Hope shines on El Rey Theatre


An inside look at the historical El Rey Photo credit: Ken Naas

Roaring applause and cheers filled the Chico City Council chambers on Sept. 20 when the city council members unanimously voted to add the El Rey Theatre to the October agenda.

The meeting will discuss options to protect the building. The decision came from the joint effort of the El Rey Alliance, a non-profit organization, and residents of the community.

The El Rey Alliance urged residents of Chico to email, call and send letters to city council with the subject: Save the El Rey Theatre.

Earlier this year Firestone Grill filed an application at the city planning department to potentially buy El Rey. They later asked the city to put the file on hold. The El Rey Alliance, as well as the public, has received no further information.

“We’ve been urging everybody to write to the city council, the owners of El Rey and Firestone Grill,” Lisa West, a member of the El Rey Alliance, said. “We want the potential new owners, Firestone, to understand how much this theatre means to the people of Chico.”

In response, the El Rey Alliance created an online petition, as well as a physical one. The petitions have received over 1,100 signatures within the span of a week. It will be delivered to city council members and Firestone Grill to show how passionate the people of Chico are about the classic theatre.

“People from all over the world are signing,” West said. “It’s just not Chico. We need to take into account that the El Rey is the second oldest theatre in America.”

For Steven Lovebreed, the organization’s unofficial historian, the future is bright for the El Rey.

“Red Bluff, Redding, Oroville, Auburn and Grass Valley succeeded in preserving their historical theaters,” Lovebreed said. “Since the El Rey is on Chico’s historic resource inventory, it is automatically considered historical by the city. However, that only protects the outside of the theatre.”

Since the building is privately owned, the interior is subject to change despite its historical value. It is the El Rey Alliance’s hope that the architectural review and preservation board will review the El Rey and apply changes to the current inventory, which could save the theatre.

“There would be too many roadblocks if the new owners wanted to demolish the building,” Lovebreed said. “But we don’t know what their plans are and that’s the problem. The best we can do is halt the process.”

The city council meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Oct. 4 at 421 Main St. The El Rey Alliance urges residents to bring friends and family, make posters and sign the petition.

“We’ll keep on going, even if all else fails,” West said. “We want to fill up every seat, the entire room, and the streets. I want to see 1,000 people standing up for our beloved theatre.”

Katia Berg can be reached at [email protected] or @katiaboli on Twitter.