Guild Theatre to close Thursday, will transform into a live music venue

Celebration, farewell to Menlo Park's long-standing movie house set for Wednesday

Landmark's Guild Theatre, a single-screen movie theater that's been in Menlo Park since 1924, is set to officially close after showings on Thursday, Sept. 26, according to the operator.

Landmark spokeswoman Laine Kaplowitz confirmed with The Almanac that the theater will be closing. The closure was first announced on Facebook on Sept. 20.

"Landmark Theatres will continue showcasing our signature variety of quality films paired with a top-tier entertainment experience at the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto," the announcement adds.

To celebrate Menlo Park's long-standing movie house, the theater will host a free screening of the film "Cinema Paradiso" on Wednesday evening, Sept. 25.

According to Judy Adams, leader of the "Save the Guild" campaign that generated about 4,000 signatures of support for the theater, Landmark has agreed to not show its current film, "Official Secrets," for the final showing on Wednesday evening, and will instead show the 1988 Italian drama for free.

The event is not ticketed but will be first come, first served. The theater has about 225 seats, Adams said.

Adams said the event is partly to honor the transition of the theater as it is transformed into a live music venue that will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which it is not currently. The new theater is also expected to host occasional film events.

It's also to "mourn the loss of our old theater that got pretty creaky over the years," she said.

The Guild was constructed in 1924 and began offering "moving pictures" around 1925, according to a historical report by Bonnie Bamburg, excerpted on the Imagine Menlo website.

According to the report, the theater, initially called The Menlo, started out showing silent films accompanied by a live organist, but by 1929 had upgraded its sound system to offer "Movie-Phone" sound. The lobby was forcibly shortened by about 30 feet in 1942 when El Camino Real was widened. The theater changed names to the Guild when a newer theater in town took the name "The Menlo."

Ownership changed hands several times. In the late 1980s, the theater was remodeled in the Art Deco style, and it developed into its current niche in the local theater-scape as an art house theater, the report explains.

In recent years, it's hosted monthly midnight screenings of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" with a live cast.

The new Guild

The Menlo Park City Council approved plans in May 2018 to transform the vintage movie theater into a nonprofit live music venue.

The initiative is led by the Peninsula Arts Guild, made up of Menlo Park resident Drew Dunlevie and backed by two affluent locals: investor Pete Briger and entrepreneur Thomas Layton.

As to the current status of the project, Dunlevie explained in an email to The Almanac on Monday, Sept. 23, "We're (hopefully) close to getting permits from City of Menlo Park so we can get started in earnest."

Dunlevie said he gave Landmark 30 days' notice a few days ago and is in conversations with the theater operator to have some additional final film screenings after Sept. 26.

He said he thinks they're close to completing all of the steps necessary to get permits from the city of Menlo Park, but acknowledges that it's been a complex process. "I don't want to jinx it," he said.

According to the preliminary plans for the new Guild, the project would convert the single-screen theater into a three-level venue with a main viewing area on the ground floor, a second-story mezzanine, and a basement with a "green room" and a comfortable area where performers can shower and relax prior to shows.

The organization plans to operate the venue as a nonprofit, Dunlevie said. It would charge for admission to cover the costs of operations and paying the musicians, and would funnel any extra revenue back into the venue's programming, and offering discounted tickets.

The new Guild would be about 11,000 square feet, with a maximum height of 34 feet and a capacity of about 150 to 200 seats, or about 500 people at a standing-room-only show.

For those interested in one last movie at the historic theater, the Guild is playing the film "Official Secrets" at 1:45 p.m., 4:15 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. through Thursday. Ticket information is available here.

Kate Bradshaw writes for The Almanac, the sister publication of PaloAltoOnline.com.

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3 people like this
Posted by Josie
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 24, 2019 at 10:39 am

It's sad to see a part of Menlo history gone, but I certainly won't miss the funky women's bathroom, and I look forward to a more modern entertainment venue that can serve a variety of interests. The nonprofit status is a plus!

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2019 at 11:35 am

I used to love this place when I was a teen ... but over the years it just got so broken down and dilapidated, and face it, it never was the most comfortable or clean venue, but there were times when it was hard to find a chair that was not broken. I liked the kinds of movies they had, and I felt lucky to see a lot of movies that probably would not have played in the area but for the Guild ... but for the last 10+ years I just could not bear to go to this theater, but I am sad to see it go. Maybe the Palo Alto Square will get some better and some more movies now. I'd hate to see both of them gone.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

A former Bill Graham presents partner opened a nonprofit venue at what is actually the flag ship for the landmark chain University theater in Berkeley. So there is some precedent for these so-called “affluent” people to make good on their claims here.
The city of Palo Alto gave lip service to a similar concept for the varsity theater in 2011 but the landlord was not as willing as Crittenden apparently is here.
Take it home, Taylor Swift!

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