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Laguna’s historic theater goes dark

The final sign goes up at the Laguna South Coast Cinemas, which closed Sunday.
(David Hansen / Coastline Pilot)

Laguna’s only movie theater offered its final flicks on Sunday, after more than 90 years in business, and now talks about the building’s future are in the works.

Laguna South Coast Cinemas manager Bob Lively confirmed last week that Regency Theatres, which leased the historic building at 162 S. Coast Hwy., would pull the plug.

Lively, who managed the facility for 10 years, said news of the closing came as a shock. The theater had employed six part-time workers, he said.

Regency, which leased the building for 15 years, was unable to secure a long enough extension to make desired changes, company President Lyndon Golin wrote in an email.

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“We were trying to get a minimum of five years,” Golin said. “The theater needs to be updated with improvements and a conversion to digital projection.” The needed work includes new seats, drapes, carpet and exterior paint, he said.

The theater occupies a prime piece of real estate across the state highway from Main Beach.

On Wednesday, City Manager John Pietig said he spoke with building owner Leslie Blumberg and is looking into options for the building.

Blumberg said in an email that the city deserves for the building to be restored if possible.

“This is not the end by any means but rather an opportunity to find a new tenant or buyer who can create a successful enough business to restore the building to its former glory and take it into the future as a sustainable andsuperb entertainment venue,” she said.

The theater’s roots date to 1921, when the Aufdenkamp family built it. It was renovated in 1935 as an example of Mediterranean revival architecture, according to the Laguna Beach Historical Society. Architect James Conway designed the building — the city’s first structure composed of concrete and steel.

Artist Edgar Payne painted large pictorial murals, portions of which still adorn the interior.

The remodeled theater opened in 1935 with a ceremony attended by a throng of locals and several movie stars. The first movie shown was “Ginger,” starring Jane Withers.

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At one time, the Laguna Beach Film Society held showings and moviegoers would gather to watch the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” during the city’s annual Hospitality Night each December.

Jeff and Jackie Knauer watched hundreds of movies in the theater through the years and arrived Saturday afternoon for a showing of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

The Knauers said they had planned to watch the movie in Laguna Niguel but decided on Laguna Beach when they heard that the theater’s days were numbered.

“It makes me sad,” Jackie Knauer said. “With [two] nurseries closing, too much of what is Laguna Beach seems to be disappearing.” Owners of Laguna Nursery and Laguna Gardens Nursery confirmed last month they would be closing at the end of August and December, respectively.

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Cheryl O’Neil, a former Laguna Beach resident who lives in San Clemente, said she felt bad for Lively.

“I understand the landowners need to do what they need to do, but I’m frustrated with the owners for cutting Bob out,” O’Neil said. “He was real good interacting with people. That will be missed.”


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