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California Theatre

San Diego's premier movie palace, the California Theatre was heralded as the "Cathedral of the Motion Picture" when it opened in 1927. The grand Spanish Colonial Revival style single-screen theatre and office building is listed on the local Register of Historical Resources, although it has been shuttered and decaying for nearly twenty years. Ownership recently transferred to an out-of-town investment firm after the previous owners, another investment company, went bankrupt. The California's opulent interior originally featured gold leaf ceilings, murals, a huge Wurlitzer organ, and was able to seat 2200 film goers. In the 1970s, it became a memorable concert venue. Shortly after a 1988 renovation, it closed and came under imminent threat of demolition.

Miraculously, it is still standing but vacant two decades later. Occupying almost half a block of prime downtown real estate, its fate continues to lie in the balance as options are being considered to expand the City Hall complex and redevelop C Street. Meanwhile, only a few blocks away, the newly restored and reopened Balboa Theatre stands as a preservation triumph. Considered throughout much of its history to be unsuitable for "respectable" women to attend, the Balboa now demonstrates how investment in historic resources can benefit both the local economy and local pride. Like the Balboa, the California desperately deserves its long-overdue second chance to shine after years of neglect and vandalism. It needs to be preserved in any future plans to develop the site.


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2476 San Diego Avenue · San Diego CA 92110 · Phone (619) 297-9327
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