TLPW 456 is The Last Picture Waltz 456 University Avenue aka “Save The Varsity”

I am getting local merchants to post “TLPW 456” broadsides in their windows to get the word out about the citizens’ initiatives to affect the future of The Varsity Theatre, at 456 University Avenue in Palo Alto. It is a “snipe campaign” meaning it is only designed to pique curiosity and direct potential fellow travelers towards a search engine which would perhaps lead them here.

The flyers are hand-numbered by yours truly. (Although Palo Alto Public Arts commission chair Ally Richter

TLPW broadside at Bell's Books in Palo Alto

sat at the next table while I was working on that process, the numbering, 1 thru 456, natch). I also made little business cards with my contact info, some I leave behind at the stores that post the flyers.

edit to add: also, in terms of my describing omens that portend success for the Varsity initiative, I was pleased to see Jeff Bridges (from “The Last Picture Show” movie”) reviewed recently in New York Times.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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6 Responses to TLPW 456 is The Last Picture Waltz 456 University Avenue aka “Save The Varsity”

  1. markweiss86 says:

    And this posted to Palo Alto Weekly:
    I think, despite its flaws and the probable short-terms results, that the grass-roots support for the bowling alley is a significant local development in terms of community organizing and finding a voice for “civic engagement” and “residentialists” as opposed to (literally and figuratively) the developers and real estate interests.

    At one point I considered labeling the movement “Let’s Go Bowling” which is also a nod to a popular rock band. (I have not actually been involved with the movement, just read about in media and attended some related council meetings).

    I wonder if the energy behind the bowling movement overlaps with the nascent “Save The Varsity” movement?

    For what it’s worth, my involvement in that issue I am calling “The Last Picture Waltz” or “TLPW 456” — too many years in advertising makes me want to give everything names — I guess it worked better for former mayors Mike Cobb and Jim Burch — both ad guys — than it has for me so far.

    Also, perhaps relevantly, there is a famous sociologist who tracked the demise of American community based on the study of bowling leagues. I think his name is Robert Putnam.

    I think Mr. Daniel Mart is doing a great job. Keep it up! In bowling terms, you are rolling like a 235 or 240, not quite a perfect game but pretty darn good!!

    (My memories of the old bowling alley, Fiesta Lanes, was going there with Nick Sturiale and Mark Leland during a rainy day back in 1980 or so and coming in last and then covertly joining a league there — where I recall meeting Meg Mongillo and Jerry Sher — and rolling a 210 or so and gettng a little trophy for a “high handicap” top game — 270 or so?? — not so much in recent years…I would probably roll a 100 or so)

    • Mark Weiss says:

      just sent a random note to philippe kahn:
      could you help us get the lease or deed to 456 University Ave Palo Alto the historic and beloved Varsity Theatre for concerts, films, public assembly rather than have it to to office space for the next startup? Mark Weiss in Palo Alto
      http://www.lee-kahn.org

  2. markweiss says:

    this is attributed to Sid Espinosa and posted on something called Quora:
    This is a complex question depending on how you define viable, restore and glory.

    This Varsity Theatre is a privately owned property and my understanding is that the owners are not interested in selling the property. They are interested in renovating and upgrading parts of the property.

    When this property was converted to Borders, the mandate was that it be designed so that it could be easily converted back to a theater. Having worked on major historical restoration/construction projects (like the HP Garage / House project), I can assure you that a project of this scale would cost many millions of dollars. Is it possible to restore this property? Yes. Is it viable to find someone or a group of people who would spend millions of dollars on this restoration project? I don’t know.

    There are people in the community who would like to see this property returned to a movie theater. The movie house would need to be able to afford rent at this major retail / commercial space in downtown Palo Alto. The city has spoken with several major movie theater companies in hopes of suggesting a viable tenant to the property owner. The unanimous response from movie companies has been that this venue, which could hold a single (maybe double) movie screen, is not viable. Multiplex venues are now the standard. Smaller movie theatre companies have told us that the rent in downtown Palo Alto does not make sense (especially at this large venue) for even the new, smaller upscale movie theaters, which some had hoped would work at this site.

    There are people in the community who have pointed to the beautiful restoration for the Stanford Theatre on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, wanting to see something similar at the Varsity Theatre. Of course, the Stanford Theatre’s history includes the purchase and meticulous restoration of the site by the Packard Foundation (with the project being driven by David W. Packard) at a cost of many millions of dollars. The Stanford Theatre continues to be subsidized. If someone (or a group of people) with the monetary means to purchase and completely restore the building were to step forward – and if they could convince the Varsity Theatre property owners to sell, which again, I’ve heard that they’re not interested in doing – then this could be a viable option.

