Fremont theater is closed after bee invasion

slinn@thetribunenews.comJuly 10, 2013 

The Fremont theater in San Luis Obispo.


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Rob Rossi owns Downtown Centre Cinemas; he and John King do not own that theater. Also, the size of the hole through which the bees entered was misstated; it was one-eighth of an inch wide, not eight inches wide.

San Luis Obispo is abuzz over the latest attraction at the historic Fremont movie theater: a large colony of bees.

The discovery prompted theater owners Wednesday to temporarily close the Fremont.

“All we know is there’s a lot of bee activity going in and out of this little hole 40 feet off the ground,” said Rob Rossi, who owns two San Luis Obispo movie theaters — the Fremont and the adjacent Mission Cinemas — with fellow developer John King.

According to Rossi, bees apparently infiltrated the southwest side of the structure at 1025 Monterey St. through a tiny opening in a concrete wall near the roof.

The one-eighth-inch hole was part of the original design of the Fremont, which opened in 1942, he said.

The bees were spotted Monday, and Rossi was notified Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, he decided to shut the Fremont’s doors to protect theater staff and patrons, forcing at least one event to relocate.

Festival Mozaic and the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival had planned to screen the documentary “Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony” on Wednesday night at the Fremont. That screening was shifted to Downtown Centre Cinemas on Marsh Street.

Although Rossi hopes to reopen the Fremont by this weekend, he said the actual timeline will depend on how long it takes maintenance crews to remove the nest — ideally without harming the bees or jeopardizing workers’ safety.

They’ll most likely have to cut through a wall or ceiling to access the space. However, Rossi isn’t sure what they’ll find.

“If you touch a door, and it’s hot, and you think there’s a fire on the other side of it, you don’t open it,” he said. “This is kind of the same thing.”

According to bee removal expert Stephen Arnold, owner of King Bee Honey Co. in Atascadero, bees are naturally drawn to homes, businesses and other manmade structures.

“When you look around a city from a bee’s point of view, it’s a way better environment than any forest could be,” Arnold said, because those buildings offer an endless variety of hollow spaces for nests.

During bee season, which lasts from spring through fall, he fields countless calls from people who find a dozen or so bees hovering around a small opening. It may not look like much, he said, but each nest harbors an average of 10,000 to 30,000 bees.

Once he’s located a nest, it takes Arnold up to two days to extricate the bees, remove all remnants of the nest and “bee-proof” and repair the space. He does 50 to 75 structural removals each year.

“It’s not an easy process, and there’s no shortcut,” he said.

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