For now, the Golden Gate Theater at Whittier and Atlantic boulevards is safe from the wrecking ball, but East Los Angeles activists can only wonder for how long.
The owners have mounted an effort to get the theater, which was built in 1927, off the National Register of Historic Places to clear the way for demolition. They believe, according to a report filed by the Los Angeles Conservancy, that the property would be easier to sell without the 11,000-square-foot movie theater.
The nine-member State Historical Resources Commission voted Aug. 5 to defer a decision on the owner's request until its Nov. 4 meeting. The commission wants to gather more information about the theater's interior.
"I feel that we won the battle but the war still goes on," said Aurora Castillo, the president of Mothers of East Los Angeles who traveled to speak before the commission in Sacramento on behalf of her organization. "We feel that we should preserve our heritage," she said Tuesday.
Castillo said she can remember as a teen-ager going to see first-run movies at the theater, one of fewer than two dozen buildings in Los Angeles in the Spanish Churrigueresque style, according to the conservancy. The entrance to the theater replicates the portal of the University of Salamanca in Spain.
The effort to preserve the theater has become all the more urgent because the Vega Building, another structure in the same architectural style on the site, was demolished in 1992 after officials determined that the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake had rendered it a hazard.
The Angelopoulos family, which has owned the property for 20 years, could not be reached for comment.
The family wants to pursue getting the theater off the national register so that it might be demolished in the future if other options have been exhausted, said their attorney, Jerold B. Neuman.
"They have looked for a project that could accommodate the theater and have proposed to preserve historic elements of the architecture," Neuman said. One proposal would have made the theater the headquarters for the El Gallo Giro restaurant chain. The company planned to build a restaurant where the Vega Building once stood and open the main part of the theater for community gatherings, he said, but those plans fell through.
Aside from their effort to keep the historical designation intact, those interested in saving the Golden Gate Theater are looking to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which decided last month to find funds to buy the site for a Metro Red Line station. The MTA's vote was unusual because, although the property had been targeted for the station, it lies in the second phase of the Eastside extension, which has not yet been funded.
Another ray of hope came at an Aug. 2 meeting of the County Board of Supervisors. The board voted 3-2 to approve Supervisor Gloria Molina's motion to designate the theater as a "historical resource."
Neuman said that the supervisors have made it nearly impossible to demolish the theater, as the owners would have to do a costly environmental-impact report as well as receive a demolition permit.
"I think it's a victory for the community," said Frank Villalobos, president of Barrio Planners Inc., an Eastside architectural firm.