    There are people in the community who would like to see this venue become a concert space or community theater. Again, the city has reached out to music companies and theatre troupes here and across the county. Again the response has been that this is not a viable venue. The rents are too high for their business models. The layout of the building, while perhaps good for a movie theater, is not conducive with modern standards for music performances or community theatre. And the building sits next to a hotel and a large apartment building, so loud concerts/music would be a major concern.

  3. Pingback: Mark Weiss blog posts re The Varsity Theatre | Plastic Alto with Mark Weiss

  4. markweiss86 says:

    posted again to kenrick in july 22:
    Posted by Mark Weiss , a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, 0 minutes ago

    Kenrick quotes Keenan thus:

    It also would be possible to subdivide the space, with one tenant taking front-to-back in the portion facing University Avenue, and another tenant taking the interior ground-floor space, with access facing the rear parking lot.

    “What we don’t want to happen is for the thing to sit there empty.

    “I hate to lose the book category, but time marches on,” Keenan said.

    Reading this again, nine months later, I reiterate the point that Kenrick failed to mention “The Varsity Theatre” or go anywhere near discussing the tremendous community interest in reviving the cultural gem that it once was, and for many years.

    Also, she describes a scenario — dividing the historic building, with office workers entering from the parking lot — that Keenan et al did present to Historic Resources Board soon thereafter, in September or so.

    It seems like this article very deliberately was The Weekly giving Keenan and his cohorts the opportunity to start manipulating public opinion on this issue. Remember that thousands signed a petition and dozens spoke at hearings trying to prevent Kniss, Simitian Fazzino et al from granting the variance that shuttered the historic and beloved Theatre, that permitted the short-lived Borders.

    Increasingly The Palo Alto Weekly is an organ for Keenan, Baer and a select few others in real estate development to get their way and is not a member of the Fourth Estate the way traditional American newspapers once were.

    Recently there was an op-ed forum on Lytton Alma “Gateway” — a Lund Smith family project, they qualify for this elite group, the oligarchy, The Tall Tree/Buildings people — where Baer defended the project and the Weekly admitted it is or was in cahoots with him about their building, 450 Cambridge.

    How about a comprehensive profile of the commercial real estate scene here, who owns what and whom? People — readers, advertisers — would respect the Weekly more if they covered real estate objectively and not just lobbied for it.

    Speak truth to power with love, yo.

    my previous posts on that same thread:

    Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Jul 24, 2011 at 9:17 am

    I’ve had ten conversations already (or, eight conversations, one by email and one by text) with knowledgeable people about the viability of a concert promoter or film programmer to take over the lease or at least file amicus briefs in support of the idea. Those included one former mayor and one current council.

    I suggest people go to council this Monday July 26 and start speaking up on behalf of government mediating the strong interest of the community towards a gathering space / performing arts space and the needs of the one very powerful land owner.

    This time around (we went through this in 1996) let’s try to not demonize the owner just appeal to his sense of legacy.

    One important point is, if there is not a covenant per se about letting the supporters of the Theater have a chance to present a proposal, the previous effort did succeed in having the conversion from Theater to chain retailer done in such a way that it can revert. Check out Meserve Engineering in San Jose website for details.

    Also, the concert business regionally is very different and more in our favor adventageous in that rather than one monopoly Bill Graham Presents there are three of the world’s best promoters in the Bay Area in Live Nation, Another Planet and Golden Voice.

    Also, I notice on Monday’s Council discussion an item about redevelopment agency — my understanding (scant, on this point) is that redevelopment funds were used to establish venues like Yoshi’s (perhaps twice) and Fox Theatre in Oakland. Maybe city leaders can dovetail this two issues: can redevelopment funds be used to revert the Varsity Theater?
    and:
    “Amicus curiae” I am obviously not using the term precisely in that they are typically unsolicited “friends of the court.” Here I mean I think that if a qualified operator of a 1,000 capacity concert or concert-live theater-film programming venue would tour the facility and offer advice or encourage to other potential operators (or a citizens group or NGO formed to run the theater, like a non-profit) that might still be useful in terms of getting community leaders (Council) to work on this; Better is if a programming group offered to partner and take a certain number of dates per season (like the relationship between Montalvo and Fox of Redwood City for a few years there). Best would be if a qualified operator said they wanted the venue outright.

    I generated a list of more than 50 of these potential allies or operators, many of them have Palo Alto connections. For example, Danny Sher is a Paly grad and semi-retired president of Bill Graham Presents. In fact he was polled in 1996 by council and said it was probably viable as a venue. Maybe he would be more emphatic this time around or the scene has changed for the better.

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