A plan to replace the dilapidated California Theatre building in downtown San Diego received a boost Thursday when it received unanimous support from the city’s Planning Commission.
The fenced-off building on C Street between Third and Fourth avenues has long been a civic eyesore, with the exception of a large, historic mural touting the Agua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana.
It would be replaced by a mixed-use development including a 40-story office tower, 282 residential units, retail space and parking.
A replica of the mural and a depiction of the historic theatre building will be displayed, according to the developers.
“We’ve had to put a fence around that building because pieces of it are falling off into the street, the marquis had to be taken down because it was starting to sag into the street, almost a quarter of the windows are broken from pigeons trying to break out or vandals trying to break in, and the rains we’ve had this winter I’m sure have made the interior a wonderful place to be,” said Gary Smith of the San Diego Downtown Residents Group.
K. Cyrus Sanandaji of San Francisco-based developer Presidio Bay Ventures said the new building will generate round-the-clock activity that will “spark” the revitalization of C Street, the downtown roadway that the trolley runs along.
Bruce Coons, of the Save Our Heritage Organisation preservationist group, argued that the 90-year-old structure is as important historically as buildings in Balboa Park.
The 2,200-seat theater opened in 1927 as a vaudeville stage before it became a movie house, according to city documents. After 1976, it remained open for special performances, but architectural surveys that took place in 1990 deemed the building vulnerable to earthquakes.
The building was subsequently closed to the public and has sat unused ever since.
Losing the California Theatre would “be a major loss for downtown” because there is no commitment toward an accurate reproduction of the building, Coons said.
After making some tweaks to the proposed project, the commissioners unanimously recommended approval to the City Council, which has the final say.
—City News Service