Plan for offices, retail at old Varsity Theatre move ahead

Historic Resources Board approves 'concept' for University Avenue building

The Varsity Theatre in downtown Palo Alto represents, in many ways, the tension between the city's past and its future.

The building's arches, columns, high ceilings and sprawling friezes allude to its 1927 origin as a concert venue and, later, a movie theater. After major renovations, the building reopened in 1995 as a Borders bookstore, disappointing the thousands of residents who petitioned to preserve the theater.

With Borders shuttering all of its stores late last month, the iconic building between Waverley and Cowper streets is once again poised for change -- and not everyone is happy.

On Wednesday morning (Oct. 5), the city's Historic Resources Board voted to approve, in concept, a proposal by property owner Charles "Chop" Keenan to turn the building at 456 University Ave. into a mix of office and retail space. The proposal, which the board approved 5-1 with Scott Smithwick dissenting and Michael Makinen absent, calls for office spaces on the second floor and on a portion of the ground floor, with retail occupying the remainder of the ground floor.

The proposal presented to the board seeks to preserve the historical aspects of the old building. The exterior, which includes a vast courtyard, would be largely untouched, save for a new set of doors leading into the office area on the south side of the building. The friezes and columns would remain in place and there would be a distance between these features and new additions proposed by the project architect, Ken Hayes. The large staircase leading from the center of the ground floor to the second floor would be eliminated and a new one would be installed in a less prominent location.

The proposed design also includes extensive use of glass, including a glass covering on the second floor that allows views of the ground floor from above; glass railings around the covering; and glass partitions in the office area that would preserve views of the building's historic features.

Keenan, a prominent local developer whose other downtown buildings include the Aquarius Theater and Miyake Restaurant, said Wednesday that he has not yet lined up any tenants for either the retail or the office component of 456 University Ave.

"We don't know who the next tenant is going to be as we sit here today," Keenan told the board. "We're trying to anticipate a dual use."

The goal of Wednesday's meeting wasn't to propose a concrete design but to "establish rules" for what is and isn't acceptable at the prominent site, Hayes said. He and project consultant Bruce Judd, a historic architect, also stressed that the changes on the table could be undone should a theater proposal ultimately become viable.

"The thrust of everything being done as part of this project is to maintain the sense and feeling of what the space is like and to not do damage where you can't turn the theater in 10 years if you wanted to," Judd said.

Judd quickly added that turning the building into a theater "may be farfetched in today's economy" but said everything proposed in the plan "can easily be removed."

The building's future became a hot topic in the community as soon as Borders announced its liquidation in July (the Palo Alto store closed its doors for good last month). A group of theater proponents have been lobbying for the building to be reverted to a concert venue.

Mark Weiss, a concert promoter who is leading the grassroots effort to bring back the Varsity Theatre, addressed the board Wednesday and accused Keenan of "fast-tracking an adverse agenda." He urged the board and the council to have a "thorough community-wide discussion" about community values.

"What are our values beyond just cash flow?" Weiss asked.

Winter Dellenbach, a city resident who supported the citizen drive to preserve the Varsity Theatre in the mid-1990s, argued to the board that the proposed changes to the historic building are significant enough to warrant a full environmental review.

"There is no more significant -- there may be some as significant -- but there is no more significant historic resource in Palo Alto than this building," Dellenbach said. "The most people who ever signed a petition to save a historic building, by far, signed a petition to save the Varsity Theatre.

"Your mission is our historical heritage, not the profits of a particular developer," she later added.

City officials have been open to the possibility of a restored Varsity Theatre and have reached out to various experts in the concert industry, according to a recent report from Thomas Fehrenbach, the city's economic development manager. But because the city doesn't own the building and the uses proposed by Keenan conform to existing zoning, officials have only a limited ability to influence the building's future.

City officials have also expressed skepticism about the financial viability of a potential new theater. Fehrenbach wrote in an August report that the "economic viability of a movie or performing arts theater for that site may encounter significant obstacles, especially in light of the constraints and costs of such a retrofit."

