Recent construction work has been underway at the former Sunnyvale Theatre on Murphy Avenue in Sunnyvale, CA’s small but quaint historic downtown. Once again the building, which opened in the 1920s as the New Strand (replacing a nickelodeon-sized theatre called Strand), is slated to become another lounge nightclub, as it was prior to a closure which has lasted several years. The name for the new venture is Pure. Today, July 19, this reporter visited the site, and was immediately surprised to find that a parapet and ornamental cornice, which had been applied to the tops of all the exterior walls of the building in the late 1980s, had completely given way on the South side, crashing down upon the one story building next door which once housed the “old” Strand, damaging portions of the roof and crushing a cement block enclosure housing dumpsters. The owner of a Middle Eastern restaurant nearby told me this collapse had just happened, and that insurance people were expected to be at the site at any time.
The collapse of the parapet and cornice seems to have had no effect on the original historic exterior walls of the theatre, revealing part of their original profile instead. According to the owner of the nearby restaurant, the parapet gave way due to severe vibrations caused by construction work taking place inside. The cornice was made of galvanized steel, covered with mesh and a veneer of stucco. It was part of a complete exterior Neo-Moderne remodel of the building done in the late 1980s to eliminate the stripped-down exterior the theatre had been given in the 1960s when it was refashioned as the Town and Country Cinema. In the 1920s and until the 1960s the theatre featured a simple, somewhat Italianate Mediterranean look.
The City of Sunnyvale seems to be intent on seeing the building preserved. A refurbishing last year of the Murphy Avenue street scape completely retained the 1940s terrazzo sidewalk in the entrance and in front of the theatre. Cracks in the polychrome patterned surface were filled with matching material, and the whole pavement carefully polished and joined with the new sidewalk surface.
The theatre has been known over the years as New Strand, Strand, Blanco’s Sunnyvale, Sunnyvale, Town and Country, and Murphy St. Cinema. It switched from regular film programming in the 1970s to adult films, then, under the Murphy St. moniker, made an attempt at repertory films, after which it closed. After a late 1980s attempt to establish a Brew Pub, Pizza and Movie policy never materialized, it became a nightclub and restaurant, operating sequentially under the names Palace, Forum, and Abyss.
Gary Lee Parks