News

Office space may be next plan for Park Theater

 

The Park Theater in Menlo Park has been vacant for going on eight years, but owner Howard Crittenden hasn't stopped looking for new tenants.

At the April 20 City Council meeting, Mr. Crittenden spoke to keep the council in the loop on his latest attempt to find a new use for the building, saying he has spent about a year developing a plan to convert the theater to a commercial use.

The planning firm working for Mr. Crittenden has told him that converting the theater to office space would be a better investment than making way for a retail tenant, but that even then the deal probably would not be profitable to an investor after the economy recovers, Mr. Crittenden said. He said he plans to test that assessment by presenting the plans to commercial real estate brokers.

"A this moment I don't have an answer" on whether the plan would work, he said. "Hopefully soon I will."

Mr. Crittenden said he believed the plans would maintain the building's character and would not trigger a historical assessment under state law.

The theater, on El Camino Real between Valparaiso and Oak Grove avenues, has been empty since Mr. Crittenden evicted Landmark Theatres in 2002, saying the company was unable to pay the "market rent." Finding a new tenant has been an ongoing concern for both Mr. Crittenden and the city since, with council members generally unwilling to commit public funds to the site.

A proposal for the city to subsidize a film operator didn't work out. Neither did a proposal for the city to subsidize the operation of a dance studio. At one point Mr. Crittenden applied for a demolition permit, but withdrew it shortly thereafter, according to Community Development Director Arlinda Heineck.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Gertridge
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm

To my old, Boy Scout friend, Sandy Crittenden;

I have two questions:

1. Where will these tenants of the proposed conversion PARK? (no pun intended)
2. Where is the classic PARK neon sign that once graced the theater we all enjoyed in the 50s through the 70's?


Like this comment
Posted by annoyed neighbor
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

A bird in the hand Mr. Crittenden. It appears your "market rent" is actually $0.00. Thanks for taking a great old theater and turning it into a giant blighted wart in the middle of town.


Like this comment
Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm

I truly laughed out loud when I read in quotes "market rent".

Sounds like a true lesson in market value has been learned. Oh I forgot, was it last year, or 2 years back now, that the then mayor Kelly Furgusson, attempted to get a sweet deal for Crittenden, which thankfully did not work out.

Lesson learned maybe?


Like this comment
Posted by commish
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm

The state of the Park Theater is a memorial to the greed of the INternet bubble and bust. Through Crittendon's wisdom, he waited an entire economic cycle to an another bust.


Like this comment
Posted by Tired of looking at it
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Given the way Mr. Crittenden has this eyesore remain, I hope the city will grant NO concessions this time around.


Like this comment
Posted by Celiene
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:46 pm

BRING BACK THE THEATRE! What is WRONG with this man? Why not work with local theatre groups and use it for live theatre as well as classic films? It was so beautiful inside. Can't we claim imminent domain and restore it to its former glory for the benefit of all?

This Crittendon is as stupid as a post if he thinks we need another EMPTY office space. There are millions of square feet for lease all over the area at this very moment.


Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Apr 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm

It is his land he owns the right to develop the land, tear down the old theater and put a parking structure or what ever else he wants as long as it is not immoral or illegal


Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Apr 22, 2010 at 5:03 pm

To Maria...

I assume you'd approve of our your neighbor's house looking as attractive as the Park Theater.


Like this comment
Posted by meaningless rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 23, 2010 at 8:02 am

Neighbor makes a good point.
Crittendon bought the Park Theater knowing what it was, and the rules about what is allowed there, rules requiring parking, etc.

So why is it his "right" to ask for new rules to do anything he wants? And to be excused from those rules that others are expected to follow?

This property owner allowed a historic building with a beautiful interior to literally rot in place, possibly to eliminate the prospect of renovating it as a theater or another use that would honor that beauty. Looking at the theater and Stanford's vacant lots, apparently the city doesn't have rules that require properties to be kept presentable But those probably wouldn't be honored anyway.


Like this comment
Posted by Maria
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 23, 2010 at 8:52 am



Sounds like a great idea to have it a theater again! Don't understand why the owner doesn't do that. Does he actually live in Menlo and look at this eye sore year in and year out? It would be great to have it as it was or some other cultural thing!


Like this comment
Posted by Representative
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm

What we want is a Jack In The Box -- have you tasted their new french fries? Fantastic!


Like this comment
Posted by Tom H
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm

What a joke!


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 23, 2010 at 7:35 pm

This monument to failure would make an excellent home for our local SEIU or California Teacher's Association offices.


Like this comment
Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 25, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I worked with Sandy Crittendon 10 years ago and developed a creative solution to save the Park Theater's marquis, sign and lobby while replacing the 700 seat theater with a smaller, art theater. Behind them was a medical building with underground parking for all. It exceeded the floor area limits of the time, but is close to what is proposed in the new specific plan. It was reasonable, but was rejected at the study session level by the planning commission at the time. Unfortunately the new, specific plan for El Camino puts excessive limits on medical buildings and is still fairly restrictive, making it difficult for property owners to recoup even the cost of construction when developing their property.


Like this comment
Posted by a concerned taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 25, 2010 at 4:06 pm

No matter what Crittendon had no right to tear down something that was protected. He bought it that way and knew better. Too bad he didn't have the creative eye that the owner did for this property in San Francisco:

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 26, 2010 at 2:21 am

Can someone explain exactly what historical preservation "protections" apply to the Park Theater other than the wishes of certain city council members.

Are these city, state, or federal rules?

Do they apply to the exterior, interior, both?

When/how were they added?

Who has the authority to decide what types of redevelopment satisfy the restrictions?

