The Avenue Theatre is about to be sold – at Monday’s City Council meeting (November 7, 2016) the City of Downey will vote whether to approve the sale of the property to Downey Restaurant Group.
Update: Council approved the sale 3-0 with Marquez absent and Vasquez abstaining.
Downey locals Adrian Amosa and Kirk Cartozian (a former mayor) partnered to form the company, and earlier this year opened the popular new Gaucho Grill restaurant at the Downey Promenade.
The Avenue is one of the historical icons of Downtown Downey. Built in 1922, originally as a vaudeville stage with a fly system, it was renovated as the Avenue in 1949 to be a first run movie house. The stage also served as a dance studio for choreographer Doris Niles. It’s last official operation as a 2nd run movie house ended in 2003.
The City of Downey purchased the property in 2008 with the goal of developing the property for housing and mixed-use. Requests for proposals were submitted to the development community to find an appropriate project for the site. National Community Renaissance (the developer of The View apartment complex on 2nd Street) had an earlier proposal, but the project never got off the ground.
With a sale price of $750,000, the Restaurant Group is purchasing the property and the building, which is in decrepit condition and deemed unsafe in its current form. The proposal is for adaptive reuse of the building, within the same 10,000 foot structure and footprint. The complex has a proposed name of Alegria at the Avenue Theatre, which relates it to one of the Restaurant Group’s related properties, Alegria Cocina Latina restaurant in downtown Long Beach.
Two storefronts will be created, one fronting Downey Avenue, which will keep and restore the existing cinema marquee. A second restaurant will open up to Third Street at the north end of the former auditorium, with potential for outdoor seating as well. The majority of the masonry that defines the red brick building will be kept intact and restored (No word on what will become of the massive bee hives that inhabit the roof).
The proposal and terms of the sale are available at the city’s website under City Council Agendas, for this Monday. Within the agreement is a brief description of the proposed Conditional Use Permit that would need to be approved by the Planning Commission (which is not guaranteed). It describes live entertainment, dancing, performance dancers used with live entertainment, including those used in dancing styles of flamenco, merengue, salsa, rumba, samba, tango and others (Alegria in Long Beach is also known for it’s flamenco), amplified music, private rental for special events, valet parking, rooftop entertainment, hours of operation through 2:00 a.m., patio dining on the sidewalk along 3rd Street and Downey Avenue, removal of two city trees on 3rd Street, and ABC (liquor) licenses type 47 or 48.
Also interesting to note from the proposed agreement, in exchange for the developer preserving and restoring the historical features of the building, the city will waive the Art in Public Places requirement, which sets aside 1% of the cost of the project for publicly displayed artwork (or contributing to the city’s public art fund).
The Avenue has been a point of contention in the community. In 2009 a small group of community activists launched a “Save the Avenue” campaign, along with an online petition, when projects were first discussed for the building. Along with the conservation of a historic landmark, it was the group’s contention that downtown Downey was missing a hub for arts and culture, which the Avenue could potentially play a role. Wish-list uses included a performing arts center, a smaller 99-seat theatre, a cinema for indie film, and art gallery space.
A bit of DAC history: the renewed interest in the arts at that time, also fueled by articles in the Downey Patriot by theatre critic Lawrence Christon, impacted the formation of the Downey Arts Coalition in 2010. Nothing became of the petition, but in 2011 the city approved money from the Art in Public Places fund to paint a mural over the boarded up front of the Avenue, in an effort to recall the vibrant life the theatre once had.
If you can’t get enough history of the Avenue Theatre, see below.
Visit the Cinema Treasures page for the Avenue Theatre.
Visit George Manzanilla’s Flickr album of interior photos of the Avenue Theatre after it was shut down.
See the trailer for “Midnight Movie” that filmed at the Avenue Theatre after it was closed (viewer discretion advised).