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What’s That Lot: Another Act for the Boulevard of Broken Dreams

The rundown California Theatre is one of the main characters on C Street, the so-called Boulevard of Broken Dreams in the heart of San Diego. Its days appear to be numbered.

There are 57 million square miles of land on earth, including the 4,206 square miles of San Diego County. Even as our population grows, spaces in the midst of our concrete jungle lay strangely fallow. This is an occasional series to explore those mysteriously unused or seemingly untended bits of land.

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What's That Lot by Ry RivardWhere’s that lot? In downtown San Diego. It’s on C Street between Third and Fourth avenues.

Why are we picking on that lot? There are new plans to demolish the California Theatre, a historic building that has been notoriously shuttered for a quarter-century. In its place, a developer wants to put up a 40-story high rise with retail on the bottom and nearly 300 residential units up top.

Previous plans to redevelop the theater haven’t worked and sparked opposition from preservationists. The rundown theater is one of the main characters on C Street, the so-called Boulevard of Broken Dreams in the heart of San Diego. All of this is happening right across from City Hall.

The site’s developer hopes the new project will help revive that stretch of downtown.

Who owns that lot? 1122 4th Ave. LLC, a subsidiary of Beverly Hills-based Sloan Capital

How’s that lot used? It hasn’t been used for anything since 1990 when, two years after it was renovated, it was scheduled to be demolished. Another development plan, back in 2003, fell apart and the would-be developers ended up in court with each other.

It was not always thus. When it opened in April 1927, the 2,200-seat California Theatre was called a “cathedral of the motion picture.”

Now, the developer is waiting on a green light. Its application is pending with Civic San Diego, the agency that regulates downtown development.

The plans call for a 424-foot glass tower with street-level retail, 282 residential units and 309 parking spaces above and below ground.

The old California Theatre would be demolished. Cyrus Sanandaji, a representative for the site’s owner, said the new building would “pay homage to its roots.” The 40-story tower would have an annex with a façade designed to look like part of the California Theatre.

In the past, preservationists have said they want to keep the theater intact. A spokeswoman for the Save Our Heritage Organisation said the group had not been aware of the most recent plans but that the old theater remains on its “endangered properties list.” The group has previously fought an effort simply to paint over a sign on the building for horse racing at the Caliente track in Mexico, which no longer races horses. It’s easy to imagine a much bigger fight over tearing down the whole building.

Anticipating criticism, Sanandaji said alternatives that attempt to save the old building and keep it as a theater are unworkable.

“If it made sense it would have been done over the last 45 years and the theater would never have shut down in the first place,” he said.

Sloan took ownership of the building in 2006 after it foreclosed on a loan it made a few years earlier, Sanandaji said. The recession that shortly followed in 2008 halted any plans to develop the property. Discussions over the current plan began about two years ago.

He is hoping for speedy approval and to break ground in mid to late 2016. Construction would take about a year and a half.

Want to know more about a mysterious piece of property in your part of town? Email me about that lot and tell me what you think. Your suggestion could be the next, What’s That Lot?

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