Thanks.


Like this comment
Posted by sue
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2010 at 9:00 am

can't a collective of you guys find someone to put the theater back in business? having grown up with the Park..the idea that it doesn't exist is just awful. There was parking when I grew up. Yes, I know there are buildings around it etc...but its a great theater...find a collective to put it together. I don't live there any more or I would. Don't kill MP old treasured building..help them. You redeveloped downtown MP..why not the theater??


Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2010 at 9:42 am

small single screen movie theaters, drive in theaters, A&W root beer stands with car hops---all things I remember fondly from my youth and teenage years. However, just like home milk deliveries, small general stores and soda fountains of a generation before mine, these are things that have become economically obsolete. Buildings are built and depreciated over a 30-40 year useful life for good reasons. They wear out; construction methods improve; seismic and other safety standards improve as we learn more; building materials and infrastructure are developed that are cleaner, greener and more efficient. Let the man tear the old building down and build something new, efficient and economically viable! Hold him to code and zoning, yes; maybe even insist that the use be tax revenue producing for the City, but don't waste the dirt on nostalgia.


Like this comment
Posted by used to live in menlo
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2010 at 10:31 am

An excellent example for what could be done to the park theater is the uptown theatre in napa... It was also shut down for more than 10 years, but its owner restored it to its art decco glory and it will reopen in May with live music acts... Robert Cray, los lonley boys, gypsy kings...etc... if menlo had a decent place for live music it would be sold out... think outside the box... no more office in a historic building, and make him restore the sign he tore down illegally, on purpose...


Like this comment
Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 26, 2010 at 3:08 pm

The Park Theater did not have a historic designation when we worked on it 10 years ago. The City does have an 'H' zoning for selected properties. The Bright Eagle Mansion in MP has the designation.

Removing the sign was legal.

Mr.Crittenden has been looking for creative ways to save the theater for years, but because of its location and lack of parking it is not supported by the community. In addition our leaders have been unwilling to allow property owners the necessary intensity (unit count) and density (floor area) neccessary to justify rebuilding and renovation.

Unless the City wants to put up the money for a renovation or adequately change the zoning the Park Theater is history.


Like this comment
Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 26, 2010 at 5:03 pm

When this came up years ago, I thought it would be really great to do exactly what was done to the Belmont Theater. Turn it into a Planet Granite.

While it is true that parking would have been an issue, my sense is that that particular sticking point was not beyond solution.

The place would be a gold mine and would give the many active people that frequent and visit Menlo Park, an awesome place to participate in their chosen form of exercise. It would also give the younger crowd, i.e. high schoolers, etc. another place to be active in this already too sleepy town.

I sent this idea to Kelly Ferguson. All I heard back were "crickets."


Like this comment
Posted by menlopark resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 26, 2010 at 10:54 pm

We were walking along Santa Cruz Avenue -- in Los Gatos -- just today and remarking on the "Gatos Theater" and how their downtown was so well integrated with the old and the new. Menlo Park's City Council has consistently abandoned its promise of new residential as well as downtown policies that would honor the character of a city that had great charm. Build bigger, create trophy properties, expand the carbon footprint and gain more tax base at any cost to existing and future residents -- and destroy any lasting and memorable character our town may have had.


Like this comment
Posted by meaningless rules
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 27, 2010 at 7:28 am

Crittendon bought the property with full knowledge of its condition and Menlo Park's rules. If he didn't think he could make money on it with that situation, why did he buy it? Was it simply speculation that he could persuade a council to make new rules to make good on his bet?

Some writers in this thread seem to think that is what should happen.

I would bet that there will be folks who will want special rules just for them after the new plan, too. The mantra seems to be "Rules are good unless they don't support what I want to do."
He certainly cares little about Menlo Park or he would have cleaned up the appearance long ago. This is about greed.


Like this comment
Posted by used to live in menlo
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2010 at 11:33 am

mr. sinnott,

if they have been looking for creative ways to save the theatre why was the iconic sign torn down? Was a permit received to tear it down, or was it done at night?? Ask forgiveness not permission, right?

As far as having the city put funds towards the restoration... I'd like an addition to my house, maybe the city should put funds towards that as well...

If mr. crittendon doesn't like the restrictions placed on that location, or does not want to restore it himself no one is preventing him from selling the property... although using a cap rate to set the price of a building that brings in no money is simple $0... live and learn, a bad business decision... maybe its time to cut his losses instead of asking for a handout or that the rules be changed to accommodate him.


Like this comment
Posted by Jay Gertridge
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 27, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Hey, how about converting it to a cage fighting theater, where weekly "Town Forum" posters can really get down!
Poster's using phony acronyms to hide their identities could wear masks (just like WWE wrestlers). And since parking is an issue, all attendees would have to walk to the theater (thereby, serving as an exercise facility too). Admission tickets would generate the retail tax that our Council so desperately wants from every downtown business space. Best of all, the PARK sign could go back up (so we old-timers know we're in the right town), the old marquis and poster windows could be restored to promote local weekly issues to be "discussed" in the cage, and the concession stand in the lobby could dole out over-price popcorn, black cows and jujubees would put more money in the cofers. Naturally, booing and hissing would be encouraged (as opposed to Tuesday council meetings).
Just think...Local live theater back in town, but now starring all the usual M.P. suspects - I bet the place would be packed!


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 27, 2010 at 5:31 pm

Jay, I think you have a great idea there. Let's also make sure the venue is staffed by overpaid unionized workers who make 2X what the average citizen does, who cannot be fired, and whose irrevocable retirement benefits extend until death. It's a recipe for success in good old Menlo Park!


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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