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Community hopeful for El Rey

City council meeting addressed possibilities in protecting the 110-year-old theatre, El Rey. Photo credit: Ronnie Bolser

Students, residents and members of the El Rey Alliance participated in an open forum Oct. 4 to rally support for the El Rey Theatre in front of the Chico City Council.

Students from Chico Country Day School, the Butte County Green party, long-time residents and members of the El Rey Alliance spoke in favor of preserving the theatre.

On the opposing side was Steve Depa, a real estate agent who has been marketing the El Rey for over a year.

“I’ve had theatre groups come up from LA. They looked at the building and they said, ‘This is a movie theater, this isn’t a theatre,’” Depa said.

Depa said there’s no wing space, backstage or room for a performance at the El Rey and he found nothing significant in terms of historic value.

He asked the crowd, who had seen a movie at the theater in the last five years. Many supporters raised their hands but Depa concluded by reminding the city council members that the building is private property and the owners have the right to sell it.

Mayor Mark Sorensen indicated that a report made in 2005 found that the murals, painted by students several decades ago, was found to be historically significant.

“Because we have that report, I will be making a recommendation to the board to make that designation of the property,” Sorensen said.

Some options to fight for the El Rey include:

  • Declare an emergency ordinance
  • Add the theatre to the historic preservation board
  • Raise the $1.5 million
  • Find patrons and sponsors

“It’s the oldest, continuously, operating movie theatre in the state of California,” said a member of the El Rey Alliance Lisa West. “We’re not opposed to new business, we’re just opposed to losing our theatre.”

The potential buyers have put their offer on hold. As a result, the El Rey Alliance has more time to think about their next move, which is still unclear.

The group’s unofficial Historian Steven Breedlove said they have hope they can raise the money themselves and that having more time will definitely help them.

“A compromise would also work,” Breedlove said. “For example, if a restaurant wanted to purchase the building, we would be all for it. It could be a dinner theatre–we just want to keep the art alive.”

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

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