Palo Alto's Aquarius Theatre closes for remodel

Landmark Theatres decides to update 1960s building with new seating, restrooms and lobby

Palo Alto's Aquarius Theatre has closed for significant interior renovations, with new seating, updated restrooms and an area in the lobby for moviegoers to enjoy beer, wine or food before watching a film.

"I think it will be a totally modern, boutique upscale theater," Landmark Theatres President and CEO Ted Mundorff said Monday.

The theater at 430 Emerson St., which was built in 1969 and has been operated by Landmark since 1985, closed on March 30 and will reopen in about four months. Landmark's lease on the downtown building was set to expire soon, and the company considered whether or not to stay in Palo Alto.

"The theater was old and tired. If we were going to stay, we needed to basically create a new theater," Mundorff said.

So over the next several months, the lobby will be reconfigured to allow for a new seating area; the theater seats will be replaced with "luxury seating" that is larger, reclines and is made from real leather; the restrooms will be upgraded and a new sound system, acoustical wall treatments and light fixtures will be installed.

Mundorff said he hopes the upgrades will attract new customers to whom the theater can introduce to independent film.

"It's just going to be a whole new experience to go to the theater," Mundorff said. "I would think of it as you've never been to a theater before until you've walked through the doors this time."

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16 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 14, 2015 at 7:26 am

Our movie theaters are a cultural treasure. I shudder that Landmsrk was thinking of leaving. We often are at the theater and get dinner afterwards and discuss the film we just saw. Thank you Landmark for making a good decision and staying.
I am concerned about the PA Square theaters too - the complex is changing ownership and there could be pressure to convert to offices. And LinkedIn says it wants to buy MV Century Theatrs on Shorline and build offices - and may rebuild some sort of theater.
Will we look up in a couple of years and find we have lost film theaters?

11 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2015 at 8:11 am

So happy that you are going to stay. You are one of the main reasons that I go downtown.

5 people like this
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:43 am

On the surface, this is great news for Aquarius fans. A note of caution to share for Landmark team, though. There seems to be a sad trend in Palo Alto and Menlo Park when it comes to tenants who upgrade their place of business, where some landlords interpret the shiny new "property" as deserving three times more monthly rent payment. All I can add is that it's a good thing the Aquarius isn't renting at T&C.

3 people like this
Posted by love tea
a resident of University South
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:47 am

I really like the theater.
I can't wait to go there soon.

14 people like this
Posted by Carol
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:57 am

This is great news!! The theatre was a mess in everyway, except the nice people who work there and the great choice of films played there. Can't wait until the Aquarius re-opens.

3 people like this
Posted by ITDiva
a resident of Hoover School
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:59 am

Can't wait for the re opening. I always take my meetup group to see the indie movies at the Aquarius after lunch at Tea Time.

5 people like this
Posted by Midtown Man
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 10:59 am

And will they upgrade the theatre in Meno Park, with its terrible sound system? I have avoided both theaters despite their having films I want to see, because they are derelict. The tiny raised screens in Aquarius give you a stiff neck (please remodel those!) and half the time you can't understand the dialogue at Menlo. Can't wait for another poster to accuse me of senility. Sorry, I'm not in the hip demographic that adores old for old!

5 people like this
Posted by Hugo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2015 at 11:00 am

This sounds great. That theater was worn and ragged.

4 people like this
Posted by Local
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 14, 2015 at 11:05 am

I am so happy this is happening. I love this theater and the independent movies it plays, I just had a really hard time getting my husband to go there with me because he thought it felt kind of run down inside. This is great, I can hardly wait until it reopens, problem solved.

Posted by fan
a resident of Downtown North

on Apr 14, 2015 at 11:20 am

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4 people like this
Posted by Yay!
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 14, 2015 at 12:09 pm

Glad to hear The Aquarius is getting a facelift. I hope that means it will be around for a long time!

4 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

The place is an absolute dump, I realize they have very good movies but I gave up going to see them because it is so awful. I look for to seeing it nre incarnation.

3 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Apr 14, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Yea! Glad you're staying!

6 people like this
Posted by Wendy
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 14, 2015 at 1:57 pm

It is nice to hear that the Aquarius is staying but beware - this is the same sort of treatment that the Century 16 in Mountain View has gotten - big fat recliner seats that cut the seating down in all the theaters to, in some cases, 1/2 or less of what the capacity was. This results in reserved seating for all theaters. If you don't buy your tickets on line (and pay the fee) you will need to show up at the theater way in advance to get a seat and then in the case of popular films, still be turned away because it is sold out. Maybe they are hoping that you will sit in the new lobby/bar area and order a hotdog and a beer and wait for the next show!

