A Menlo Park landmark for more than 50 years, the now-abandoned Park Theatre may house offices or retail businesses rather than independent and foreign films.
The theater’s owner, Atherton resident Howard Crittenden, has submitted plans to convert the former single-screen theater on El Camino Real, between Oak Grove and Valparaiso avenues, to office or retail space.
“Times change, and a theater just isn’t an economically viable use,” said Mr. Crittenden. “I’m running out of options here.”
Mr. Crittenden closed the theater in August 2002. He said the theater’s tenant, Landmark Theaters, could not afford to pay market-level rent.
The theater has remained vacant since the closure, as Mr. Crittenden’s efforts to find new tenants and sell the property have been unsuccessful.
After the closure, Mr. Crittenden angered some people in the community by taking down the theater’s neon sign, but he said under the new plans, the sign would return to the theater.
The front of the theater, which faces El Camino Real, would continue to resemble a theater, as the main entrance would stay intact, said architect Ken Hayes of the Redwood City-based Hayes Group.
“We plan on completely restoring the El Camino side of the building to create a symbol of the past,” Mr. Hayes said.
The square footage of the structure would stay largely the same, but the interior of the building would be gutted to make way for office or retail space, depending on what interest the property sparks among potential tenants, Mr. Crittenden said.
Mr. Hayes said that any proposal to renovate the structure would likely be subject to a full environmental impact report (EIR), because under the California Environmental Quality Act, a historical assessment of potentially significant structures must be conducted before they are changed or demolished.
If an EIR is necessary, the City Council will have the final say on the proposal.
Mr. Crittenden said he expects opposition to any plans to change the building, and at least one resident is already living up to those expectations.
Winter Dellenbach, a Palo Alto activist and member of the preservation group Save the Park Theatre, said the building should stay a theater.
“If [Mr. Crittenden wants to get a tenant in there, he should pick up the phone and call Landmark Theaters,” said Ms. Dellenbach.
She said Mr. Crittenden has neglected to maintain the building so the community will be more likely to support plans to revamp the site.
“It’s basically been demolition by neglect,” she said. “And just looking at these incredibly preliminary plans, it’s clear everything that makes the theater a theater will be demolished.”