After 70 years in downtown San Luis Obispo, the Fremont movie theater has shut its doors — at least for now.
The Fremont closed after the final showing Thursday night. But Fremont operator Sanborn Theatres, Inc. is considering a new contract with property owners King Ventures and Rossi Enterprises that would keep the movie palace open.
“It is possible that the Fremont will run for another year,” said Bruce Sanborn, chief executive officer of Sanborn Theatres.
Also known as The Movie Experience, the Newport Beach-based Sanborn Theatres manages three San Luis Obispo movie houses owned by local developers John King and Rob Rossi: Downtown Centre Cinemas on Marsh Street, and the Fremont and Mission Cinemas, both on Monterey Street.
After months of lease negotiations, Sanborn Theatres reached an interim agreement with King and Rossi last fall to operate the Fremont until the end of January, Sanborn said. That temporary agreement expired Thursday, leading to the shuttering of the historic building.
Now a new agreement may be in the works.
On Wednesday, Sanborn said, he reached a verbal agreement with Rossi and King’s legal counsel that would allow his company to operate the Fremont for one more year.
“The legal counsel for the landlords reached out to us at the last minute and said, ‘What do you think about this to keep (the theater) alive?’ ” Sanborn said. “Since then they’ve sent something in writing and we need to evaluate it.”
Sanborn hopes the parties can come to an agreement within a week.
On Thursday, King confirmed that Rossi is currently in lease negotiations with Sanborn.
“He’s still our tenant as far as I know,” King said of Sanborn. “We continue to try to work with him and hopefully things will work out.”
News of the Fremont’s closing, which was publicized Thursday afternoon in a post on the Fremont’s official Facebook page, came as a shock to fans and employees alike.
Cathy and Chris Molnar joined Donna Russell at the Fremont as soon as they learned it would be closing. They bought tickets for the 5:20 p.m. showing of "The Impossible" just because they wanted to "experience it one last time," Russell said.
"We're just shocked. There's been no warning at all,” said Cathy Molnar, a lifelong San Luis Obispo resident. "I remember coming to this theater as a kid. I grew up just a block away. It's just such a beautiful theater."
Russell, also a San Luis Obispo resident, said she has been going to the Fremont for more than 40 years. Her favorite aspect is "the ambiance,” she said. “It seems like more than just a regular theater."
Fremont projectionist Justin Binyon said the employees were told Thursday that the Fremont would close after the night’s final showing.
He said the employees have been working week to week since September, and added that some of them plan to seek new jobs at Downtown Centre. (Sanford said that any hiring decisions will be made by Downtown Centre’s managers.)
The Fremont has been a community landmark since it opened on Memorial Day 1942.
The premiere was attended by boxer Max Baer, child star Jackie Cooper and comedic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, as well as hundreds of servicemen stationed at Camp San Luis Obispo and Camp Roberts.
Known for its neon-lit façade, swirling coved ceiling, and 100-foot Art Deco murals, the building was designed in the Streamline Moderne style by movie theater architect S. Charles Lee.
According to Sanborn, two of the movies currently screening at the Fremont – “Parker” and “The Impossible” -- will be shown next door at Mission Cinemas today, Saturday and Sunday. Then the Mission will close temporarily as well.
Sanborn is optimistic that the theater will open in time for the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival.
“We know that the film festival is using the Fremont in March, so it’s not closing forever,” he said.