Here's the latest episode of "As the Dome Turns":
The San Jose City Council voted Tuesday night to send Mayor Chuck Reed's letter to the state office of historic preservation regarding its consideration of the Century 21 theater for a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. But it wasn't quite the same letter as the one that angered those hoping to save the iconic dome theater -- and preservationists are calling that at least a partial win.
Following questions and concerns by council members, the letter's tone was softened. It still asks the state to defer action until the city decides the historic status of the dome theater, but references to the dome being "considered obsolete" and "practically unusable as a theater" were attributed to the families that own the property instead of sounding like the city's official position.
And sections that said the theater being incompatible with the Urban Village Plan for the parcel were eliminated, since -- as Councilman Sam Liccardo pointed out -- no such plan has been approved yet.
Dozens of community members spoke in favor of preserving the Winchester Boulevard theater, which was designed by Vincent Raney, was built in 1964 and is one of the few single-screen theaters of its type remaining in the state. Most were wistful about their own memories seeing movies in the dome, but some made the case that losing a midcentury modern structure like the Century 21 would be detrimental to the San Jose's architectural character.
"What all these voices are saying is, 'stop with the United States of Generica,' " San Jose resident Heather Lerner said. "Who we are and what we have to offer is worth celebrating."
Members of the Farris and Raney families, who have owned the property for more than 90 years, were also there and expressed their desire to have the parcel be redeveloped to serve the community in another way as audiences have largely turned away from big theaters in favor of multiplexes and on-demand viewing at home.
To the families' credit, they stayed throughout the entire presentation and were even applauded by the audience for their preservation of the Winchester Mystery House, which they also own.
Reed also announced what was probably the least-surprising revelation in this whole drama: Santana Row owner Federal Realty had entered into a long-term ground lease on the property.
The state Historical Resources Commission will consider Century 21's nomination at its meeting April 22 in Pacific Grove and will forward its recommendation to the National Park Service, which makes the call on the national list.
The council also took the interesting step of directing city staff to prepare paperwork for the Century 21's nomination as a city historic landmark. San Jose's Historic Landmarks Commission nominated a parcel that includes the theater at its January meeting, but that process stalled because no third party had come forward with the necessary historical research and fees. The Preservation Action Council of San Jose had been expected to do so, but it decided to put its efforts instead behind getting the Century 21 on the national list.
With the council's move, PAC-SJ doesn't have to get that work done and the city will use the materials submitted for the national listing for the city application. The landmarks commission's next meeting May 11 could be a public hearing on the nomination.
One thing is certain: The three Winchester domes -- Century 21, 22 and 23 -- will cease operation at the end of March when the theater operators' lease is up.
For Brian Grayson, executive director of the Preservation Action Council, that raises the frightening possibility that the vacant buildings could fall victim to vandalism or fire before its historic status is decided. That's what happened in 2008 to the 126-year-old Houghton Donner house in downtown San Jose and IBM Building 25 in South San Jose, both of which had been candidates for preservation.
"As for the safety of the buildings, we are very concerned," Grayson said. "The city track record in recent years is not good."