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The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

The student news site of Diablo Valley College.

The Inquirer

Demonstrators fight to save the Dome Theater

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of Pleasant Hill’s CineArts Theater on April 6 to protest SyWest Development’s plans to demolish the iconic theater so that it can be replaced by a Dick’s Sporting Goods Store.

Demonstrators held signs, spoke with television news crews and spread awareness about the planned demolition – a plan which seemed to take many of Saturday’s CineArts patrons by surprise.

“I was shocked to hear that the city is going to close down such a historic structure,” said Sarah Liu, a 22-year-old Concord resident.

Liu was on her way to watch “Ginger and Rosa” at CineArts when she stopped to read an informational flyer being handed out by one of the protestors.

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“If it wasn’t for this protest, I wouldn’t have even known that (CineArts) was in danger of being mowed down,” Liu added. “It’s crazy to know that an issue as big as this could slip under the radar.”

The Dome vs. SyWest – The Commissioners weigh-in

CineArts, which is affectionately known by locals as “The Dome Theater” for its iconic dome structure, has been a Pleasant Hill staple since it opened in 1967. Located at the south End of the Crossroads in Pleasant Hill Shopping Center, the property is owned by SyWest Development LLC of San Rafael.

SyWest Development submitted their plans to demolish The Dome Theater and replace it with a two-story, 73,176-square-foot Dick’s Sporting Goods store to the City of Pleasant Hill in December, 2012.

“We are long-term property owners here,” said Vierra. “We’re not looking to build and sell.” He added, “We’re not walking away from this.”

The Pleasant Hill’s Planning Commission approved SyWest’s plans on March 26 by a vote of 6-1. Commissioner Jim Bonato gave the only dissenting vote.

“I think we deserve better,” asserted Bonato.

Commissioner Alex Greenwood offered praise to SyWest’s plans to replace The Dome with a Dick’s Sporting Goods Store, saying, “It will add economic vitality in a way that will take Pleasant Hill outward.”

“I am in support about having an art house movie theater somewhere here in the city (of Pleasant Hill),” said Bonato in an interview immediately following the adjournment of the March 26 Planning Commission meeting. “But I think that The Dome has outlived itself.”

Locals get vocal

According to a document submitted by to the city of Pleasant Hill on January 28 by William Self Associates, Inc. (WSA), the Dome Theatre appears not to “exhibit the level of exceptional significance necessary to warrant listing on the California Register of Historic Places at this time… However, [it] does appear potentially eligible for listing as a cultural resource at the local level” (Garavaglia 2013:22).

At the April 6 protest, demonstrators and bystanders shared their beliefs about how The Dome signifies a special time in California’s history.

After speaking with demonstrators as he left a movie on Saturday, Jay Marchus, a 63-year-old resident of Walnut Creek, reminisced about his time as an assistant manager in 1967 at what was then called the Century 21 Theater.

“The Dome has always been a piece of history and a piece of my personal history,” concluded Marchus.

“Everybody remembers their first movie at The Dome,” said demonstrator Matthew O’Connor, 41, of Concord.

O’Connor brought his 14-year-old daughter, Gwendolen O’Connor, to Saturday’s protest. In a nod to two of the James Cameron sci-fi films that they saw at The Dome – “Alien” (1986) and “Avatar” (2009) – Matthew dressed as an alien and Gwendolen was Neytiri.

“Look at the people here,” observed Marty Duvall, a long time CineArts patron from Benicia. “We’ve got aliens, young people, old people… There is no cohesive demographic. This theater attracts all types.”

Demonstrator Christopher Walker, 32, of Walnut Creek recalled the many times he went out of his way to arrange rides just so that he could enjoy the Jewish Film Festival, which The Dome hosts every year.

“This is like my second home,” said Walker.

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The Dome’s future

“The building is ugly and it needs to be redone,” said Ron Holt, 42, of Danville. “The only reason I come here is because my wife makes me come with her; and I love my wife. This building? Not so much.”

The owner and manager of CineArts refused to speak to any reporters. But that didn’t stop KRON 2 NEWS and Channel 5 KPIX from showing up and interviewing the protest’s organizers: 29-year-old Jessica Brown of Concord and 24-year-old Chelsea Simmons of Danville.

“The Dome is not just special to Pleasant Hill, but to many surrounding cities like El Cerrito, Oakland, Antioch and Lafayette who are just now hearing about the news of The Dome’s planned demolition,” said Simmons.

Walnut Creek resident Martha Ross has been writing about SyWest’s plans in her blog, “Crazy In Suburbia”, for the last few months. On April 8, Ross submitted an appeal to the City of Pleasant Hill in response to the Planning Commission’s March 26 vote to approve SyWest Developments’ plans.

While Dome activists hope for the best, CineArts has already planned to show its last movie on April 21.

“This isn’t the end,” says Brown. “We’re going to continue to fight.”

Protestors gathered outside of the CineArts dome to fight the closing of this cultural landmark. (Threrisa Marie / The Inquirer)

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About the Contributor
Theresa Marie, Staff writer
Staff writer, spring 2013 and fall 2011. First place, feature writing, 2013 Journalism Association of Community Colleges NorCal Conference.

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Demonstrators fight to save the Dome Theater