Demolition of California Theatre halted by preservationists

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A judge halted the imminent demolition of the dilapidated California Theatre building downtown that was supposed to make way for a 40-story residential tower.
The 2,200-seat theater, at Fourth Avenue and C Street, closed in 1990 and has fallen into disrepair. Developers Sloan Capital Partners bought the property in 2006 and said the theater was ridden with asbestos and lead.
Although the San Diego City Council had approved its demolition last year, San Diego County Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil on Friday set aside the council’s decision and required a reworked environmental impact study in which the city at least consider other options for the building.
The tentative decision means whatever is decided at the site could be delayed, triggering a new study of alternatives for the site and public comment period. The judge’s ruling was in response to legal action taken by preservationists Save Our Heritage Organization, which argued the city did not consider other alternatives for the building as required by the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.
The city’s environmental report did consider several alternatives for the site, but the judge said failing to include at least one preservation alternative violated CEQA.
California Theatre opened in 1927, a year before talkies began replacing silent movies. It was the largest movie palace in the city at the time. It went on to be used for other activities, including vaudeville acts, first-run movies and live concerts. Since its closure in 1990, the building, which includes a nine-story office tower, has been heavily vandalized and was boarded up with a chain-link fence erected around the base.
The new apartment project was to be called Overture! — a 422-foot-high building with 282 apartments, 11,000 square feet of retail space and 325 parking spaces. In April 2017, Sloan Capital Partners anticipated the $120 million project could have opened by late 2019 or 2020. Bruce Coons, executive director of Save Our Heritage Orgainization, faulted past owners of the building for letting it fall into disrepair. He said he hoped whatever alternative the city comes up with will allow the building to survive.
(Phillip Molnar/San Diego Union-Tribune)

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