Historic Resources Board member David Bower responded to Weiss' entreaty Wednesday by advising him to rent the space.

"That's the way we do it here in America -- we own property and we rent and buy it," Bower said. "What our job is is to preserve the building and the architectural features of the building."

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Posted by Cynthia
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm

No more marginal, chain-restaurants please!! No more frozen yogurt shops. Please, City Council, help us restore Palo Alto into a unique shopping and entertainment experience. Too many cheap eateries and not enough destination spots.

Couldn't Chop Keenan be convinved to set his greed aside and do something GOOD for thsi town that he has profited so much from?

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Posted by Tony
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 6, 2011 at 5:51 am

I'd like to see a Red Lobster restaurant move downtown. I just love their sea food!

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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 8:09 am

I would say one, keep arguing for, asking for, speaking up about advocating something cultural and community-focused -- and a conforming historic use -- for 456 University Avenue, the historic and beloved Varsity Theatre -- until the day that the next generation of 100 carpet-bagging tech geeks actually over-pay their delusional and venture-backed way in, and then, two, continue articulating your disappointment with the narrow-mindedness and cowardice of leadership here-- on commission, board and council levels -- such that it impacts the 2012 Council election, unseating for example the weakest two pro-developer incumbents and we start to have a swing back towards actual representation -- one voter, one vote, not one-million-dollars, one vote, one billion dollars, one thousand votes -- and some more residentialists on council.

That Bower for example would resort to demagoguery and jingoism rather than acknowledge our concerns, is pretty typical of the official debate -- if that's not to kind a word -- so far. Also, Bernstein cut off Winter Dellenbach after three minutes, rather than the typical five -- how is that Democratic? There were a total of four speakers pro-culture or conforming use: she, I, Tim Gray and Herb Burock. They don't have twenty minutes to hear the people out, they only have twelve? (The developer had about an hour, including staff time).

That being said I am going to try to focus on the benefits of the conforming use -- keep the theatre as a theatre -- and not bash or complain about the lack of leadership. I've heard more often, however, "we are afraid of being sued" and "property rights is more important that the First Amendment and expression and the arts" -- which sounds more like Tsarist Russia than Sam Adams and The U.S., than encouragement from our so-called leaders.

On the flip-side and sunny side, Nancy Shepherd introduced me to Chop Keenan; I offered to turn my research over to him if that will help him see the light. We actually shared a moment, regarding our favorite tribe of Indians, so who knows. It definitely does not work, history has shown, to try to alienate him. Also, I met Chip Conley of Joie De Vivre, touring Our Fair City with people from Ideo and he said, off the cuff, that the Varsity Theatre would help his new hotel here, at Casa Olga site, on Hamilton, more than would more office space.

And I took it as a good omen that blink 182, who I had at Cubberley for "Earth Day Rock and Bike -- $6 all ages, two for one if you ride your bike " in April, 1999, were at Shoreline Wednesday. I think with a little luck we will see some rock stars show for this. People I've tried to reach so far include Matt Nathanson, Josh Ritter, Brett Dennen and Cake, Chris Isaak. They all have ties to Palo Alto.
I think Gen did a good job covering above, thanks. I'm going to send my actual speech, it was written and rehearsed, to Council as part of the official record, or you can check it at Media Center site, I think.
I am hopeful that Kohler and Bunnenberg will continue to be assertive here, on behalf of the people. They pointed out that this is being rushed through.

I at first, until Gen set me straight, thought Mr. Bower was quoting his favorite Neil Diamond song not challenging my loyalty or whatever. In reply I will reference Thoreau on Civil Disobedience, and his statements about keeping up the standards of the Founding Fathers, and quote Sam Adams: There is nothing more at this meeting to further our country!!!

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Posted by Walter Underwood
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Oct 6, 2011 at 8:37 am

Walter Underwood is a registered user.

That interior looks terrible. The glass and steel really clashes with the column capitals and friezes.

Maybe it counts as "preservation", but it is graceless, maybe even ugly.

