From: Dallas, TX
Registered: Feb 2003
posted May 29, 2005 10:08 PM
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
Screen dreams live again
City votes to seize historic theater as part of $30 million project
Patrick Hoge, Chronicle Staff Writer
Saturday, May 21, 2005
With its premiere in 1932, the opulent Alameda Theater joined the ranks of the Bay Area's great movie palaces. It was a grand Art Deco attraction featuring sculptured wall reliefs, elaborate light fixtures, intricate metalwork and gilt-framed mirrors -- and one of the largest screens in the region.
"It was definitely a huge event when it opened,'' said Sara Lardinois of the Architectural Resources Group of San Francisco, which compiled a history of the building. Even Gov. James Rolph attended, she said.
But in 1979, the screen went dark as a result of declining attendance, and since then, its cavernous hall has housed a roller rink and gymnastics and teenage dance clubs, and it almost became a chain pizza restaurant for kids.
This week, the city of Alameda moved to forcibly take ownership of the Alameda Theater to make it the centerpiece of a more than $30 million redevelopment project that would include a seven-screen cinema and a six-level garage.
The hope is that the dilapidated Alameda Theater could again compare with other creations of architect Timothy Pfleuger, which include San Francisco's Castro Theater and Oakland's Paramount Theater.
Alameda's City Council voted 5-0 on Tuesday to acquire the 33,000-square- foot concrete and steel-frame structure on Central Avenue near Park Street through eminent domain after building owner John Cocores of Oakland rejected an offer of $1.5 million for the building, which includes four street-level commercial spaces used by small businesses that will have to relocate.
The council also approved a management deal with Kyle Conner of Santa Rosa, whose firm, Alameda Entertainment Associates L.P., will invest nearly $9 million on the old and new theaters, which will be connected and use the Alameda's lobby as an entrance. Conner, a theater remodel expert who has not developed a similar project previously, could not be reached for comment.
City officials, who plan to invest $22.7 million of public money, say restoration of the theater is the capstone of the city's downtown revitalization efforts and a top priority with citizens in the city, which has no large first-run cinemas.
The city would retain ownership of the theater and lease it to Conner, as well as the land under the new cinemas, which Conner's firm will own.
Cocores, who bought the defunct theater in 1989 for $835,000, insists that the building is worth about $3.7 million, the figure put forward a year ago by an appraiser who was hired by Cocores and the city.
"The law states: Pay the owner fair market value," Cocores said Thursday. "They're (city officials) trying to take the property away for peanuts.''
Dorene Soto, manager of the city's business development division, countered that the first appraisal was flawed because it contemplated other possible uses for the building than a theater, which from the city's perspective is not an option.
As the dispute heads for court, Cocores' four commercial tenants wonder what the future holds for them. All have been told by the city, which will pay relocation assistance, to prepare to leave by Aug. 15.
"We feel bad for the landlord,'' said Van Von Borcke, one of three women who run the Hair Shaper salon. Cocores did not raise the shop's rent in 15 years, she said.
Ha Nguyen bought We Are Nails & More Store in April and sank $20,000 into the business because she thought it unlikely the theater restoration would happen quickly.
"I feel really bad,'' said Nguyen, who had a month-to-month lease. "Everything (in the salon) is new.''
Construction is expected to last 14 to 16 months, according to city reports. The theater, which needs seismic retrofitting, has been stripped of its seating and allowed to deteriorate, with light fixtures broken, curtains torn, walls chipped and holes in the ceilings.
The city plans to spend $9.5 million fixing it up, with Conner's company throwing in about $1 million to install seating, bathrooms and other facilities. The city has identified about $900,000 in restoration work that will not be covered, including repairing the auditorium chandelier and ceiling and properly repainting the balcony underside.
Ironically, in the mid-1970s, then-owner Robert Lippert Sr. offered to give the building to the city, and his son later offered it to the Alameda Unified School District, but both agencies declined, according to a history of the property compiled for the city by the Architectural Resources Group of San Francisco.
From 1980 to 1983, it was leased by Yankee Doodle Roller Rink Co., which installed a new floor and buffer walls around the edge. In 1983, owner Robert Lippert Jr., who inherited the theater from his father, proposed converting it into a Chuck E. Cheese pizza parlor.
Allen Michaan, the crusading restorer of Bay Area movie theaters and owner of Oakland's Grand Lake Theater, led a campaign to save the Alameda and later tried to piece together a deal to reopen it. Michaan was unable to get financing from the city or a bank, however, and he gave up in the late 1990s.
Shortly afterward, downtown business leaders surveyed citizens and learned that their top desire was to restore the Alameda Theater, said Rob Ratto, executive director of the Park Street Business Association.
In 2003, the city issued bonds through a reorganized redevelopment program, and a major project appeared feasible.
Ratto said he was very happy that the City Council was moving forward with its plans.
"We know it's going to bring thousands and thousands of people down every week from on the island and off island,'' he said. "Also, I used to watch movies there as kid.''
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