February 01, 2020

What Is This Spanish Village By the Sea... Without Its Movies and Bowling?

As of the end of January this year, the City of San Clemente has moved forward in nominating its North Beach as a nationally recognized historic district.

The to-be-designated North Beach Historic District would include, among others, the Ole Hanson Beach Club, the Casino San Clemente, and the old Miramar Theater.

While I've got plenty of more investigating to do on the other historic structures, I'll dive in a little more deeply on the historic theater that stands at the northern gateway of San Clemente—right on El Camino Real.

After being dormant for over 25 years—and an unsuccessful Kickstarter in 2011—the vacant Miramar Theater sold to Scottsdale, Arizona-based Fortuitous Partners and Store Capital Corporation for $7.9 million, supposedly so it could be redeveloped into a food hall. The new owners had done something similar at the Windmill Food Court in Carlsbad, North San Diego County.

It's likely a relief for all those involved, after Craig and his brother Barry Baptiste (of Mach-1 Autogroup) were squabbling—in and out of the courts—with Marc Spizzirri over ownership rights of the city's first movie theater, at least until 2018.

circa 1940

Having first opened its doors in 1938 as El Hidalgo Theater, then the Clemente Theater, the Miramar Theater was built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style (with a 44-foot tower), staying true to San Clemente founder Ole Hanson’s plans for the south Orange County city to become the "Spanish Village by the Sea."

That meant white stucco capped by red terracotta tile, ornamental balconies, rough-hewn timber beams with wrought-iron accents and arched openings, decorative wood corbels, and an entry portico. It all may seem old-fashioned now, but it was all the fashion at the time—as acclaimed theater architect Clifford A. Balch (El Rey Theatre, Fox Pomona, Golden Gate Theatre) surely knew.

The theater's original seating capacity was for 750 people; and the seats themselves allowed patrons the luxury of actually reclining in their seats. The theater also featured a modern HVAC system for heating and cooling.

Built in the same style (though less decorative), an adjacent bowling alley was added to the back of the theater in 1946.

Unfortunately, as multiplexes became more popular, Miramar Theater closed in the early 1960s, though it reopened in 1970.

The bowling center followed suit in 1971—but it never reopened, instead housing a variety of local businesses including El Toro Frame company, Dana Point Sail Makers, Big City Scuba, and even an Elk’s Lodge (until 1992).

The theater presented its first live performances in 1980—but over the course of the next several decades, it would change hands and open and close time and again.

In 2005, a fire damaged the lobby and restrooms—and the owners at the time, Susan and Terry Hirchag, were proposing to demolish the building and replace it with a mixed-use development. 

San Clemente Historical Society vehemently opposed demolition of the theater, which was eventually added to the city’s Designated Historic Structures list.

Miramar Theater may never show movies or host live performances again. Reportedly its projection system needs a total update, and the sound system needs to be repairs to meet today's screening requirements (if not replaced altogether).

As big as the complex is—over 7300 square feet of the existing theater and 5200 square feet of the bowling alley—developers would be looking to fill more of the nearly 27,000-square-foot parcel by expanding both historic structures.

There are tax credits in the deal for the developer, and the development is eligible for Mills Act incentives, too.

For now, it appears to be brokered by Retail Insite—though not a lot has happened since the Historic Structures Report was published in 2013 (to read it, click here).

Hopefully, the historic district designation will help.

In the meantime, the structure is languishing—some people deeming it an eyesore. But it immediately caught my attention as a beautiful ruin.

The site is now pretty protected against trespassers (after too much vandalism had already occurred), so I didn't get inside. But Ffor relatively recent photos of the interior, click here.

And the following video is worth a watch:

1 comment:

  1. I grew up in San Clemente & lived there until 1977. As a kid my best friend & I went to the Miramar all the time. In the 60's I remember the tickets were $.50 for kids. You could buy Candy for 5, 7 & 10 cents. In 1971 or '72 the theatre was remodeled & tickets jumped up to $1.25 if you were over 12. Later I remember a 7-11 across the street to the north & we'd stop & buy candy there & sneak it in the theatre. I remember seeing The Cowboys, The Poseidon Adventure & The Pink Panther movies there, to name a few. Right down the road across the street was Dave's Mexican Restaurant. Dave was also the janitor at my school, Our Lady of Fatima. Those were good times in the '60's &'70's. I have many fond memories of growing up there.