Built in 1927 and historically designated in 1990, the California Theatre on Fourth Avenue has been owned by Sloan Capital since 2008. Sloan recently won non-historic designation for the attached Caliente sign but still has some hoops to jump through in order to demolish the old theater. Last week, Sloan started that ball rolling by starting a petition to garner community support for their proposed project, “The Overture.”
On July 14, a happy hour kicking off Sloan’s campaign will be held at The Local Eatery and Drinking Hole at 1065 Fourth Avenue.
Jimmy Langley, owner of The Local, spoke with me on July 8. “I’m a huge supporter of all things historic, but when it comes down to owning a business here and being here every day, it’s tough to watch. I have to carry my own daughter in my arms coming to my own business.
"Historic is when you care because it matters and it effects you on a daily basis. What I see is criminal activity. The police have put a parked car out on the street, but it doesn’t change anything. It’s like today, I was talking to people about why they should come to C Street and a guy comes in with his ass hanging out asking for a free beer. This is the cost of keeping historical integrity.”
Cyrus Sanandaji, principal with the ownership of the theater, said that he hopes to rally as much support as possible to show mayor Kevin Faulconer and councilmember Todd Gloria that change needs to happen on C Street. Sanandaji said nearby residents and businesses are mostly supportive of his project, often pointing to the current crime and homeless problem as reasons for their support.
As far as the theater's current condition, Sanandaji said, “The building was acquired in its current condition. When Sloan took ownership in 2008, the theater and the building had been shuttered for over 18 years and the building had already severely deteriorated, to the point that its structural integrity has become compromised beyond repair. Since its designation as a local historical resource in 1990, no updates have been made to the building.”
A complete restoration, estimated at $40.8 million, would not be feasible, said Sanandaji. According to Sanandaji, the building is unsafe and dangerous; he cited a 2011 report to the San Diego city attorney that said as much, with no question that a collapse is inevitable and the building should be demolished.
Besides safety and financial matters, Sanandaji said his project would be the catalyst for revitalizing the area. “Once investors see that the Overture is making this area of downtown a place to live, work, and play, they won’t be afraid of investing in the area as they are now.”
What’s next after the petition? “We are currently in the process of applying for a site-development permit with the city,” says Sanandaji. “As part of the process, we are tentatively expecting to be before the planning commission in October and before the city council in November.”
Daniel Soderberg is with the Neighborhood Historic Preservation Coalition, a group of 15 countywide preservation organizations and historical societies. Soderberg said on July 8, “In 2008, the California Theatre was probably in better shape than the Balboa Theatre had been at the time it got restored. It can certainly be saved, it just takes someone who loves San Diego more than the almighty buck. But in reality, a developer can do both. Make his buck and save our heritage at the same time. Being heroic doesn't mean sacrificing profit.”
As far as his view on the developer’s campaign, Soderberg said, “Their approach is more devious than the proverbial used-car salesman. Of course they can appeal to the sense of outrage people have about that eyesore that exists on C Street. But it’s an eyesore of their own making through demolition by neglect....
“Of course a slick presentation and glittery promises will garner signatures from people who don't know the whole story — which is all about out-of-town developers who don't give a damn about San Diego’s history or its culture. They will be here to make their buck, then be gone. It amounts to cultural looting."
Mayor Faulconer’s office didn’t get back to me and Gloria’s office declined to comment due to possibly having to vote on the issue in the future.
Sanandaji and other project team members will be attending the July 14 happy hour at The Local between 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. The first hundred people through the door will get a free beer.