Closure May Be Inevitable for Historic Lorenzo Theater

Photo Courtesy / Lorenzo Theater Foundation

Natalia Aldana

The Alameda County Redevelopment Agency says the repairs and renovation on the Lorenzo Theater, which was built in 1947, would be too expensive. The theater is pictured here on its opening day in 1947.

After 13 years, the Lorenzo Theater Foundation has still not met its monetary goal to fully restore the historic theater in San Lorenzo, according to the foundation.

Even under its new owners, the Alameda County Redevelopment Agency, the Lorenzo Theater is still a work in progress, a $7 million dream.

According to Bill Lambert, Economic Assistant Director for Alameda County Redevelopment, the theater has been pushed behind other projects that he said the community felt was more important.

“There’s no plan to come up with that money,” said Lambert. “It’s just so expensive to fix it. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

In early Oct. 2010, Alameda County’s Redevelopment Committee said that it believed it would require more than $7 million just to get the interior habitable.

Many community members said they have been anxiously waiting for the renovation of the theater, but progress seems slow and futile.

Toni Mann, a San Lorenzo native and resident of 55 years, recalls her first visit to the theater in 1964 as “thrilling.”

“When the Theater Foundation first formed, and was soliciting $100 donations, I jumped right in, hoping this would be the start of a new life for the Lorenzo Theater,” said Mann. “That was many, many years ago. After awhile, hope fades.”

During one of the last meetings in March 2010, the report presented to the San Lorenzo citizens advisory committee stated that it would cost an estimated $11 million to restore the theater to a top-notch, modern performing arts center, according to Alameda County Redevelopment.

Under the new owners, the theater will be seeing a $1 million face lift to fix the exterior this summer, which was approved by the Alameda County Board of Supervisors last October.

Improvements to the building will include painting, re-roofing to weatherize the building, restoration of the marquee and tower, exterior electrical repair, and rebuilding of the ticket booth and display windows, according to the Redevelopment Agency.

The question that arises is will the Lorenzo Theater be able to see a movie shine through its vivid mural-encrusted walls any time soon?

San Lorenzo former resident and Arroyo High School graduate Larry Leal formed the foundation in 1998, with the aim to renovate it as a theater and performing arts center, according to the Lorenzo Theater Foundation.

With the Lorenzo vacant for almost 30 years, the foundation said they have encountered numerous obstacles and challenges in order to give the historic theater a renewed life, from numerous owners to the recent economic crisis.

However, regardless of obstacles, 13 years later the Lorenzo Theater is seeing slow improvements, but improvements nonetheless, said the Foundation.

The Lorenzo Theater’s opening day was April 5, 1947, and up until about 1982, the 700-seat Lorenzo was a highly popular and frequently visited attraction for the small community of San Lorenzo.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the family- and community-oriented theater held Saturday morning ten-cent matinees and annual costume parties.

In the 1970s, along with screening foreign films, the Lorenzo earned the distinction as being the first movie house in the Bay Area where “Rocky Horror Picture Show” fans could re-enact and perform on stage.

However, by the early 1980s, as larger multiplexes began to overpower smaller silver-screen theaters, the Lorenzo Theater disappeared under this pressure and eventually closed its doors.

Nineteen-year old Andrea Palma, an English major at CSUEB, who also lives in the campus housing, said she loves the idea of going to a theater such as the Lorenzo.

“I think being in a place which so much culture and history would make the movies we watch all the more special,” said Palma. “Living nearby, it seems like it would be a great option to choose from all the commercial theaters. It would be a unique experience.”

Diane Rinella, Director of the Foundation, said that although the project has been a long time coming, the dream of a fully restored theater is still very present.

“I am very optimistic about it,” said Rinella. “We are very excited the county is involved and we’re just taking this one step at a time.”

“Five years, I’m hoping,” said Rinella when asked when she expected to see the Lorenzo’s neon lights showing next. “I think we’re going to do it.”

According to Rinella, since the county became owners of the theater in 2009, the foundation’s primary goal has been to support them in its process.

According to the Redevelopment Agency, its objective is to restore the building to structural and modern standards to then enable the foundation to resurrect the theater as a community icon once more.

Despite what many assert as a difficult economy for projects such as the Lorenzo, theaters such as the Grand Lake and Piedmont theaters in Oakland, the Albany Twin Theater and Berkley’s California Theater show what Lambert says can be done for San Lorenzo and the surrounding communities.

Not only will they restore economic vitality to the city, Lambert said, it would also serve as a memorable icon for a community and for people who have had a personal and emotional connection to the theater.

For Rinella, a project that she says will fulfill a “life-long dream,” she sees the Lorenzo Theater as a place that can once again “make movies magical.”

“So many people don’t know what it’s like to see a movie in a silver-screen theater.” said Rinella. “There’s art there, actual truth and art of a bygone era that still feels very vibrant today.”

The next meeting for the Lorenzo Theater will be held by the San Lorenzo Village Homes Association on March 2nd, at 6:30 p.m. on 377 Paseo Grande in San Lorenzo.