The historic California Theatre, a landmark-turned-eyesore on Fourth Avenue north of Broadway, has been sold.
The former owner, California Theatre Investment Group LLC, went into bankruptcy, and the property was sold at auction March 13. Windmill Investment Advisors Inc. of Los Angeles, a creditor of the former owner, purchased it to satisfy part of the $12 million it was owed, according to David Brody, the La Jolla attorney who represented the creditor.
According to the San Diego County recorder’s office, Windmill Investment Advisors, the sole bidder, acquired the theater for $6 million.
The building includes offices and storefronts directly above the marquee. It was shuttered more than a decade ago and several proposals have been made to restore it to its former Spanish colonial revival luster, but none came to fruition.
A lack of funding was the chief problem, said Bruce Coons, director of the Save Our Heritage Organisation.
Opened in 1927 as the largest theater in the city, it was referred to as a “movie cathedral.” It regularly showed movies through the late 1970s, but subsequently closed and reopened under a succession of owners until it closed permanently about 1990. Centre City Development Corp., the city’s redevelopment arm, acquired and sold it in the mid-1980s for less than $300,000, Coons said.
It has been designated a historical site by the city, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be razed. It just means that anyone wanting to do so would have to make a case that it’s not feasible to restore the building, Coons said.
“That would be pretty tough especially with the example of the Balboa Theatre,” he added.
The circa 1924 Balboa, also located on Fourth Avenue next to Horton Plaza, and which belongs to the city, underwent a $26.5 million renovation funded by tax dollars before reopening in January.
Coons said he expects that the tab to renovate the California Theatre would be the same or more than the Balboa.
“The last time I was in it was six years ago and it was really clean inside,” Coons said. “But the roof is leaking, I’ve been told, and there is a lot of damage that has been caused by that.”
Seating for the California Theatre, where homeless people are often seen hanging out under the marquee now, was 2,200. It was built of reinforced concrete and contains hollow clay tiles used in place of bricks that are not “earthquake friendly” and would have to be retrofitted, Coons said.
If it was restored, however, Coons is convinced that the California Theatre could once again be a popular single-screen venue for first-run, major films.
“The restaurants could be opened up and people could have a truly elegant evening at a real movie palace,” he added.