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Posted by Jonathan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

Mark, do you have a web site or at least Twitter feed for coordinating pro-Varsity efforts?

(I am a Facebook refusenik, so hope there's an online presence elsewhere.)

Behavior of this board seems to have been horrible, and even worse than expected.

And as I posted earlier on a thread regarding the Wednesday meeting:

"How are people supposed to attend a meeting of such importance, with short notice and at a time when they must be at work?

Not blaming you, Mark; blaming the city for potentially ramming the further destruction of the Varsity through without adequate public awareness and discussion.

Frankly, the City of Palo Alto appears to be corrupt, and the response to developers' requests to leap, in recent years, has merely been "how high?" So-called planning in this town consists of laundering developers' wishes via a bevy of commissions and boards which, conveniently, are less than politically accountable."

One wonders, meanwhile, if the people who regularly pop up on the site championing landlords' private property rights (and who, presumably, would like to do away with zoning and planning) and would be happy to see a pig farm built on their libertarian doorsteps actually represent Palo Altan sentiment.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:23 am

So, let me get this straight. You want the city officials to step in and prevent a private land owner from remodeling his personal property and from making money?

Huh, I thought all of you didn't like the Palo Alto Process. I think I'm figuring it out though. You don't like the Palo Alto Process when it keeps you from building a McMansion on your small property, but you like it when it keeps a viable business opportunity out of downtown. It's the Palo Alto Process when it isn't going the way you want it to, which ever way that happens to be at the moment.

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Posted by good
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:28 am

Long live the palo alto worm's way!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Posted by Stop the Developers
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:30 am

"Frankly, the City of Palo Alto appears to be corrupt, and the response to developers' requests to leap, in recent years, has merely been "how high?" So-called planning in this town consists of laundering developers' wishes via a bevy of commissions and boards which, conveniently, are less than politically accountable." 'Well said Jonathan'.

Keenan has perched high and mighty over Palo Alto for a very long time. He grew up here, but doesn't live here. He is the master of manipulation and intimidation, and yes he and the 4 other downtown developers own City Hall.

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:31 am

Does the only tone of these Palo Alto online discussion absolutely have to be one of contempt, derision, condescension and never-ending bickering.

It would be great if every post was required to have some sort of element of compromise in order to promote ending up in a place where people could at least see what the compromise position would look like instead of having each thread escalate and blow up and then get closed to public discussion and then closed all the way.

America is in a place right now where we have to question absolutely everything we are doing the results of it have been so twisted and bent ... we have lost of a lot of our manufacturing and productive power, and the only thing we have left is either poliical or military power ... so why can't we see the way clear to leading the world politically by example, part of that being our skill and grace at resolving conflict, using our technology?

We developed the Internet, can't we use if for more positive than shuffling pornography around at the speed of light?

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Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:34 am

The definition of historical preservation includes preservation of historical uses every bit as much as the preservation of architectural features.

I am concerned about the rapid conversion of public spaces to private spaces. Are we setting up patterns that will lead to Palo Alto becoming a gated community in the future?

Let's take a stand for preserving historical uses. We already preserve areas for housing, retail, office, etc. So why not preserve the uses within the "commercial" designation?

I know the owners offer that the use does not support the investment, however, if buyers knew they would have to honor the historical preservation of the property, speculative prices that anticipate conversion would not have been paid, and then there would be an economic equilibrium that would honor historical uses.

An analogy would be someone buying a single-family home at a price anticipating building a multi-story office building, and then claiming that keeping the home as a residence does not make economic sense.

Perhaps an entity like the Steve Jobs estate will purchase the theater and end the historical demolition (conversion of a use is a demolition) that we are observing.


Tim Gray

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:40 am

> Maybe it counts as "preservation", but it is graceless, maybe even ugly.

Not to mention the pubic will never get to see it.

I am fine with the owner figuring out what to do with it, but what is wrong with reasonable constraints from the public - mediated by the City Government?

The problem is the City Government is incompetent and afraid to do that job because they are so under the intimidating power of money.

