Scaffolding Comes Off Partly Restored El Rey Theater Tower

Despite the new paint and lettering, the restoration of the Art Deco movie palace's tower is not yet complete.

Theater exterior
The El Rey theater tower has been partially restored with fresh plaster and sign lettering. | Photo/Ingleside Light

Scaffolding that has shrouded Ingleside's iconic El Rey theater for four months began coming down Thursday, revealing patched up surfaces and a new off-white paint job.

Work began in May, months after chunks of plaster fell off the Art Deco movie palace during the heavy winter storms. Workers hired by the building's owner, the developer Optimal Partners, set up scaffolding to sandblast the sides, replace plaster with appropriate concrete and apply fresh paint.

"In the past, there were some repairs that weren't done properly," said Urbano Ezquerro, one of the developers. "They put some kind of plaster in there instead of concrete."

El Rey file photo
The El Rey theater was originally painted white as seen in this photo. | Courtesy Optimal Partners

Eventually the entire building will be painted the same warm off-white color because the building was originally white, project architect John Goldman told The Ingleside Light.

(The salmon and green colors date back to concept art created by master architect Timothy Pflueger, who designed the building in the early 1930s.)

It was unclear whether any sort of neon will be included in the restoration.

Perhaps most exciting, black lettering reading "El Rey" returned to three sides of the tower for the first time since the 1970s.

Optimal Partners and Goldman held a public meeting in June to collect feedback on plans for developing the building's small parking lots into housing. If approved, the entire building would be rehabilitated.

Goldman told the group of neighbors it may take up to two years before approvals are granted. The plans have not yet been submitted to the Planning Department, according to city records.

The tower lantern ornament as shown in a rendering. | Courtesy AT&T

Antenna Installation

AT&T won approval from the Planning Commission in July to install wireless telecommunications facilities including 16 antennas, 20 radio units, equipment cabinets and other equipment inside the tower.

"Once it’s on-air and operating, this new wireless site will provide enhanced wireless coverage at the theater and surrounding area," AT&T spokesperson Chris Collins said. "We continue to work with local communities to expand and enhance our network where our customers live, work and play."

The project aims to respect the character-defining features of the building by placing the antennas on the tower’s lantern — the top quarter or so — and covering them with screens that resemble ornament that has been missing for over 40 years.

From 1931 to the late 1970s, sheet metal ornament adorned the tower’s lantern. Using historic photos, the screens replicate the the original ornamental decoration in height and proportion but will lack the original fluting and be made of fiber-reinforced polymer.

The screens will be a "high-gloss white which could be a cool white to provide a bit of contrast with the rest of the tower," Goldman said.

Each screen is designed to reference the “original sheet metal ornament but does not evoke a sense of false historicism,” according to the project application.

Aside from the lantern, two louvered vents on the lower portion of the tower will be replaced. Seismic upgrades may also play a part, according to Optimal Partners.

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