Downtown Laguna theater project gets green light after appeal is withdrawn

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An electric vehicle dealer’s plan for Laguna South Coast Cinemas will move forward after a historic preservation group withdrew an appeal to the Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday.

Rivian and the Laguna Beach Historical Preservation Coalition reached an eleventh-hour deal on key aspects of the building’s restoration. Rivian has also pledged to nominate the Theater to the National Register of Historic Places and Laguna Beach Historic Register within two years.

Catherine Jurca, a Laguna Beach resident and Caltech English professor who appealed the project, thanked Rivian’s team for their commitment to incorporating the theater’s historic elements into their design.

“It’s unsurprising that with a project of this importance that there’s been a lot of speculation of the appeal and the coalition’s intentions,” Jurca said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “Our goal from the beginning has been to improve not derail this project. It’s never been our contention that Rivian’s project goals could not be met within the theater building or that Rivian couldn’t alter the building, nor that the building must continue to serve as a movie theater.”

Among a list of improvements, Rivian agreed to reconstruct the original marquee, Juliet balcony, and French doors to restore the theater facade’s original condition based on historical evidence. The auditorium’s plaster ceiling will also be reconstructed at the original height.

The company plans to use the auditorium most days to educate the public about its mission to create sustainable products and electric vehicles. No vehicle transactions will be conducted on the property. Rivian also plans to host films and stage performances for the public as well as serving as a meeting space. The two-story building will also house retail and food and beverage components.

Theater owner Leslie Blumberg has shared her intention to restore and transfer two murals by early Laguna Beach Impressionist Edgar Payne to the Laguna Art Museum, Mayor Bob Whalen said. A third mural depicting romanticized life at an early Spanish mission was showcased by the Museum in 2017 after a lengthy restoration.

The project’s developers planned to host a ribbon-cutting by the end of this year but that timeline will need to be reevaluated, said Denise Cherry, senior director of design and facilities at Rivian.

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