We would not allow a huge massage parlor or adult theater in the middle of downtown Palo Alto ... and that is a constraint on business, a limitation of private rights ... so why is this use of this bulding deemed acceptable?

Where in our legal code is it written that the absolute minimum, on a par with "lip service to public rights" constraints are acceptable and even ideal?

Turn it into a CIA secret prison where we waterboard suspected terrorists, but keep the neon sign going outside and all should be well.

How ridiculous. This is a crappy and should be unacceptable design - PERIOD.

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Posted by Eddie Mac
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:44 am

As a former resident of Downtown North, it appalling that such a beautiful building with its history and architecture would be turned into a Spanish-style version of those unwelcoming, ugly brick-banking monstrosities built downtown which tell the Palo Altan pedestrian to "keep walking.. do not come here!"

This downtown needs more pedestrian-friendly venues, not less! The welcoming courtyard and calming fountain and Spanish architecture of this building were wonderful welcoming respites on a busy day for many Palo Altans.

Now, alas, we will be asked to "walk on by, do not come in here" with this new money-making scheme of the developer. How happy he must be to take his profits and buy another Porsche or add another ell to his mansion. good for him. Bad for us.

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:45 am

You laissez-faire activists ... what if the owner demanded to be able to open a giant pot-dispensary in the middle of downtown ... would you be so happy to be supporting private property rights. The fact that it is downtown should have some legal significance and social regulatory demands - that is - downtown in some small way belongs to all of Palo Alto, it is our expression of our city as uniquely the place where we all live ... and we should have some input or veto power about what gets done here in a democratic way ... especially since the City Council is made up of people from the class of citizens that just happen to be afraid to end their careers and social connections by displeasing the most wealthy and powerful among us and are unable to discharge their responsibilities competently.

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Posted by good
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:46 am

I liked the old design very much, there is no need to change it,period

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Posted by moi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:58 am

Leave Steve Jobs out of this, please.
Can we just be sad for a while?

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Posted by Jonathan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2011 at 11:18 am

I would respond to Anon. of Crescent Park by noting that unfortunately, the publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly has resisted suggestions that users of this site be asked to create IDs and log in so they would be accountable for their words. Yet, of course, people who write letters to the newspaper are still asked to provide their real names, addresses, and phone numbers. This disconnect is not uncommon and has a lot to do with lowering the tone of discussions; as I noted earlier, it also makes it impossible to tell which commenters truly represent Palo Alto and which ones are right-wing trolls.

It's notable that the (corporate-funded) Tea Party advocates pop up in threads on most every open website now, advocating the continued dismantling of government and privatization of everything possible. Tim Gray hits the nail on the head when he suggests that we are caught up in an ideological battle between those who believe in public spaces and those who do not (in the latter camp, there *is* one Palo Altan I will not name who regularly writes letters attacking libraries and suggesting they're obsolete).

Chop Keenan knew the score regarding the Varsity's being a cherished public space when he bought it, and accepted certain restrictions. Just as Barry Swenson knew the score about the Palo Alto Bowl when he bought it (or the beloved Capitola Theater, when he razed that, to name another example of which I am aware). These individuals are already wealthy and do not need to destroy cherished landmarks, part of the community's fabric, in order to further enrich themselves.

[ As an aside, to those who complain that the closed Park Theater is an eyesore, I'd point out that it's the property owner who closed it, despite it's being a going concern, recently refurbished, and with a tenant who wanted to stay. It was the property owner who had the marquee chopped up secretly before anyone could protest. It was the property owner who created the derelection -- no doubt because getting the government to pay him money in the form of a tax writeoff seemed easier than allowing a business to thrive. ]

It would be a good idea for the Weekly to do an article on the concentration of property ownership, and resulting influence, in Palo Alto. And sure, developers should make a profit, but at what point does a profit on the backs of the community become obscene?

How soon before "Occupy Wall Street" has to become "Occupy University Avenue"?

