Mark Weiss blog posts re The Varsity Theatre

I’ve posted nine times here about the Varsity Theatre, starting on July 22, the day Fox News did a quick segment on this. I have also written about this for Patch Palo Alto, was the source of articles in Daily News and the Palo Alto Weekly, was mentioned (disparagingly) in The Daily Post. I’ve spoken for the record to Palo Alto City Council, which is searchable at Media Center, plus to some commissions. There is an August 1 letter to Council on file.

By the way “Plastic Alto”, the name of this blog series, refers to the white acrylic alto sax played by Ornette Coleman, but also references Silicon Valley and the scene in “The Graduate” where the guy says “Plastics”.

The visual is a screen capture of the Fox News piece. The abstract says “put the weight on me” a The Band and “Last Waltz” reference.

1. Palo Alto’s New Varsity and ‘The Last Picture  Waltz’ initiative, published July 22, 2011


2.  Bird omens auger well for The Varsity Theatre 456, published August 14, 2011

The visual is a screen capture from “Ghost Dog” and the abstract continues the reference by quoting or goofing on Public Enemy soundtrack:” lamping lamping cold cold lamping, counting crows on poles, bat and moles all adds up to the New New Varsity, TLPW 456 in Palo Alto. sho nuff ya dig by any means Elliot Ness is near, dearies”. The second visual is the “TLPW456” snipe flyer and there is also a video of Bob Pritchett, my former coach, playing in the Varsity courtyard.

3.  TLPW 456 is The Last Picture Waltz 456 University Avenue aka ‘Save The Varsity’, published August 23, 2011

The visual is a picture of the snipe flyer on the door of Bell’s Books — thank you, Faith Bell for your support and insight on this issue. In the comments, which I often use as footnotes, there is the text of Mayor Sid Espinosa’s post on a website panning the idea of a theatre revival. I met with him subsequently and also suggested that ex-Mayor Gary Fazzino might have changed his mind on this as well. (Or I’m at least picturing the two of them sitting around one night watching movies and then having an “AHA!” moment).

4. Matt et Mark, published August 29, 2011. This piece is a fantasia about getting Matt Nathanson to do a benefit for The Varsity, perhaps at Cafe Zoe in Menlo Park. As a promoter I generally do not reveal projects in development, because they have a way of falling through. But it is true that a lot of the musicians I’ve worked with at Cubberley would likely support this, and someone will eventually play here on this topic. (Meanwhile, I am hoping Becky Rogers persists in trying to book a local band benefit for the cause, and hope to aid her). One of the best parts of this project is hearing people describe their fond memories of The Varsity and the subset of musicians who I ask about if they’ve played there. (So far, Hershel Yatovitz wins the award for his stories of hanging out in the alley with his mentor and friend Michael Hedges).

There is no visual but there is a link and an embed to Matt Nathanson performances and the abstract teases Matt (and myself) about how nice and how funny he was back in the day:

Matt Nathanson is the first male column subject whose mention compelled me to check the box “sex” and it is not because he once offered in writing to be my “bitch.” He did say that. We knew he was going places.


The Last Picture Waltz: tragedy or comedy? (Josephine Baker says its alright!), published September 13, 2011

This is a list of more than 100 “dramatis personnae” mostly people I’ve consulted although some of them I am trying to reach or merely are my muse. I’ve started saying I’ve had more than 100 conversations on this topic. The Josephine Baker reference is about my former client Mark “Stew” Stewart and his Broadway show “Passing Strange” (that workshopped at Stanford) and the song about someone giving the main character her keys — it’s about bridging gaps through conversation and humanity, which I felt is obliquely appropriate here. And besides I don’t want to be part of a revolution if I cannot sing or dance along the way.


consortium views arts as engines of recovery, published September 16, 2011

although this is only indirectly about the project and references some of my research efforts, like going to Berkeley to meet briefly with Steve Baker of Freight and Salvage (before and after a Country Joe McDonald tribute to Woody Guthrie, food for thought for bombs)

7. The Lisen Stromberg Center for The Performing Arts, published September 21, 2011

This does not say much about the Save The Varsity project – and actually talks more about The MacArthur Grants and Ann Packer than it does about Lisen’s author series, Peninsula Parlour but it references the true fact that there are a lot of groups, organizations and presenters who might benefit from having a place like 456 to play. Like Palo Alto International Film Festival, West Bay Opera, the “Youth Collaborative”/”Project Safety Net”/teen center supporters and more.

