El Rey Theater Developers Update Drawings After Planning Department Review

The Planning Department stated that they would like the developer to “explore ways to maximize the residential density at the rear of the property.”

Rendering of the El Rey Theater development
An architect’s rendering of the El Rey Theater development. Courtesy image
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While the former El Rey Theater complex quietly marked its ninetieth anniversary on Nov. 14, its owners have been updating plans to revitalize the dormant movie palace and its commercial spaces while building dozens of housing units on its parking lots.

Earlier this year, the development team refiled a proposal to renovate the theater complex and erect 42 condominium units of housing on the twin parking lots and atop its commercial wings. The units would range from two three bedrooms, 12 two bedrooms and 28 one bedrooms along with a 32-unit basement parking garage.

In August, the Planning Department released its assessment of the project proposal for 1970 Ocean Ave., noting that California’s Density Bonus Program “may provide a path for the project to seek additional density as well as waivers and incentives/concessions from certain development standards.”

The Ingleside Light interviewed building co-owner and developer Urbano Ezquerro in late November about changes to the plans he and his partners along with architecture firm Goldman Architects will make following the Planning Department’s review.

“We have to revise some of the drawings,” Ezquerro told the Ingleside Light. “Now that we know what they will allow us to do, we are trying to do the structural study.”

The development team will examine how to retrofit the theater at the same time, he added. They are also studying acquisition of historic tax credits.

The cost to renovate the theater will be substantial. Ezquerro expressed concern about the integrity of the tower.

“After this study, we’ll know exactly what we’ll be dealing with for the theater,” Ezquerro said.

In the original proposal, either commercial wing had three housing units.

“[The Planning Department] wants us to take some of the units from the wings,” Ezquerro said. “We can keep two on each side instead of nothing, because they are sunk in.”

The planners stated that they would like the developers to “explore ways to maximize the residential density at the rear of the property.”

Ezquerro said there is no plan to make the buildings taller. John Goldman of Goldman Architects specifically designed the residential buildings to be compatible with the Moderne style of El Rey architect Timothy Pflueger and the homes nearby.

Built in 1931, the theater operated as a cinema until the late 1970s when it was purchased by the Voice of Pentecost. The church lost the building in foreclosure and it was auctioned off on the steps of City Hall for $1.06 million in December 2015.

Next Steps

No community meetings are planned, Ezquerro said.

Before the submission of the preliminary project design, the developers met with several community groups. Opinions about the project ran the gamut as they would for a major city beset in a colossal state with a housing crisis.

The Ingleside Merchants Association submitted a letter to the district supervisor and Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s Invest in Neighborhoods deputy director requesting that the project be expedited. [Disclosure: the Ingleside Light is a member of IMA.]

“[The housing] is what needs to happen for the theater to be revitalized,” IMA chair and Ocean Ale House co-owner Miles Escobedo said.

Escobedo added that he wants the theater to serve as a space for artists and dreamers.

The project will likely be tackled in three phases, according to Ezquerro. First the facade and commercial spaces, followed by the theater and finally the housing.

South of Market-based SCUBA diving center Bamboo Reef will take the western wing. There are no other confirmed tenants for the other commercial spaces.

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