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San Jose Moviegoers Make Case To Save Domed Theaters

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The Century 21 Dome Theater in San Jose. (CBS)

The Century 21 Dome Theater in San Jose. (CBS)

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SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Just when it looked like the Century Theater domes in San Jose were riding off into the sunset, here come the cavalry.

At a recent San Jose City Council meeting, several dozen hardcore theater lovers pleaded with councilmembers to save at least one of the domes on Winchester Boulevard, Century 21.

An online petition to save the domes has nearly 6,000 signatures.

The dome’s supporters did not want the city to send a letter from Mayor Chuck Reed to the State Historic Resources Commission. In it, the mayor asked the commission to hold off on granting the domes state historic landmark status, saying “the theaters are considered obsolete and practically unusable.”

“San Jose spent over $100 million on preserving historic buildings. We value the history, we consider the history. But not every building is historical and this one isn’t even very old,” Reed told KPIX 5.

For generations, the domes have thrilled moviegoers, many of whom camped out and stood in line for days. The cathedral-like domes opened in 1964, and for decades, the gigantic 125-foot screen was the place to watch a movie.

Now the owners, the Raney and Ferris families, said they can’t compete with multiplexes or even Netflix.

“The theater is no longer on the cutting edge of movies. We believe that with careful planning, our property can once again be re-imagined into a development that will serve the needs of our vibrant community,” said co-owner Joyce Raney.

In the end, the council voted seven to four to send a letter anyway. That same night, Federal Realty announced they had signed a deal to expand Santana Row, a posh collection of shops, restaurants, condos and offices, into the theater property just across the street.

Federal did not say if they would build around the domes, or demolish them.

“I’m cynical all the time, but try to be cautiously optimistic when possible,” said Bryan Grayson of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose. “And at this point, given where we are in the process, I’m cautiously optimistic.

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