movie Theater
It's rather sad that I was unable to find one single picture of this place anywhere online. You would think that for as long as it was a staple of the Des Moines skyline that there would be a record of it somewhere on the web. Had I been thinking I would have taken a picture or two of it before it was demolished. I didn't though. So you'll just have to settle for this photo of the Des Moines skyline while I describe for you the magnificence that was the River Hills.
Before the days of megaplexes (megaplexi?) in every city had that one theater that was the crown jewel of theaters in the city. The largest one in the city. Maybe I'm speaking in generalities because I've known Des Moines for so long, but that's how it was for us. There were theaters all across the city like Fleur Four, The Varsity and the Sierra 3 just to mention a few. But you knew for sure that any movie that was well expected to be a major blockbuster would play at only one place in the city and that was The River Hills.
The huge theater sat just at the edge of the north side of downtown. It was right off the Des Moines river so if you were traveling eastbound on 235 you could catch the marquee of the latest movie to be gracing the screen. As big as it was inside it wasn't suited to accommodate crowds in line for tickets. Therefore, it was very common to see a line wrapped around the building to catch the latest "Star Wars", "Superman" or even "Indiana Jones" flick to hit our city. But you would be more than happy to be one of the lucky folks waiting in line to catch the hottest film out.
The River Hills had stadium seating before it was even popular. When you walked into the theater you were at the top with the rows and rows and rows of chairs descending downward leading to the screen. It was a rather intimidating sight for a young kid. It seemed like the there were chairs for days. However, the good thing is they were the most comfortable in the city. And more importantly, because of the way they were situated in that faux-stadium design you never had anyone blocking your view.
Going to a movie at the River Hills was an event. It wasn't just a regular movie. I would look forward to those move nights with the fam more than anything else. Because it meant that we would be able to enjoy a movie in style with the surround sound (before we even knew what "surround sound" was), plush seating so comfortable it would almost put you to sleep and the satisfaction of knowing that we would be among the first first to see the latest release.
I must also add that it was actually two theaters in one. There left side was the one that played the major hits. The right side played the lesser knowns that still deserved major billing. However, in all the years that it was here, I don't ever remember once going over to that right side. It was like the lonely adopted stepbrother as the left side dominated in attendance night in and night out.
I don't know about anyone else but it was rather sad news for me when they announced they would be tearing down the theater to make way for what is now Wells Fargo arena. It had been a landmark in the city for years and years. It held tons of memories for me like seeing "Return of the Jedi" 5 times there. It was very surreal when I went there to see "The Blair Witch Project" knowing that it would be the last movie I would ever see in that storied building. They had a good run though. Plus, no matter how long and how imposing the new Wells Fargo Center sits in its spot, that location will always be known to me as the home of The River Hills.