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Port Theater may be office

The new building owner has put in a proposal to City Council to maintain the exterior, but turn the interior into office space.

August 23, 2007|By Michael Miller

The Port Theater in Corona del Mar, which appeared primed for the wrecking ball a few months ago, may have a new lease on life, as the city is in discussions with architects who plan to convert the old theater into an office building.

Last week, officials from the Newport Beach Planning Department met with members of Laidlaw Schultz Architects to discuss renovating the theater that closed nine years ago. The Port, which opened in 1950 and later functioned as an art-house cinema, closed its doors in 1998 and looked to be finished when its then-owner obtained a city permit to demolish it in March.

The building’s new owner, however, has an interest in maintaining the Port as a visual landmark of Pacific Coast Highway — even though its days as a theater may be through. The proposal voiced to the city last week involved retaining the building’s exterior, converting the ground floor into a parking garage and turning the rest into office space, storage and a reception area.

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City Manager Homer Bludau called the proposal a relief, noting the nostalgic value the Port had for many.

“It is a very prominent architectural feature of Corona del Mar,” he said. “There are many memories associated of families going to the theater, of kids going to the theater. It tugs on the heartstrings for a lot of people.”

David Lepo, the city’s planning director, said new owner Pand Realty LLC hadn’t yet submitted an application to remodel the building but would likely do so in the coming weeks. After former owner Rick Aversano got a demolition permit in March, Lepo said, interest in preserving the theater increased among residents.

“It would have been surprising back in March if, right after the previous owner pulled the demolition permit, we had received this call [about remodeling], but I know there had been a couple calls in the last couple months,” he said. “People had been calling in and asking what they could do with that building.”

Representatives for Pand Realty, which purchased the property earlier this year, declined comment Wednesday.

City Councilman Ed Selich said he couldn’t judge the owners’ plan until he had seen it on paper, but he added he was glad the theater’s structure would survive. He was a regular patron of the theater a quarter-century ago.

“Every once in awhile, they’d have a good surf movie there,” he said.

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