By the way, it is my understanding that the Cinearts/Palo Alto Square theaters are a requirement of the property's planning and zoning. New owners may not be able to change the use from theater to office. I think that this came up before when ownership changed years ago.

Enjoy the Guild while you can before they "upgrade" that theater too.

4 people like this
Posted by Lola
a resident of Portola Valley
on Apr 14, 2015 at 3:06 pm

The small screen, the squeaky seats, the terrible acoustics etc. were all reasons NOT to see a film at the Aquarius. I can't wait for the "finished product".
I am glad the Aquarius will continue to stay in Palo Alto.

3 people like this
Posted by Rivertown
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2015 at 4:04 pm

This is welcome news. I was suprised and impressed with the upgrades made at the Shoreline 16 theaters. I think theater owners are targeting a more adult crowd with more comfortable seating and lounge areas. Although this may result in fewer seats per showing, it's actually really nice not to be packed in like sardines with people's feet on the back of your chair. It actually makes us want to go out to the movies whereas before we would've waited for it to come out on videa and watched from the comfort of our homes. The Aquarius has needed an upgrade for years, so we appreciate that Landmark has decided to stick around.

1 person likes this
Posted by Kitty
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2015 at 5:26 pm

It is always nice to update, but this theater had somewhat of a comfort aspect to it. I'm concerned that with the updates there will be more limited seating.

10 people like this
Posted by Kristy Gray
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2015 at 6:13 pm

I'm thrilled that Landmark chose to renew its lease and renovate the Aquarius!
The proposed changes to the lobby sound great, and I am so looking forward to the upgraded seats in the theater!
Thank you, Landmark!

5 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2015 at 8:31 am

While I am also happy to hear this. I cut out going to the downtown theater
since it, and the Guild over in Menlo Park have been nearly disgusting
places unbefitting Palo Alto or Menlo Park in any or every way. I am just
not sure this is good enough to change my attitude towards the parent
company since they let these places get to the dumps they are today,
and the Guild still is. Too little and too late.

I do appreciate the wonderful Palo Alto Square, and that is what Landmark
should have done to both the Aquarius and the Guild a long time ago. I
have not been to the Shoreline in quite a while either. I usually will take
a run over to downtown Redwood City to the Century theaters there or
to the Palo Alto Square if I want a decent theater experience.

There have been quite a few movies I wanted to see that I just let go to
streaming on Amazon or NetFlix to avoid these dingy uncomfortable
theaters and their worse restrooms that leave me feeling quite insulted
and abused by Landmark or whatever the company is that runs them.

I am just not sure though ... I have gotten along now for years without
going to these money grubbing theaters and the fact that they let local
audiences suffer in these uncomfortable dumps for so long does not
give me much respect or trust for the businesses or managers that
would do that for so long. Let's see?

3 people like this
Posted by Sunny
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 15, 2015 at 4:37 pm

I hope they don't go postal on the pricing. I now avoid the multiplexes like I avoid religion. Just make it decent.

For me the last straw at RWC was being forced to pay extra to watch 3-D I had no interest in seeing in 3-D, and the same thing with the extra charge for the nonsensical leather seats. If I want to be scammed I'll buy season tickets to a pro sports team.

Just show the movie in a decent, clean venue with standard seating. If it's reserved seating and expensive I'm done with theaters.

I go to Aquarius every two weeks or so, why were we not told? It's taken That's bad form guys.

6 people like this
Posted by Rumplestiltskin
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Just remember when you trash the small independents- the labor costs of a one or two screen theater are very high, they just don't have the economies of scale the megaplexes have.

What many communities do is legislate their downtown theaters continuance, either thru city acquisition and operation by a nonprofit, or some other measure like zoning. I suspect that is what the theater on University Ave is?

Our area is challenged by land values. Cities will have to step up, and most cities are either clueless or run by the people who want the land. Citizens must demand action, it seems to me the screens on University sit unused a lot.....perhaps they could run the types of movies seen here?

I'll believe this is a good deal when I see it, until then I'll be a skeptic. They did close with no warning, I was there a few days before.

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2015 at 5:58 pm

The value to me of the Aquarius and PA Square, is that they show movies that are hard to find elsewhere.

