San Jose’s STUDIO Theatre Transmogrified Yet Again

With each repurposing of San Jose’s Studio Theatre building since its closing as a movie theatre about a decade ago, a little more of the original architecture is painted, chipped, or jackhammered away. This time, the changes are more drastic than ever. On site observation by this writer early this morning revealed that all traces of the auditorium’s decorative scheme are now gone. News had been afloat that the long progression of nightclub tenants that had used the former theatre since its closure to movies was going to end. Following its forced closure as Club WET due to a series of violent incidents involving patrons, this change of occupancy has been welcomed.
The new use for the former theatre is to be a gymnasium, featuring a labyrinthine series of climbing walls. All auditorium walls, ceiling, and the former stadium seating section in back have been removed, exposing structural concrete and steel joists. Attached to the original shell is a vast spiderweb of new steel; a twisting, turning skeleton upon which–according to the foreman spoken to this morning–plywood surfaces will be laid, and adjustable hand and toe-holds will be fastened for rock climbing enthusiasts. This structure extends from the floor all the way up to the underside of the lofty roof. The designer for the steel structure is an area metal sculptor of note, and a reception will soon be held in the building so that people can see the steel frame before it is covered in wood.

At this point, it looks as if the exterior of the theatre and the lobby will remain largely unchanged, save for expected painting and accessories. The curved lobby walls and ceiling coves–together with cast plaster “Copycat Skouras” foliate ornament in the passages leading to the former auditorium–survive, and seem to be earmarked for retention.

BACKGROUND: The Streamline Moderne Studio was built by independent exhibitor Richard Borg, opening in 1950 at the lower end of the South First Street theatre district, at the corner of San Salvador St. It occupied half of a piece of property originally intended for the construction in 1930 of a new 1,500-seat theatre by United Artists (see MARQUEE, Vol. 43, No. 2, Second Quarter, 2011, P. 20). The United Artists Theatre was never built, likely due to the worsening of the Depression. The Studio had 900 seats, and was designed by prolific architects Alexander and McKenzie Cantin. The Studio remained a first-run venue for many years, until the inevitable competition from suburban theatres ate into its bottom line. In 1973-’74, adult films were shown. Second-run triple features were then tried, followed by many successful years of exhibiting Spanish-language product. Double features of mainstream Hollywood fare took over in the early 1990s, and it was during that time that I made the drawing of the interior, shown below. The features that day were the unlikely pairing of “Menace 2 Society,” and “Free Willy.” The last feature shown at the Studio was a premiere screening of an independent film as part of Cinequest, San Jose’s film festival. Whether or not the new gymnasium will see fit to turn-on the Studio’s signature magenta and white neon vertical sign remains to be seen.
The Studio was not included on the 2008 THS Conclave because by that point, though much of the interior remained structurally intact, it had been repainted in dark colors, and was largely obscured by lighting trusses and other equipment and furnishings.

One Comment

  1. Howard B Haas

    The above apparently is from Gary Parks. Here’s a link to exterior photos, though not of the lobby

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