Another cultural treasure in Palo Alto will flicker out of existence in August, when CinéArts at Palo Alto Square shuts down its operation, sources in the theater's parent company confirmed to the Palo Alto Weekly.
The decision to shutter the beloved theater was made by Cinemark, the Texas-based movie-theater chain that has operated the theater since it took over from Landmark in 2001. A company spokesman said Tuesday that the lease on the theater is set to expire in late August and the company had determined that the theater required costly upgrades. Rather than investing in the theater, the company decided not to renew the lease.
"The market has changed and the theater has gotten older," said James Meredith, Cinemark's vice president for communication. "A big amount was needed to be invested to update the theater and that just made it cost prohibitive."
Though Meredith could not say the exact date when the theater is closing, other sources familiar with the closure suggest it can come in early August. Between July 23 and 28, the theater is scheduled to screen movies for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. After that, it is expected to stay open for one week before shuttering for good.
This will be the second high-profile closure in the neighborhood around Palo Alto Square, a development at 3000 El Camino Real that includes about 320,000 square feet of commercial space. In 2014, the Page Mill YMCA ended its operations, causing consternation among many users of the gym, which was previously located at 775 Page Mill Road, next to Palo Alto Square.
The pending closure of CinéArts will deal another blow to the city's efforts to promote more services and cultural resources at the rapidly intensifying area around California Avenue.
While city officials scrambled Wednesday to consider possible options for preserving the theater, it became clear that there is little that they can legally do to prevent the closure. Hudson Pacific Properties, which in 2014 purchased Palo Alto Square from Equity Office, confirmed to the Weekly that the decision to close the theater was made solely by the theater company. This leaves the city with little leverage to negotiate with the property owner.
"Cinemark came to their own decision and informed us they were not staying," said Drew Gordon, senior vice president of Hudson Pacific.
But for movie lovers, the question of who made the decision is a moot point. CinéArts, long known for screening independent, foreign and art-house movies, remains one of just two general theaters left in the city and the only one not located in downtown. Once CinéArts shuts down, Aquarius Theatre will be the only theater in the city showing contemporary movies (the nearby Stanford Theatre only screens classic American movies).
Winter Dellenbach, a frequent moviegoer who took part in the unsuccessful 1994 battle to preserve downtown's Varsity Theatre (which became a Borders bookstore and, more recently, an event space and coffee house called HanaHaus), called the impending closure of CinéArts a "crying shame" and noted that in recent years the Midpeninsula's stock of movie theaters has dropped from more than a dozen to just a handful.
"Just as California Avenue is intensifying in use -- in housing uses, in restaurants, in attracting people during the evening and during the day -- the theater is a perfect resource and a valuable resource," Dellenbach said. "Just at the time when people could've really appreciated it is the exact time when it seems that it is lost."
While it wasn't immediately clear what type of business will move into the CinéArts building, a recent law passed by the City Council ensures that it will have to be a retail establishment. In 2015, the council passed an ordinance preventing ground-floor retail establishments to be replaced by non-retail businesses. There is no requirement, however, that the outgoing theater be replaced by a new one.
Councilwoman Karen Holman, who recently learned about the closure, lamented the new development.
"Palo Altans do not take kindly to the loss of its entertainment and cultural outlets," Holman told the Weekly. "And we can't and shouldn't get all of our entertainment from a device inches away from our noses. If CinéArts Theatre is allowed to close, either by its own initiation or by requirements placed on it by Palo Alto Square management, it will be a most unpopular and sad event in Palo Alto."
Holman also noted that because of the retail-protection ordinance, the theater cannot be replaced by office and urged CinéArts and Palo Alto Square management to "work together to resolve any challenges for continuing operations of this valued cultural amenity in the heart of Palo Alto."
Councilwoman Liz Kniss, who also learned in recent days about the theater's plans to close, likewise lamented the closure of CinéArts. She noted that unlike other area theaters, CinéArts screened quality independent movies and offered patrons an amenity that others didn't: plentiful parking.
"It's another one of those community losses that really affects us deeply," she said.