I do like the fact that Shoreline is trying to get older/classic movies and screen live streams of performances, but I would like to see more of this.

Upgrading the theater was necessary, but I hope that this proves to be what they are doing and not an excuse for finding so many problems and eventually deciding that it will need to close. Unfortunately, my hopes are not high that they will remodel and reopen.

5 people like this
Posted by Richard
a resident of College Terrace
on May 21, 2015 at 8:30 pm

We have been going to the Aquarius for years and did not get turned off because of "squeaky seats". I am sure we will love the change and the more special setting though we may have to reserve a seat and pay a higher admission. In San Francisco, seats are up to $15 so we should consider ourselves lucky here on the Peninsula. I would like to see another theater downtown or near California Ave like the old Fine Arts Theater or the New Varsity downtown. I understand there is going to be music returning to the New Varsity (HanaHaus) in the coming weeks. Thanks Landmark for staying in Palo Alto. We love you and indie/foreign films.

2 people like this
Posted by Norman
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 22, 2015 at 2:07 pm

I hope they can remove the stale popcorn smell. Same goes for the Guild.

Also, I'd like them to take full advantage of digital downloads by showing many more movies on different days. No reason to stick to the weeks of runs of a single movie which they had to do when the rented the actual reels. There are many terrific movies that wouldn't have a huge audience for an extended run but could run for a few days and fill up those weekday seats.

Like this comment
Posted by Judy Adams
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2016 at 3:28 pm

I recently started a petition to Save the Guild Theater in Menlo Park, Landmark's remaining indie/foreign arts film venue in our area. In the exchanges when the Aquarius was being remodeled in 2015, a number of people talked about the humble Guild, also in need of renovation. The Guild property has been listed for sale or to find a long-term leasee since before January. There is no reason why our communities cannot support two independent/foreign film venues, given the proximity to Stanford, and we should be able to find an angel investor, if not convince Landmark that having 3 screens in our area would not be an advantage. Our present Menlo Park City Council, Ray Mueller signed our petition yesterday at the Menlo Park farmer's market, and has been working in the council to find a way to keep the Guild in operation. It involves complex issues of zoning, remodeling, city support, the owner's options, etc., and groups have rallied for the Guild in the recent past (including some innovative options on the imagineMenlo site), but the Guild issues are worth revisiting, especially as part of the Menlo Park General plan that will bring new residents to El Camino where the former auto dealerships were, an area that's within walking distance of the Guild.

I understand from posts here in 2015 re the Palo Alto Square Theater renovation by Landmark, that there was positive zoning for CineArts to keep the theater open in Palo Alto. I understand that the Guild's continued existence may have been grandfathered in and any renovation may be complex. But its always worth a second - or third - look when it comes to maintaining the theater's cultural contribution of our communities. The Guild has been at that location for 90 years, and even though a bigger-and better (?) neighborhood theater could be built, with a couple screens, and possibly re-christened the Guild, I'd like to see the Guild remain where it is, showing the interesting mix of Landmark films, preserving some of it's unique interior decor and old-style marquee, and remain about the same size (I believe it currently has 300 seats, with a few out of commission). And no reclining seats, which I can do without.

Anyway, please write here about the possibilities of saving the Guild, write to me at with your suggestions, and look at our online petition: go to and search for Guild Theater, or use the tinyurl: Web Link to go directly to the petition. Look at the comments and consider adding your support. Between the online petition and a print petition I've taken 3 times to Menlo Park's farmer's market, and gotten signers at 3 movie showings at the Guild in the last 3-4 weeks, we have over 500 signatures, and I'm still adding email address to our contact list. Let's hear it from Palo Alto to retain our other Landmark Theater. Please email your friends about the petition and add it to your Facebook page. I can supply some historical info if you write me at my yahoo email address. And if you know a possible "angel investor" or public official that might rally to our cause, also contact me.

at least August It is in need of renovation - but we hope it will retain some of its unique decor - as I would have also wished the Aquarius remodel would have - maybe an aquarium mural.

Like this comment
Posted by Judy Adams
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2016 at 3:31 pm

Re Guild Theater: Sorry, my post a few minutes ago had some "orphan" text that I failed to delete from my draft. Disregard it, except that I had hoped when the Aquarius was renovated that I wished the had retained some of the "funky" aquarium decor of the old Aquarius - a mural or something.

Re the projection equipment of the Guild. I have been told by staff at the Guild that while the interior hasn't been change much over the years, that the video equipment has been updated by Landmark.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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