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A month ago, I had the pleasure of meeting with one of my LJ friends in San Diego. zoonew is a fellow photographer and she wanted show me some of the sights and photo spots around her community. We didn’t have any particular places in mind for this trip, and we happened to find this wonderful old building. Other photos of my wander around the city are in my personal LJ.

Built in 1927, this was San Diego’s premiere movie and live performance house. In addition to the theatre, retail and office space was let in the nine story tower and belt of surrounding stores / restaurants.

The building was renovated in the 1940’s and mid-1960’s to modernize the structure for safety. In fact, the California was the first public venue to have earthquake resistant frameworks built into the structure to protect the theatre complex (the ribs on the roof in later photos are part of this support frame).

By the 1970’s, urban movie houses were in deep decline in the US. Single screen / single use theatres simply couldn’t keep up with this new multiplex theaters being constructed for the public now moving to the suburbs. In 1979, theatre was closed for all but special events.

Looking into one of th retail stores through a mail slot.

The California reopened as a live venue for several years in the 1980’s and underwent an extensive renovation in 1988. By 1990, a developer wanted the land for condos and “modern” structures and attempted to have the building condemned.

Over the next decade and a half (according to my research) there’s been a running, pitched battle between preservationists, developers, banks, and the city as to the status and condition of the California.

In that time, squatters and looters broke into the building causing significant damage. According to some reports, they stole wiring and pipes for the metal salvage value; removed interior doors and broke some fixtures. This doesn’t vibe with other reports from people who were inside during the time frame which would indicate that the materials were removed to storage or deemed substandard per building codes.

In the last few years, the building has been extensively boarded up and all the obvious entrances sealed (trust me, we looked). Save for underground or going over a 12’ fence, or forcing a padlocked door, the building is well secured.

The owner of the building is listed as a preservationist group which is (supposedly) restoring the interior in hopes of reopening the complex in stages.

There is no indication what so ever that this is happening though. No garbage skips are in evidence and there are no apparent work entrances or staging areas.

Instead, we saw homeless and transients resting outside the building and indications that the elements are taking a toll on the tower and retail belt.

The building is listed as a Historic Landmark and the taxes are being paid, so the building appears to be in a holding pattern. I have researched and mailed the owner of record to request permission to photograph the site. Nothing yet, but I’m patient.

Links of interest:



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 26th, 2007 03:03 am (UTC)
Wonderful building, wonderful shots!
Apr. 26th, 2007 03:22 am (UTC)
Thank you! I wish I could have been more imaginative but these were similiar to others taken in the links (though I didn't know it at the time). I absolutely want to get inside to photograph this place.
Apr. 26th, 2007 12:51 pm (UTC)
I bet that building was beautiful in its time. I do remember seeing that building many times, but never actually knew what it was. I guess when you grow up in a place.. you don't always learn its history. Most of my San Diego history came from school history books and what my dad has told me. I do remember when the Gaslamp District was a redlight district and not a entertainment hot spot! Did you ever pass by Balboa Naval Hospital? It's not far from that building.. I called the hospital my second home since I spent so much time there when I was a kid! lol
Apr. 26th, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)
I have no doubt of that. I posted up several links to sites with extra photos showing the inside and was stunned. Even a few years ago, the grainy photos showed absolutely beautiful interiors, carved marble lintel stones above entrances and tile work that was amazing.
Nov. 30th, 2007 04:46 am (UTC)
I stumbled into your journal from the abandonedplaces community. My husband and I are avid movie theater/palace goers and often track down abandoned or converted movie theaters and take pictures. You should check out www.cinematreasures.com and submit a couple of your pictures. It always breaks my heart to see a place which once stood out as such a glory brought to this ruin. The U.S. isn't known for its spectacular architecture, so it would be nice if we saved what little historic splendor we had left.
Nov. 30th, 2007 04:49 am (UTC)
Oh, I didn't see your link to cinematreasures there because of the scroll bar. Nevermind then... but it's good to see others caring about the wellfare of our forgotten palaces. If I ever retire and have enough money, I would love to buy an old theater and revive it.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )


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