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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 1:03 pm

In response to Jonathan, whose posts I think are well-argued and perceptive, worthy of his full name even, there is a social media page or group but I'm not on it; I too abstain from that stuff, although I liked the movie!!!

Here is a link to my wordpress blog, "Plastic Alto" -- the title is an Ornette Coleman reference -- and if you type in "varsity" to the search engine internally there are a total of nine article written since July 22 on this topic. I also have a story on this at Patch. (And see Lisen Stromberg's story there as well).
The link also includes the text of my letter to council of Aug. 1, 2011:
Web Link

Also, regarding the HRB, and although I do want to focus on the upside of our values and initiative and not our disappointment with our leadership -- and by the way, at Gunn High School, probably for ten or twenty years, Clay Leo and John Attig taught U.S government as a "we" and not a "they" -- I just re-watched my address to HRB on Sept. 7 and Mr. Bower, a local builder who told me his family came here from New Orleans several generations ago, besides whatever he meant by his "This is America" comment yesterday, also did not know who Nathan Oliveira is, if that speaks to his ability to appreciate The Varsity.

I will update my blog with abstracts of the various essays on The Varsity.

I am too tempted to find a link to Tom Waits "What's He Building?"

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Posted by daniel
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm

The old Varsity building is a Palo Alto treasure, perhaps the most unique building in town which reflects the city's history, character and soul more than any other building. We are a nation with a short history, but can you imagine the city of Florence allowing a developer to turn a gorgeous Renaissance building into a tacky retail outlet?

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Posted by FS
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I would not say that the ARB, City Council and other city entities have done a good on the general appearance of downtown to date.
I think of the facade of the Cheesecake Factory as an example of ugly.
What we don't need is more fast food franchises.
I rarely come downtown except to go to my two favorite restaurants and the Sprint store. It's more pleasant shopping Los Altos and Menlo Park.
When I arrived here 53 years ago I was pleasantly surprised by the demeanor of Palo Alto. Change is progress, right??

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Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Web Link

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Posted by Jonathan Angel
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

thanks, Mark (last name herewith supplied) ...

I must say that "this is America" line is one of the most offensive comments I've heard recently, though it wouldn't have been so bad coming out of the mouth of the lady who attracted all the flak from neighbors recently by daring to plant a vegetable garden in her front yard.

(Oy, yes, property values, but doesn't a once-vibrant downtown gone to blazes with offices affect those too?)

I see from a comment on your blog that there's a 375-plus member Facebook group regarding the Varsity (link below). I wish the organizers would change the permissions so it could be viewed by refuseniks.

Web Link

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Posted by Downtown Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 6, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Chop will be quick to point out that he has maintained the Aquarius as a theatre and that ought to be enough. Never mind that the structure is debilitated and in dire need of improvements, which by the way he refuses to do; he'll probably tear it down too and claim it's beyond repair.
Don't look for him to be charitable to the very community that has served as his ATM. If there is not profit in it he won't bother.
I fault our city leaders for caving in. It's not so much that our elected officials are corrupt but rather incompetent.

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Posted by Cele Horn
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Stop with the developer bashing. It is a Business and Palo Alto is becoming harder and harder for any business to make a profit. We have more housing than we need. When public funds are expended to make room for another school on San Antonio Road--State Highway--speed 35 miles an hour and many new residents and houses/condos to come, well need an Infinite Loop in Palo Alto just to transport people from Los Altos past those condos and get to 101.

Remember, businesses produce revenue! They need revenue (the City of Palo Alto calls it taxes. I was quite shocked when a sitting member of the planning commission felt it was criminal "to take 10 acres off the tax rolls and allow the nonprofit JCC/Moldaw to be built.
Houses and families are nice, and I have loved Palo Alto for 51 years but get real!

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 4:38 pm

The bottom line is that the city allowed Mr. Keenan to re-purpose the property for the Borders installation. At which the corporate value of the property changed (assume-ably increased).

There is no reason why the property cannot be reverted to it's original state --- but it is unreasonable to expect Mr. Keenan to sell the property for less than it's worth today under it's current zoning and usage.

