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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Looking back at the history of the Loft Cinema

Leigh D.C. Spencer

(Top) Courtesy Charles Brown, 1972 (Bottom) Courtesy Leigh D.C. Spencer, 2014

The Loft Cinema has undergone many changes from 1972 to the present. It is now home to many different film series, international series, guest speakers and the “Journalism on film” partnership with the UA School of Journalism.

Having served as a cultural hub for years, The Loft Cinema has gone through many transformations since its early days in Tucson.

The original Loft Cinema was located near the UA at the corner of East Sixth Street and North Fremont Avenue.  According to The Loft’s website, the building once housed a Mormon temple and a very different type of film: pornography. 

The Arizona Historical Society’s records show that the Playbox Theatre Company moved into the space in 1959. The community theatre mounted its first production, “The Silver Whistle,” there in 1960.

Playbox moved to a different location in 1963  and was replaced by The Loft art film theater. The art house had 170 seats that were rarely filled, causing the Art Theater Guild, the owners, to change the focus to adult movies in 1969.

In the early 1970s, a future cult classic titled “Deep Throat” came to The Loft, but had yet to gain popularity. After running for less than a week, the movie was pulled from the theater, marking the end for The Loft as an adult theater, according to an Arizona Daily Star article. 

Under new management in 1972, The Loft Cinema became an art house again, becoming a home for independent and foreign films. 

RELATED:  The absolute pleasure of performing ‘Rocky Horror’ at The Loft

Manager Joseph Esposito owned The Loft since 1974 and moved the theater to its current location at 3233 E. Speedway in 1991.

The old location was flattened in 1997 and is now part of the Fremont parking garage on campus. 

One of the most pivotal points of The Loft’s history came in 2002 when the Tucson Cinema Foundation bought the theater and turned it into a nonprofit. It only took a few years for the newly-branded oddity theater to become a favorite for Tucsonans, winning its first “Best of Tucson” award in the Tucson Weekly in 2003. It has won the award consistently since becoming a nonprofit. 

The Loft is now a go-to for independent and foreign films, special screenings, film festivals, sing-a-longs and guest speakers. The theater is communitydriven, with over 3,000 memberships supporting the cinema. 

With such success in recent years, The Loft plans to continue moving ahead in updating the theater and bringing in more unique audience members. 

In an email interview, Executive Director Peggy Johnson commented on the theater’s contributions to the Tucson community and its immediate plans.

“The Loft has a major role in the artistic profile of our community,” she said. “In addition to having an independent, nonprofit art house providing access to new foreign and American independent films,  The Loft works with about 150 other community groups on collaborations that [provide] connections and [make] the community tighter.”

RELATEDUA student filmmakers screen original documentaries at Loft Cinema event

The Loft continued to expand, and purchased an auto shop next door in 2012, which is now screen three. They also crowdfunded additional digital technology to their other two screens.

A major focus in the last two years has been the Loft Solar Cinema. They unveiled the cinema on wheels in July 2016. The van is fitted with solar panels and batteries, powering a 20-inch screen, and gives the theater the opportunity to take their shows anywhere. 

From a rocky start rife with change, to a successful present and an exciting future, The Loft is a unique powerhouse of entertainment in the Tucson community.

The next special event at The Loft is the Sundance Film Festival 2016 Short Film Tour,  which will feature eight short films selected in the last Sundance Festival. The event takes place Jan. 19 at 7:30 p.m. for regular admission prices.

For more information on The Loft, or to see movie times and ticket prices, visit their website

Follow Brianna Darling on Twitter.

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