The historic Fox Theatre in Paso Robles has finally found a buyer, after sitting vacant for close to three decades.
Re:Find Distillery announced Tuesday that it has purchased the old theater at 1436 Spring St. to use as the business’ new downtown home.
Owners Alex and Monica Villicana say they plan to restore the former movie theater so that it can house their growing distillery business, which they founded in 2011. Re:Find Distillery currently operates out of a 5,000-square-foot space at the Villicanas’ winery, Villicana Winery and Vineyard, on Adelaida Road.
“It’s really outgrowing the little space we have it in,” Alex Villicana said Tuesday, noting that production has grown to 2,000 cases a year since 2011. “So about a year ago we started looking around for a new home for it, and after looking at the Fox Theatre, we knew it was perfect.”
Villicana said renovating the abandoned theater as a tasting room and production site fits well with the distillery’s message of taking something that is thrown out or wasted and using it in a different way (the Villicanas reuse saignée — discarded juices bled from wines during the fermentation process — from their winery to produce their grape and other-flavored spirits).
“It’s something you drive by all the time, and you see and always wish something was happening with it,” Villicana said of the theater. “It’s a part of Paso history.”
Once the project is completed in the next two to three years, Villicana said he expects he will be able to ramp up production of the distilled spirits to about 5,000 cases per year.
The Fox Theatre building was built in 1922 as a Veterans of Foreign Wars legion hall. It went through several reincarnations as a store and cafe until it was remodeled into the HiHo Theatre in 1941. It became the Fox Theatre in 1957 but closed in the mid-1980s.
Former Paso Robles resident John Turano purchased the property in 2001 to turn the space into a special events venue, and the building was gutted to make way for the project. It was never realized, however, and after another failed attempt to turn the building into a performing arts center and the recession, Turano took the theater off the market.
In October 2015 the building was once again on the market, for $490,000, according to previous Tribune reports. At the time, property representatives said the building needed to be structurally reinforced and brought up to code.
Villicana said he and his wife have already worked through “multiple steps” toward updating the building, including structural analysis, historical society approval and preliminary talks with the city. The next step is additional data collection to create the plans for making the building structurally sound.
Those plans will help determine exactly how the Villicanas can renovate the property, though Alex Villicana said he plans to put the tasting room in front, with the production facility in back. Villicana said he also expects they will restore the second story on the one-story building, and make that into a restaurant or member club lounge.
The building’s signature marquee will stay in place, he said.
Villicana declined to disclose how much he and his wife purchased the property for, or how much they expect to spend on the renovations, saying just that the couple “will put into it what it needs to be done right.”