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Efforts underway to get landmark status for eight decade old Central Coast movie theater

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Photo Courtesy Los Amigos de Guadalupe
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A campaign is underway to get landmark status, and to restore Guadalupe's Royal Theater.

Boosters say Guadalupe's rebuilt Royal Theater would be hub of a new performing arts center in Santa Barbara County.

It’s an eight decade old landmark on the Central Coast which once provided entertainment, and a community gathering place for generations of residents.

The story behind Guadalupe’s Royal Theater includes racism, tragedy, and ultimately the closure of the 1940’s era art deco movie theater.

Now, there’s a new push to restore, and reopen the Royal.

The story starts in the 1930’s, with an immigrant’s vision to bring a theater to the small Santa Barbara County community.

"Arthur Fukuda was a Japanese-American immigrant. He started construction in 1939. Construction was completed in 1940," said Carole Denardo, an archaeologist, and owner of Provenience Group, a Santa Ynez Valley based consulting company.

But, World War II changed everything.

Fukuda and his family were among the more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry unjustly interned by the U.S. government during the panic in the wake of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.

He had to sell his Guadalupe theater, and a half dozen other ones he owned for a fraction of what they were worth. She says after finally being released, Fukuda didn’t have the money to buy his theaters back.

The theater remained open for another half-century, until it closed in the 1990's. Then, it was hit by an electrical fire, which made it unsafe.

While the theater’s marquee is still used to advertise community events, the downtown Guadalupe fixture needs millions of dollars in work.

Tom Brandeberry is with Los Amigos de Guadalupe, a non-profit group formed to help the City of Guadalupe with community projects. He says the hope is to get the theater on the National Register of Historic Places, which would open the door to federal funding and grants for a restoration project.

It’s an ambitious project. The idea is not just to restore the theater and modernize things like its sound system. The plan is to turn it into the centerpiece of a performing arts complex. The theater would be refurbished, a 5,000 square foot building would be added, and they would also create an outdoor amphitheater.

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Photo Courtesy Los Amigos de Guadalupe
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It would cost an estimated six million dollars to upgrade the theater, and to add an annex building as well as an outdoor ampitheater.

The project will be presented to the Guadalupe City Council December 14. If it gets council approval, and then historical status in January, it sets the stage for supporters to seek federal stimulus funding to pay for the estimated six million dollar project.

Supporters like Brandeberry say it could be huge for the city, becoming a key piece in efforts to attact tourism dollars to the community.

Supporters say if the pieces come together, work could start next fall, with the new Royal Theater reopening as soon as late 2024.