The owner of the only movie theater in Laguna Beach, which closed Sunday after an 80-year run, said she’s inundated with offers to buy or lease the historic building across from Main Beach.
Refusing to say whether any of those offers include another movie theater, Leslie Blumberg of New York said Wednesday that she’s considering all proposals and will release a statement soon.
“It’s been mayhem, I’ve just been contacted by so many people,” Blumberg said. “I’m so inundated I can’t tell you.”
Locking the doors this week on South Coast Cinema was the last thing Lyndon Golin, president of Regency Theatres, said he wanted to do.
Ready to renovate, Golin had the money to upgrade the two theaters to digital projection rather than 35mm film and to improve the sound, the smell and the long-dilapidated seating. What he lacked after operating the theater for 15 years was more than a monthly lease from the owner to secure the investment. “We would need a minimum five-year lease,” Golin said Tuesday from Regency’s Calabasas headquarters. “The landlord wasn’t interested.”
Golin expected to invest at least $150,000 to pull the 1935 movie house out of the ‘80s and possibly turn a profit. To install the minimum upgrade of new seats and digital projection would cost $100,000, with another $50,000 on carpet, drapes and paint, he said. The prime ocean-view real estate at 162 S. Coast Highway hasn’t made money for years, he said.
“As it is, the theater has served its useful life,” Golin said. “To compete, it needs to be upgraded to stay in business at all, digital projection aside. The community there needs a nice amenity.” Regency operates 28 other neighborhood theaters in Southern California and Yuma, Ariz.
Regardless of future use, the iconic building will stand, said Greg Pfost, the city’s community development director. The historical structure of the theater, inside and out, creates architectural significance and will be retained, he said. How it will be used is up for grabs, he said, depending on what the owner decides. “Nobody wants to see that building sitting empty,” he said.
To change the building, “can be a problem,” said Pfost, and would require various approvals and a historical analysis. The theater, which was divided into two screens in 1978 with a total of 550 seats, screened “The Gift” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on its last night. More than 200 tickets were sold. It was a bittersweet ending, said manager Bob Lively.
“Oh, oh, oh, it was sentimental,” he said, “and a little sad but, you know, a lot of hugs and a few tears.” Lively was cleaning the theater this week and packing up concessions to transfer to other Regency theaters, he said.
Lively managed the theater for 10 years and plans to retire now, he said. Surfing and skimboarding movie premieres drew the biggest crowds and monthly Thursday-night film society showings brought people out on slow weeknights, he said. The theater also hosted screenings as fundraisers for various groups, including local schools, and for various causes, like independent documentaries such as the “Vanishing of the Bees.”
The theater gained a following for foreign and independent films and then transitioned to first-run releases after 2001 when Regency Theatres started paying the rent, said Lively.
“It’s sad we don’t have a movie theater now,” said George Weiss, former
chair of the Laguna Beach Film Society. “It’s like someone’s missing in your family.”
The biggest problem at the theater was the seats, said Weiss. Several seats in each theater were permanently cordoned off, in such poor condition that bodily damage was likely. “It looked like a crime scene,” he said.
The future of the theater could be a mixed-use venue, allowing live theater and concerts as well as movies to take place there, Weiss suggested. A concern, common throughout town, is parking, he said. The theater is zoned for visitor-commercial use with residential space limited to the second floor, said Ann Larson, assistant director of community development.
The Mediterranean-style building includes two commercial spaces on either side of the theater’s tiled foyer, one empty for years and the other now occupied by Juice and Shakes. The building features a distinctive tower above the marquee and French doors with wrought-iron balustrades on the outside balcony. Edgar Payne murals once adorned the walls.
Floods from rainstorms took their toll on the theater’s interior, creating a musty smell that some movie-goers abhorred. Others considered it part of the experience and would even bring take-out to enjoy dinner by the projector’s light in the balconies.
Named after their son, the Aufdenkamp family opened the Lynn Theater on Coast Boulevard across from Main Beach in 1922, after first operating the Box Ball and Ten Pinnet bowling alley, according to the Laguna Beach Historical Society.
Thirteen years later, they built a larger theater on that site in Mediterranean Revival style. That building stands today. They called the profitable 1935 theater the New Lynn Theater. The building was leased to the Vincent family, according to the historical society, who renamed it South Coast Theatre.
For the footings alone, more than 200 tons of concrete were poured onto 105 pilings at least 25 feet deep, said Jane Janz, a historical society director. There are 40 tons of steel in the building, she said. In April, 1935, the walls were poured in one continuous concrete stream that lasted 27 hours. “It was called ‘the best spectator sport in town,’” said Janz, a third-generation Lagunan whose grandfather opened a store and post office here in 1895.