Four one-hour shows held in the 215-seat main room of the Village Theatre Thursday, June 23 will mark the beginning of the Coronado landmark’ second life. Lance Alspaugh, president of Five Star Theatres, Inc., who is in charge of the venue’s restoration, is eagerly anticipating the opening. “The more I thought about, I knew a lot of people would want to see this. The shows will last about an hour and enable us to get about four audiences in for a total of about 80 people, which is better than 215.
The tickets to Thursday’s showings are complimentary. “We expect the shows to sellout,” added Alspaugh. “The tickets are conditional and the people have to be in their seats 30 minutes ahead of the show time. The demand is high and there should be no empty seats.”
The multiple one-hour premiers have tight format, but are focused on film history and the story of the site itself. “We’ll have a couple of short monologues from people, then we’ll have a very brief three-minute short film from the city of Santa Ana about theater designer Joseph Musil and his history. It’s an homage to him. We will have another short film “Precious Images” by Director Chuck Workman. We got a high definition print from him and he has been very generous to let us show it. It’s quite a nice nine-minute film and it won an Oscar in 1986. It shows hundreds of film clips in a short time. It’s one of the best short films I have seen. The grand openings are for people with a short attention span. We’re not having a feature-length film opening day.”
Originally opened in 1947, the Village Theatre has been shuttered for nearly 11 years. Alspaugh recounted the history of his involvement. “Before 9-11, I received a phone call from Warner Brothers Studios, which has been a very big ally of ours. They said they had just received a letter from the landlord, that the theater was closing and that I should call them. That was before I turned gray, that’s how long ago it was. Lots of things have changed in 10 years. Part of the grand opening is to explain to everybody why it took 10 years to complete the project. There are lots of players involved and politics. There are reasons why it took so long.”
The renovation of the Village Theatre cost $3 million and is a project of the city of Coronado’s Development Agency (CDA). Perhaps not surprisingly, funding for the project was the biggest challenge Alspaugh faced. “Over the 10 years, one of the things was, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’ The building was in really bad shape physically. The more inspections we had, the more we found that was bad with it. The world is your oyster if you can get funding. You can go off and build a new Disneyland. It’s not easy to get people to write checks. It evolved that the CDA took an interest and they have been nothing but supportive and reasonable. You can only dream and hope to get three or four more of these (theater projects) in your life. This was one for the books. It will be hard to top, no matter what theater we get.”
One of the afflictions that beset the Village Theatre was the presence of asbestos, from the days of the theater’s initial construction. The original restoration budget included $16,000 for identification and removal of the carcinogen. The final amount for that purpose ballooned to $100,000. One of the casualties of the combination of old building materials and new building codes was the original ticket booth that had graced the entrance to the theater had to be replaced. Alspaugh explained the process and the need for the change. “We tried to create a ticket booth that was an homage to the original booth, but enhance it and make it special. It had to meet the current building code and be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. The early plans were to have the box office in the lobby, but we thought it was important to have a booth. There was a lot of asbestos and lead in the old booth.”
A challenge facing Alspaugh is that in addition to developing the Village Theatre, he also orchestrates the management and operations of the Los Feliz and Vista Theaters. That makes for many long work days lately for Alspaugh.
A critically important element to theater operation is the system that displays the movies. Alspaugh discussed the theater’s Sony Digital Camera 4K system. “I’m very happy with the selection. The Sony people have been grinding away and getting things ready to go. At this time next week, we’ll see if Sony will get the two theaters in Los Angeles. I told them, ‘Get this one in first and then we’ll talk L.A.’ As much as I love film, digital cinema is taking over and it’s not going away. Digital is here to stay.”
Another important element to the operations of the Village Theatre is hiring the staff. “We had 300 applications and Friday we hired 15 people,” said Alspaugh. “It’s astounding how many people applied. We didn’t really announce the interviews as well as we could have. I wish we could hire everybody and we’ll hire as many people as we can keep working. It’s unknown at this point how busy we’re going to be. From what I can tell, the staff is going to be a good one.”
One of the primary behind-the-scenes contributors to the revitalization of the theater was cinema designer Joseph Musil, who passed away more than a year ago at the age of 75. During recent and past conversations with Alspaugh, he consistently lauded Musil’s efforts on behalf of the Village Theatre renovation. “I would say every design concept Musil completed survived. The only design we enhanced was the snack bar. Ninety-five percent of Joseph’s work is there. The main auditorium wasn’t finished when Joseph became ill, so the new designers finished it. We have a San Diego mural on one side and a Coronado mural on the other. It turned out nice and I’m very happy with it. Joseph is there. The embellishments we did ourselves were done in a style he would have approved of and he would have been happy, had he gotten to see it.”
“Cars 2,” an animated production from DisneyPixar Studios will open the theater at one minute past midnight on June 24th and will be shown in 3D. “Cars 2” will run for five days and then be followed for a week-long run by “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” or more colloquially “Transformers 3.” The film “Larry Crowne,” headlined by Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, will follow shortly thereafter in one of two 45-seat theaters that augment the main screening room. As an aside, Hanks wrote, produced and directed “Larry Crowne.”
There is a trick to determining which movie to display where, as Alspaugh elaborates. “Transformers will probably be what people gravitate to. My guess is that everybody will want to see it. We’ll move the films around. If the crowd wants to see “Larry Crowne,” we’ll switch it with “Transformers.” We have to show first run movies contractually. For the last two months of the summer, we’ll just do the predictable stuff. As the dust settles, we’ll experiment. Another movie opening at this time is “Bad Teacher” with Cameron Diaz. That’s not the best movie to open with. We’re playing “Bad Teacher” in Los Angeles, but it’s not right to open the theater.”
Perhaps more important than the specific movie being shown is the larger concept that one of the cultural cornerstones of Coronado, the Village Theatre, will be up and running by the end of this week.