Historic Theaters Play a Vital Role in Revitalization Efforts


The restored historic Art Deco Orinda Theater in Orinda, CaliforniaPeople are now returning to historic urban areas in great numbers. These areas are known for the quality of the buildings, their neighborhoods with character and sense of place, as well as convenient public areas with mature landscaping. They are also frequently known for their historic theaters. These have become important resources and catalysts for revitalizing these areas. Theaters are unique magnets drawing people to historic downtowns and are often among the first buildings to be renovated because of broad value that they add to revitalization projects. They are powerful activity and economic generators that spin off opportunities for other commercial ventures, such as restaurants and retail shops, allowing them to take hold and grow. Historic theaters can play a critical part in revitalization activities in a number of ways depending on where the community is in its efforts. They can provide a boost to an existing commercial area that has stagnated, such as the Alameda Theater renovation did; enhance existing arts programs as the Sunset Center for the Arts renovation did in Carmel California; by restoring and refurbishing a rundown facility that was loosing bookings to other facilities as the Hollywood Palladium Theater renovation did; or as a major catalyst jump starting revitalization in a sluggish downtown, such as the Napa Valley Opera Hall renovation did in Napa, California.

Alameda Theater, Alameda, CA

The restored façade of Alameda Theater with restaurant.The 2,250 seat Art Deco Alameda Theater opened in 1932, had one of the largest screens in the Bay Area, and was the major attraction of the Park Avenue shopping area in Alameda. In1975, it was divided into three theaters and eventually closed in 1979. After that it was used as a dance hall, a roller rink and a gymnastics studio. The theater was nearly demolished for a parking lot during this time. The City realized that when restored it could again become a draw for the downtown. Restoration work began in 2005 and the theater reopened in 2008 as a single auditorium with a new six theater wing constructed to the rear of the historic theater along with a large parking garage. Today the facility shows first run movies. Facing the street to the side of the large marquee is a successful restaurant. The facility is a half a block away from Park Street, the main commercial street in the area and it has contributed to the revitalization of this area.
Bruce Judd was involved in the Alameda Theater over many years.

Hollywood Palladium, Hollywood, CA

Hollywood Palladium Theater after restoration with new neon signs.The Palladium opened in 1940, to great fanfare with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and Frank Sinatra headlining the event. Located in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard, the Streamline Moderne and Art Deco auditorium had an 11,000 square foot dance floor that could hold over 4,000 people. As big bands began losing their popularity in the 1950s, the venue was used for political and charity events. During this time the exterior and interior were substantially altered and eventually the Palladium was reduced to hosting small auto shows and minor rock concerts.
After a year of restoration, the Palladium was returned to its 1940 appearance with a restored interior, renovated ticket booths, and entrances, seismic bracing, and a restored front façade with decorative spandrel glass and a tall animated neon blade sign. Three storefronts to each side of the front façade were renovated providing retail space. The Palladium reopened with a concert by Jay-Z and today serves as a first class venue hosting many popular concerts.
What was a dilapidated section of Sunset Boulevard a few years ago is now a vibrant active area with restaurants, cafes and other outdoor activities.
Bruce Judd oversaw the exterior restoration of the theater.

Napa Valley Opera House, Napa, CA

Restored front façade of Napa Valley Opera House with the main auditorium on the second floor and a café on ground floor.The Napa Valley Opera House is one of only two remaining second-story theaters in California. It was built in 1879, and designed by the Newsom Brothers, California’s best known Victorian architects. The Napa Valley Opera House had been vacant for nearly fifty years when a community effort began to save and renovate the building. A nonprofit organization was established and work proceeded slowly as fund raising efforts raised just enough money for the next phase of work. Ultimately the project took over $14 million and 30 years to complete. Work included rebuilding a new stage house to accommodate modern set requirements, seismic bracing, code upgrades and restoration of the lobby, auditorium and balcony, and a new stage with state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment.
Bruce Judd began working on feasibility studies for Opera House in the 1970s when right out of school and continued the effort to save and restore the facility for many years.

The Sunset Cultural Center, Carmel, CA

New Sunset Cultural Center Lobby with historic entry to the rear.In 1925, the Sunset School was built to educate students in the Carmel Valley. In 1964, it was purchased by the City and converted to the Sunset Cultural Center. In 1993, a unique public-private partnership was established to transform the facility into a state-of-the-art performing arts center. Renovation of the theater included major acoustic changes so that the 700 seat theater would sound as good as it looked. Some classrooms were converted to rehearsal spaces and green rooms while others were converted to art galleries. Since the high school auditorium had only a very small lobby, new lobby was constructed on the exterior to fit in with the historic character of the building.
Bruce Judd served as the Principal architect for the project.

Bruce D. Judd, FAIA