The visual is a bad photo of the otherwise very photogenic Stromberg and her guest, and the abstract makes some strange reference to their hair, and hummous.

This re-cap has gone on about 1,000 words so here might be a good place for a musical interlude featuring Cake’s “Mr. Mastodon Farm” performed here at the home studio of my favorite email provider and content people, but I have to mention here that they played this song for Earthwise Productions and The Palo Alto Soundcheck 12 years prior, in 1995.


New New Varsity Revival blog on WordPress, published September 23, 2011

This is actually a verbatim reprint of Tasha Brooks post somewhere that also ran as a guest column in Palo Alto Weekly website. In the comments/footnotes section I paste in my post on Palo Alto Weekly that is coverage of the public hearing yesterday at HRB. I like that I found then thought to use the Sam Adams line “This meeting does nothing to further our country” which references the activists who stormed The Dartmouth (before all that was termed “The Boston Tea Party”, the name came later). I am also, similarly, trying to mine Henry David Thoreau on “civil disobedience” especially about his disappointment in the leadership of his times.

9. The ninth post is actually one that I’ve pulled from the page, about comments Nancy Shepherd made from the dias, to which I reacted harshly. I pulled it because I want to focus on the benefits of the project and not frustration with council, commissioners or board members. But to address the point, let us not confuse lack of a political will with the legality of our leaders playing a role her, being pro-active, engaging the landlord, being creative, being courageous, stepping up to the plate and more. I chose the word “intervene” in my August 1, 2011 letter to Council because Deval Patrick used that word in his book, I flipped through at, of all places, Borders (you know, at 456 University). One of my college friends, Ben Clements, was Patrick’s chief legislative aid so I hope to get the chance for Ben to chime in here about government “intervention” and it’s legality. I had the opportunity and honor to mention Ben to William B. Gould last night at Stanford Bookstore, where the former NLRB chair was discussing his book on baseball and labor history — Curt Flood and all that — He and his old friend a Mr. Novack I believe were classmates at Cornell Law, where Ben was once the ace of his class. (I also mentioned that I am NO on D).

Of course, and now I am really off topic, of a digest, and more towards fresh ground, although it was mentioned elsewhere, one of my moments was when Nancy Shepherd introduced me to Chop Keenan, the owner of 456 University Avenue, and generally thought of as the villain of this story, and we had a moment seeming to connect over our favorite Indian tribe. He offered that his son, like his partnering investor in The Varsity, Mark Gates, is like me, a Dartmouth alum. I said, “Maybe the Dartmouth community here can buy you out or partner with you.” Wah-hoo-wah.

I am meaning to write another re-cap or a second letter to the editor, focusing and recasting, hopefully with updates from industry sources, and from Tommy Fehrenbach’s notes, if they can be public, on the prospects and benefits of a cultural or multi-use project. Also, there were some talk of both PAIFF and Gryphon getting the word out to their followers. I talked to Roger Kohler today who said the proposal for office space presented yesterday was in such a vague form, changed to a “concept” from I think “project” that there is indeed time for public comment and perhaps most significantly the possibility that Council will bring this to their agenda and purview.

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
This entry was posted in music, Plato's Republic and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Mark Weiss blog posts re The Varsity Theatre

  1. markweiss86 says:

    If you type “varsity theatre” into search function of this blog you get 13 results. If you type in “varsity” you get 17 results, mostly references but some could be about basketball, and dating back to my mentioning the 1996 discussion in context (by my standards) of Stew’s “Passing Strange”, Jacob Garchik and Rob Syrett.

