Restoring iconic La Paloma Theatre takes center stage

An effort to restore the iconic La Paloma Theatre in downtown Encinitas is gathering momentum.

That’s according to Encinitas 101 Main Street President Dave Peck, who on April 27 gave the Encinitas City Council an update on the fledgling restoration campaign.

La Paloma, which opened in 1928, is known for screening eclectic films, an ample stage and Spanish-revival architecture. But the theatre is showing its age, prompting Encinitas 101 Main Street to take action.

So far, Encinitas 101 has brought La Paloma stakeholders together, and it commissioned a report that found the theatre is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources.

Next, the group will search for restoration grants, as well as benefactors interested in fixing up the theatre. Another possibility is a public-private partnership, Peck said.

“What the theatre needs, and I think it’s undeniable, is seven-figure money,” Peck said.

Earlier in the meeting, he said much is at stake.

“It’s a landmark, it’s a beacon of our downtown. We’re so very fortunate to have this historic theatre in our midst.”

Peck said for quite some time it seemed the property owner, Santa Monica-based Lico Realty & Management Company, had no interest in preserving the theatre. However, the company recently expressed interest in funding cosmetic improvements.

These potential funds, Peck said, are modest in terms of La Paloma’s needs, but hopefully a sign of further collaboration.

The Encinitas council applauded the effort and requested that Encinitas 101 bring back specific recommendations for La Paloma.

“It’s really important that we do what we can to preserve the building and the operation and not just let this be bulldozed,” Councilwoman Catherine Blakespear said.

Concerned about the theatre’s future, the council last year asked for a report on what’s in store for La Paloma down the road. Encinitas 101 commissioned a report to illuminate the theatre’s past, as well as its potential, according to the agenda report. Dudek, an Encinitas-based engineering firm, put that together free of charge.

Samantha Murray, an architectural historian with Dudek, gave the council a highlight reel of La Paloma’s history, including stars such as Bing Crosby frequenting its first run of films. Another notable period was the late 1970s, when surf flicks brought new life to La Paloma.

But it all started with Aubrey Austin. A Santa Monica banker, Austin built the theatre as part of a plan to turn Encinitas into a resort town.

Murray said because the theatre has so much history, such a unique architectural style and is one of the few remaining single-screen cinemas, it could be included on the National Register of Historic Places and the California Register of Historical Resources. The city or an outside group could apply for those designations.

Allen Largent, the theatre’s long-time operator, said La Paloma invests much of what it takes in on new equipment and fixing what’s broken. He welcomed outside funds on the grounds that a large-scale restoration would require quite a bit of money.

“The defensive part of me wants to say, ‘We’re fine, we’re paying the bills, we’re keeping the doors open, we’re making improvements.’ On the other hand, I want to embrace these offers of help,” Largent said.

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