So instead of bickering, name calling/labeling, etc. --- if you really want to bring a theater back, then you need to buy the property (or pay the going rate on rent).

In the meantime, broker some sort of time interval with Mr. Keenan so that his remodel plans are put on hold long enough to raise the capital and/or the organization to either buy or rent the building.

Plenty of emotions and energy are being wasted on the finger pointing. And only a few who are actually trying to be productive in engaging the owner within the current parameters of the property's current value.

You may dislike the person and/or the process. But we are here now and it is highly unlikely that any sort of legal maneuvering is going to change the current commercial value of the property and it's zoned use options.

My only caution is making any assumptions on the viability of a "new" theater in downtown PA. Only because the competition is going to be greater in the coming months/years --- the new Bing performing arts facility on the Stanford campus will be opening. And Paly will have a new performing arts (mostly for use by the HS of course) center as well (about 400 capacity). Plus Paly will renovate Haymarket. I believe Gunn will be updating Spangenberg as well.

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Posted by to Cele Horn
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 6, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Offices do not generate sales tax revenue for the city.

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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Offices do not generate sales tax. However the people who work in the offices, who then go out to lunch, shop, etc. do generate taxes.

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Posted by theatres
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 6, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Wow,so many theatres are ready to pop up in near future,but would not we feel that a lot of performing arts are lack of culture element and boring.Just look at the movies they produce, the minute I walked out, the next minute I forgot what was in it,so boring.

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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Mark Weiss,

I have a suggestion for you - why don't you seek funding from the City of Palo Alto to rent out the Varsity theater? The City of Palo Alto has a history of supporting the arts - look at the Children's theater, the public arts program, the rennovation of the art center, the support of all the non-profits. I'm sure if you lay out a convincing arguement, the city council can find funds in the budget to get the Varsity theater rented out to support the arts.

You seem to have a supporter on the council with Nancy Shepard, so once you draft a proposal, she can introduce it at a council meeting.

But one word of caution - you have a lot of passion for this topic, and that's good; but I don't think it helps your cause to denigrate people or groups, for example in your previous post, calling potential renters "100 carpet-bagging tech geeks actually over-pay their delusional and venture-backed way in" or "articulating your disappointment with the narrow-mindedness and cowardice of leadership here-- on commission, board and council levels ".

There have been many "tech geeks" who started their businesses in Palo Alto: Hewlett, Packard, Varian, Shockley, Zuckerberg, Brin, Page, etc. and I think wouldn't classify any of them as "carpet baggers". And people can have differences of opinions and judgements that might be different than your own - but that doesn't make them "narrow minded" or "cowards".

In any case, I look forward to you driving a proposal with Nancy and putting it forward before the whole city council.

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Posted by Former City Staff Member (PW-E)
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 10:32 pm

As a former City Staff member in the Public Works-Engineering Division, I want to note that there were numerous City requirements for the transition from the Varsity Theater usage and the Borders Books usage due to the historical nature of the building. This included the reestablishment of the theater usage if the Borders tenant discontinued the usage of the property. The chairs of the former theater seating were required to be stored to be replace if the above usage was changed.

Don't let the City or the property owner ignore the previous requirements for re-establishment of the prior use of the property without proper City review and approval.

I remember special times spending in the courtyard of the Varsity Theater in the brunch on Sunday's in the 1980's with the harpsicord and other various musical venues performing. This was a wonderful experience and hopefully it can be re-established as it was. Sorry to see the demise of Borders Books, though.

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Posted by to Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 7, 2011 at 7:46 am

Office buildings do not generate sales revenue for the City of Palo Alto, unlike a theatre through ticket sales, concessions and scores of other promotions. As well the theatre goers will be the same folks you refer to who will dine and shop.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2011 at 8:00 am

Although this property is privately owned, there should be a means possible to return some culture to this venue. Palo Alto is losing its identity with the need for residents to recreate outside the town. We are becoming a boring dormitory and many of us don't want or like it.

