As the July 1 start date approached for the new operator of the Lido Theatre, a group of local residents came to the defense of the glowing ocean scenes that swirl across the movie house's interior walls.
The residents sought assurance that the unique paintings would be preserved, and they have recently been told that they will be.
"We see so many things go away, and once they're gone, we can never get them back," explained Laguna Beach resident Gail McClain, who has been working with several peers of the Newport Harbor High School class of 1963 to make the community value of the paintings known.
Although an interior wall needs repair, the murals will be retouched to what they looked like before, said Tristan Ritter, who will later transition away from her position with the theater's landlord, the Fritz Duda Co., to run it under a new company called LidoLive.
The new group took over the lease from Regency Theatres this month and plans to diversify the venue's repertoire by adding in live music and other types of events.
Duda will hire a local artist, who fixed up the murals in 2001, to return and retouch them after minor repair and maintenance is done, Ritter said.
The company, which owns the property, likewise does not intend to let the murals disappear.
"We've got a lot ahead of us, and none of it involves painting over murals," Development Manager Michael Duda said.
The original painter of the murals remains unknown, as does the extent to which they have been altered over the years.
But they strike a chord with the community nonetheless.
A Los Angeles Times story in on theater's 50th anniversary in 1989 implied that murals of underwater scenes were there from the start, painted in fluorescent paint that was a new development in their time.
They were also planned to be cleaned as part of a more than $250,000 theater renovation by Edwards Theatres Circuit Inc., the Orange County Register reported in 1989.
"At times, maybe it's just overly sentimental, it feels like the old parts of Newport Beach kind of get easily disregarded," Newport Beach resident Brady Barto said.
He explained that the classic movie house plays an important role for a city that has always been, as he put it, "a place for people to come, enjoy themselves and kind of leave the world behind."
The murals, like the theater itself, are part of an experience that transports moviegoers back in time, Barto noted.
"How many of us grew up viewing films at the Lido and were transported by those amazing black-lit murals?" McClain likewise wrote in an email while drumming up support. "How would that theatre look without them?"
Newport Beach Historical Society President Gordy Grundy described the theater in an email as both a "local treasure" and "a precious artifact to the history of cinema," adding that removing the murals would be short-sighted.
"They are probably the most unique part of the movie-going experience there," Regency Theatres President Lyndon Golin wrote in an email, "and are the 'wow factor' when the lights go down."