Stanford Theatre open again after overdue renovations

Palo Alto institution with old-Hollywood feel maintains 'vintage look'

Stanford Theatre in downtown Palo Alto screens films from the silent era through 1965. Photo courtesy Cynthia Mortensen-Colombetti.

Palo Alto's Stanford Theatre reopened last weekend after a three-month closure due to renovations, but moviegoers shouldn't expect anything to look different, according to general manager Cynthia Mortensen-Colombetti.

The purpose of the renovations is to keep Stanford Theater looking exactly as it did in 1925, when the theater first opened.

"Stanford Theatre exists to bring back classic movies and the classic movie-going experience," Mortensen-Colombetti said. "If we changed the way it looked, it would just be a multiplex like everything else."

While closed, the theater underwent carpet replacements, paint touch-ups and refurbishment of its more than 1,000 seats, which had to be transported to a company in Los Angeles that specializes in vintage-seat refurbishment, which collectively added up to $650,000. The theater previously underwent a $6 million restoration in 1989 and had not been renovated since the early 2000s.

The theater's old-Hollywood feel combined with its screenings of films from the silent era through 1965 is what keeps loyal patrons returning to the independent theater operated by the Stanford Theatre Foundation.

"I've been going since I was a teenager," said Naomi Huiltron Hernandez, who grew up in East Palo Alto.

Although she now lives in the East Bay, she still makes the trip to Palo Alto to watch films at the Stanford Theatre with her daughters, ages 2 and 7.

"I love that they kept the vintage look and feel of the theater," she said. "For me, it's part of the whole experience of feeling like you're walking back in a different time period."

Mortensen-Colombetti has worked for the theater for more than 20 years and has seen children grow and return to the theater with children of their own. She said that for a lot of young children, a movie at the Stanford Theatre is their first experience with the big screen.

"I love the community support," she said.

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