    I’ve posted about 150 times since September of 2010, and a bunch of footnote links, “self-commenting” like this.

  2. Tristan Walker says:

    Mark Weiss- Have been following your fight for the Varsity. I’m behind you on restoring it to it’s former glory, but I gotta say that I’d stop supporting it if this were to become a Palo Alto International Film Festival project. I met the two women in charge of the festival and it quickly became clear to me that they have minimal to no interest in movies (or technology or much of anything except “cool VIP parties”). Apparently, they had no ceiling on what they spent on the festival because they’re funded by a wealthy investment group. Yet, the festival was pretty pathetic. And for some reason, they don’t just go ahead and buy the Varsity and save it as an art or performance space. Not to mention, neither of those two women seem to like theater, art, music etc. It’s suspicious to say the least that they are in charge of a so-called film festival. For the Varsity to become the cool space it once was, we need people who have the resources, the knowledge and genuine interest in the arts. I’d urge you to rally real Palo Altans behind this cause and not carpetbaggers (neither is from Palo Alto and hopefully they won’t stay).

    • Mark Weiss says:

      I met Alexandra Ippolite of the Film Festival because she responded to my post for Patch and spoke up at Council regarding “Save The Varsity.” And subsequently I met Devi Kamdar the main organizer of the Festival. In fact, my girlfriend and I both ended up volunteering for the festival. I met a lot of good people and some amazing people at the events, so I say they are welcome addition to the scene, and could play a role in the revival of the Varsity. That being said, I see your point that the festival is sort of a write-off of a promotion for the venture capital community, or high tech, or a particular “investor” so there is some dissonance going on.
      I guess I am trying to find overlap with a variety of people. Further, I have been incubating some film ideas such as showing Les Blank films, the related “Piano Players Rarely Play Together” New Orleans film, and or a Craig Baldwin retrospective.

      I advocate music as the primary use for The Varsity with some film programming. I also interned (kinda sorta) in 2001 at Anthology Film Archives in New York and like that kind of programming.

      This is link to Stevenson Palfi dvd. I never met him but had a long talk with him once during my tenure as Henry Butler’s manager:

  3. markweiss says:

    or only slightly more info and rhetoric there is now also:

    and see below for October 19, 2011 mostly visual contribution by Ms. Erin of Freight and Salvage “Palo Alto Needs Music”

  4. markweiss86 says:

    mark simon in 2002 in stanford mag about town and gown and culture. i found this because i am meaning to speak tonight at council about hannah scher, vernon gates, philip kirkeby.

  5. markweiss86 says:

    in palo alto tonight our so-called leaders batted around the idea in a public hearing of letting their real estate cronies take over a beautiful historic post office. all they would have to do is change zoning from public to private and collect their kickbacks i mean taxes or development you know with the economy being as it is staff will look into it and report back pronto
    there’s a federal shot glass clinking so we have no choice they told us regular folk
    i put this on venice blog about them halting sale of their post office

  6. markweiss86 says:

    From Karen Holman, City Council, to T. Fehrenbach, staff, as part of council packet, August, 2011 (thanks, Karen):

    • What is the status of any conversations trying to return the
    Theatre to an entertainment venue?
    Progress, promise of progress, etc.

    I have had many conversations with folks that would be interested in seeing it turn
    into an entertainment venue. In my meeting with Mark Weiss, he gave me several
    contacts from his network that know the business. I’ve reached out to most of the
    contacts Mark provided and am waiting to hear back from them. I’ve also met with the
    PA Institute folks who are working on a non-profit angle. I’ve given them the info
    in a fact sheet I have recently completed which is attached. I have put the PA
    Institute reps in touch with other folks interested in non profit or theater use.
    I’ve also reached out to a high-end theater company who told me that a single screen
    theatre is not viable from their business standpoint. We are investigating whether
    the Varsity could be altered into 2 or more theaters, and I am sending them as much
    info as I can. However~ Chop’s camp basically told me that they are exploring
    options that “make the most sense”, which currently do not include a theater use

Leave a Reply to Brian E. Moore, MD Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s