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L.A. County supervisors back drugstore conversion for historic East L.A. theater [Updated]

May 25, 2010 |  2:04 pm

The Golden Gate Theater's entrance is an example of Churrigueresque architecture, unusual in L.A. Credit: Christina House/For The Times/ May 13, 2009.
Los Angeles County supervisors unanimously voiced support Tuesday for the conversion of the long-abandoned Golden Gate Theater in East Los Angeles into a 24-hour drugstore despite passionate last-minute appeals by some residents to block the project.

The supervisors denied an appeal from some residents who want the long-shuttered building near Atlantic and Whittier boulevards to be restored as a theater or cultural arts center, not turned into a CVS pharmacy where alcohol will be sold. 

Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the theater, said that while the project would not restore the theater to its full glory, it was better than leaving the building vacant and dilapidated.

“The best we have is a compromise and at least leaving it in place and preserving it” as much as possible, said Molina, who pushed to prevent the theater's demolition in 1988 when she was a Los Angeles City councilwoman. “At the end of the day, it has been an eyesore.”

Molina said most developers have not been eager to redevelop the site because of its historic status.

The Golden Gate Theater was built in 1927 and is known for its grand façade. Its entrance replicates the portal of the University of Salamanca in Spain, built in a Spanish-baroque style known as churrigueresque. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is one of the few examples of remaining neighborhood movie palaces built in the 1920s. Movies stopped playing there in 1986.

Goldengatetheatertrim The drugstore project initially was approved by the county Regional Planning Commission in March, and will “preserve the integrity of the historic building exterior,” according to a county document.

Many of the interior’s architecturally defining features will be preserved “by encasing them behind new walls and obscuring them from view by suspended ceilings,” according to the document. The proposal also allows the drugstore to sell alcoholic beverages.

Tuesday’s hearing brought passionate speakers on both sides of the issue to the county Hall of Administration.

“This is not just a building. It is a theater … a monument, the last one in East L.A.,” Sam Barraza told the supervisors. “This is not just a geographic or development battle … the spirit of East L.A. is at stake.”

Sylvia Nunez opposed the granting of a license to sell alcohol at the drugstore. “We do not need another liquor store,” she said.

Other residents and merchants supported the project, saying it would bring needed jobs to the struggling commercial center, and describing the neighborhood as one that becomes deserted when many businesses close at 5 p.m. They also lamented having to travel to Monterey Park to get to a drugstore.

“The addition of a national pharmacy chain will be a tremendous benefit,” said Jesse Torres, chief executive of East L.A.-based Pan American Bank.

Torres also said the alcohol license would not encourage more alcohol drinking in the area, but “will serve to take business away from liquor-only stores that are predatory in the community” and sell beer to minors.

“We have to have those stores and retailers,” said Al Rivera, who supports the plan. “CVS will be looked at by other corporations. We want to make sure other corporations and investors look at East L.A. as a business-friendly community.”

[For the record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Molina was a Los Angeles city councilwoman in 1998. She was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1991.]

-- Rong-Gong Lin II


Future of 1927-era East L.A. theater in question

Photos: The Golden Gate Theater's entrance is an example of Churrigueresque architecture, an elaborate style not often seen in Los Angeles. Credit: Christina House / For The Times