A Design Commission review of plans to remodel the Playhouse 7 building on Colorado Boulevard next to Vroman’s Bookstore has revealed Laemmle’s movie theater will cease operations at that location.
According to floor plans included in Tuesday’s Design Commission report, no movie theater space is included in a remodel of the 25,000 square-foot building at 673 E. Colorado Blvd. that will convert the theater into a multi-tenant commercial building.
“The proposed project does not include retention of the theater use,” City Manager Steve Mermell confirmed to Pasadena Now on Monday.
Pasadena Now has reached out to the Laemmle family for information. It is not known if the movie theater will relocate in Pasadena.
One local resident was reportedly told the theater would be closing next year.
“When I arrived yesterday at the Laemmle Playhouse-7 theater, I found a notice posted outside announcing today’s Design Commission hearing regarding the proposal to approve an ‘interior remodel to create a multi-tenant building…’” Ron Streicher told the Commission. “When I asked a member of the Laemmle staff about this, I was told that the proposed plan would result in the closing of the movie theater in early 2022.”
“I find this proposal to be quite distressing. As a result of the current ‘pandemic’ situation, we lost one major movie theater in the Pasadena area, and now we are about to lose the other. The Laemmle Theater is a treasure which the City of Pasadena cannot afford to lose.”
The theater shows a mix of commercial, foreign and independent films. Local resident Bill Royce called the theater a “true cultural hub.”
“As a disabled senior, the Playhouse 7 is the only place in Pasadena where I can see such fare. Please make the redesign of 673 Colorado include some movie theaters on the ground level,” Royce said.
Laemmle Theatres announced in February the sale of its 22,897 square-foot Pasadena location on Colorado Boulevard near El Molino Avenue in the city’s trendy Playhouse Village to GD Realty Group of Los Angeles, owner and developer of urban commercial real estate in prime Southern California locations.
According to a statement released at the time of the announcement, the sale also included a leaseback that would allow the theater to continue operating.
At the Commission meeting, some members of the Design Commission want developer GD Realty Group to reconsider retaining the iconic movie theatre sign when remodeling the Playhouse 7 building.
Commissioners made the remarks during its meeting on Tuesday after comments of the public opposing the construction of the project, which will pave the way for the closure of the theaters, were read in the meeting.
The proposal includes keeping the pylon — Laemmle’s iconic towering sign structure reminiscent of old-time movie theatres — which the developers plan to use to mount signage of new tenants. There is no plan however to keep the marquee sign or the front portion of the theater where the name of the establishment is placed.
Streicher also told the Commission that “retaining the pylon when the theater is no longer there just adds insult to the injury.”
Commissioner Christopher Hawthorne during the meeting said he agrees with the public comment on the retention of the pylon.
“I would agree with the final public comment we heard about adding insult to injury. I think we have a pylon which was originally out of step with the architecture and the era in which it was produced and is now a kind of phantom limb of a theater that is no longer there,” he said.
Hawthorne said the Commission should not require that the pylon be retained and should leave it instead to the applicant to decide whether or not it will keep the same.
“There are a lot of us who recognize it and associate it with the theater. If the applicant thinks it will be useful in branding or advertising the tenants, I don’t see any objections to that. I don’ t necessarily think that we should require or even strongly recommend that it be retained,” Hawthorne added.
Commissioner Julianna Delgado, echoing Hawthorne’s remarks, said leaving the pylon sign as an “allusion to a time passed” should be up to the applicant.
In the past meeting of the Commission, Commissioners had asked the pylon be retained in the project.
“That is an interesting point that we leave it up to the designer to see if they want to retain that. We had earlier asked them to consider retaining it and they did so — I think I change my opinion about that,” Commission Chair Srinivas Rao said for his part.
The design will be moving forward to the next phase of the design process which is the final design review after the Commission voted to approve the concept design review for the project during its meeting.
At the time of the sale of the building, it was announced that the theater chain, like many businesses during the pandemic-induced shutdown, had suffered financially and was looking to “increase its liquidity in order to remain in business.”
Laemmle Theater reopened last April after state health orders forced movie theaters to close for a full year to help control the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But despite restrictions, which caused the theater’s temporary shut down, it stayed afloat by shifting to online operations with its Laemmle Virtual Cinema.
Established in 1938 by Kurt and Max Laemmle, nephews of legendary Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle, the company is currently run by Robert Laemmle and his son, Greg Laemmle. The theater chain has served over 1 million film patrons each year from seven locations in the greater Los Angeles region.
The chain has enjoyed a long relationship with Pasadena that dates back almost 60 years.
In 1964, the Laemmle chain opened the Esquire Theater on Colorado Boulevard near San Gabriel Boulevard. The chain also ran The Colorado, which was located a block west of there, on Colorado Boulevard near Vinedo Avenue, and opened the Laemmle Playhouse 7 on Colorado Boulevard in 1999. The Esquire and The Colorado theaters were shuttered the following year.
The project also involves the demolition of a portion of the existing building to create a central courtyard, which is proposed to be incorporated with a central fountain, a seating area and shading devices.
There is no on-site parking proposed for the project.
Apart from the proposed conversion of the Laemmle Theatre, the GD Realty Group is also currently involved in the construction of a 40-unit residential building, one block north of Colorado Boulevard, near the cinema building.
The Design Commission is scheduled to meet at 4:30 p.m. and can be viewed at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/82170973491
Managing Editor André Coleman contributed to this story.