Look at the building in Midtown which used to be the gas station. It is finished, but there are still for lease signs. That small retail and office space is going to be vacant. If the Varsity is converted to office space, who says there will be someone willing to rent it?

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Posted by cheryl Erber
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm

I fee that the Varsity is a historical theatre in Palo Alto and should continue to be a theatre. Our Council should not be advising Mr. Weiss to "rent the space", basically dismissing him, but should be supporting him, helping bring culture to a town that should be very embarrassed by its lack of cultural offerings in its downtown. Most Palo Altans have to go to Mt. View or Redwood City if they want to experience music and downtown vibrancy together on a regular basis. Why downtown Palo Alto is so music-phobic and devoid of art is a mystery and really, a sad comment on our town.

Can you give more information about how to contact Mr. Weiss and/or support the Varsity as a venue.

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Posted by Well
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm

If borders had the obligation to restore the theater at he end of their lease, was it in writing that that obligation transferred to any entity, if borders ceased to exist? Perhaps the problem is there is no one that is legally obligated to restore the theater except borders and they are done

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Posted by Tasha
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Tasha is a registered user.

The FaceBook group is open to public:

Bring Back the New Varsity in Palo Alto

A group in favor of the fiendishly clever plan to reinstate the New Varsity Theater/Restaurant/Bar back to its prior glory, since Borders is going out of business. Let's turn that old bookstore back into a theater!

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Posted by Tasha
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Tasha is a registered user.

Web Link

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Posted by Jonathan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm


Thanks for trying, but that link you provided redirects those who are not logged onto Facebook to the login page. So alas, that page is not open to the public.

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Posted by SVT
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Former City Staff Member, where is that information? The only info I could find referred to the EIR by Wagstaff & Carey: Web Link
This is reviewed in the minutes: Web Link

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Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 8, 2011 at 8:39 am

since the other theatre Mr.Keenan owns in palo Alto is the shabby in need of renovation and architecturally less significant Aquarius, why doesn't he return the Varsity to its former state
as was a condition at the time of approval when Borders went in, and build a lovely mixed use retail/office building on the Aquarius site????

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Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2011 at 9:56 am

If we want a Performing Arts Center in Palo Alto, why don't we get our act together and build one, rather than try to convert this older building to some new use. I'm not sure when or how Mountain View built its Arts Center, but that seems to have worked out (though not sure what the economics are). Holding on to a building from almost 100 years ago for a use for the next 100 years seems misguided.

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Posted by Well
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm

Goog idea, why not build a performing arts center instead of repurposing this building?

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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm

there already is a performing arts center in PA...Lucy Stern. Both Theaterworks and the Palo Alto Players perform there. The Children's Theater is also there...Check it out...

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Posted by Hollywood backlot
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2011 at 6:29 am

I was at downtown Palo Alto on Forest at 5pm when the businesses let out and caught a sideview of a business building frontage with a parking lot in the back of building off street. Employees were heading out to their commutes with electric porsche convertibles powering down.

From the streetside Palo Alto appears to be a downtown, from the backside it's becoming parking lots. The scene reminded me of a Hollywood back lot. Does Palo Alto really want to loose what makes it a real town with balance?

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Posted by Lost Treasures
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 11, 2011 at 1:33 am

Through corrupt politics, a lack of vision, and personal greed, the most outstanding theatre in San Francisco was destroyed (The San Francisco Fox @ 9th and Market). More than 40 years after its untimely destruction, citizens lament the loss of this structure, and the failure to use the theatre as a major convention center. Currently, mid-market has no draw and hence has degraded into a slum. The presence of the Fox would have altered the current reality by offering a major performing arts venue. The values worshipped in today's society revolve around greed – witness the Wall Street protests. Public service is an afterthought. And the only constant is that developers know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. One outstanding exception to today’s dereliction of public service is David Packard and the wonderful Stanford Theatre. It would be so wonderful to the a performing arts center on University Avenue. What a welcome relief it would be from all the retail and office space! It’s so one-sided. Thanks for nothing.

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