An evaluation of Menlo Park's Park Theater, conducted by a San Francisco firm of architects, planners and conservators, concludes that the Theater "…appears to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (and by default the California Register of Historical Resources) as a theater that embodies the national trend of small neighborhood theater in modern styles".
The report written by the San Francisco firm of Architectural Resources Group (ARG), goes on to state, "…In addition, with the exception of the concessions stand and the Park sign, the building is remarkably intact and retains sufficient integrity to be eligible for the NRHP" [National Register of Historic Places].
The above findings are significant for the future survival of the Park Theater given the Theater owner wishes to make irreversible and significant changes to the building in the course of converting it to office and retail use. The ARG's conclusions highlight the need for the owner and the City to proceed with great care and caution when considering approval of any significant changes to the Park Theater. The California Environmental Quality Act requires preservation of historic buildings that can only be overridden in rare circumstances, and for the City to act in the public interest.
The Park Theater was built to screen movies in 1947. This was an economically viable use then, as it was in 2002 when the owner chose to vacate his tenant, Landmark Theaters. Film screening continues to be an economically viable use with Landmark and various prestigious film festivals lamenting this closing of the Park Theater.
The City will now require an expanded evaluation of the historical significance of the Park Theater conducted by a firm with deep knowledge and experience with historic theaters. This evaluation will be part of a focused Environmental Impact Review, required under California Environmental Quality Act for buildings presumed to be an historic resource.
The ARG findings bolster what local Theater supporters and preservationists have asserted for years - the Park Theater is an important, unique and cherished cultural venue and community resource protected by law from demolition or significant alteration.
This report was originally commissioned by owner, Howard Crittenden, in 2004, but became public only recently as part of the owner's application to the City of Menlo Park for approval to convert the Theater to offices.
The report provides context for the Park Theater in our community:
"After World War II, throughout the United States, the downtown movie palaces continued to decline and were replaced by small town and neighborhood movie houses such as the Park Theater in the City of Menlo Park. The size and styles of new theaters departed from the massive opulence and fantastic designs of the 1920's and were replaced by small neighborhood theaters in simpler modern styles such as Art Deco, Art Moderne, and Streamline Moderne. The Park Theater appears to be eligible for the NRHP at the local level under Criterion C for its embodiment of a new type of building, a 1940's neighborhood theater. Characteristic of neighborhood theaters, the Park Theater is small (seats about 700) and combines the Art Deco and Art Moderne styles frequently used for theaters of the period. Park Theater is one of only two small neighborhood theaters in Menlo Park. The other, The Guild, has been substantially altered."
To Get a Copy of the Report:
Architectural Resources Group's entire, reader-friendly report is on file with the City of Menlo Park's Planning Department. It provides an overview of the history of film theaters and the analysis of the Park Theater specifically. Included is 24-pages of photographs, mostly of the Park Theaters historic features.