The Fight Against "Dome-icide" Comes to San Jose

Century 21
Photo by Gretchen Steinberg

The fight against Bay Area “dome-icide” continues. This time, preservationists are organizing around the Century 21 domes in San Jose, where an expiring 50-year land lease has put the three mid-1960s-era theaters at risk of demolition.

The Preservation Action Council of San Jose circulated a petition calling for at least one of the domes to remain intact, and by Thursday afternoon it had collected 2,200 signatures. The petition isn’t a legal document, but as the council’s executive director Brian Grayson told me, it’s sending a clear message to the city. In addition to the petition, DocoMomo/NoCa is planning a night out to drum up enthusiasm for saving the domes. More on that later.

The preservation council says the domes have historical value because of their place in the development of the Bay Area suburbs: “Designed by San Francisco architect Vincent Raney and opened between 1964 and 1966 to accommodate a new widescreen technology called Cinerama that was developed to help theaters distinguish themselves from television, The Century Theaters are a cultural symbol of postwar prosperity for the masses and a widespread optimism in the future,” the petition reads.

Dome painting
Painting by Michael Murphy

Each time someone signs the petition, an email goes to San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, each individual City Council member, and the city’s planning director and deputy director, Grayson told me. “The morning after it went out, about two weeks ago, some 850 people had signed up,” he said. “The day this went live the planning director called to tell me he got 800 emails He was sitting in a meeting and his phone was just exploding.”

It’s early yet – no specific development has been proposed for the site at 3161 Olsen Drive, across Winchester Boulevard from Santana Row. But the real estate firm Cassidy Turley has already started soliciting potential developers who might want to create a “mixed-use development or corporate campus” on the site.

Century sign
Photo by Heather David

The preservationists’ goal, Grayson told me, is to make sure at least one of the domes gets incorporated into whatever development goes into the site next.  “So often demolition is the first option,” Grayson said. “Reasonable minds should be able to sit down and have a discussion and figure out how to work this out.”

The council is working with Guggenheim Entertainment, a performing arts group that had operated out of another domed theater it was calling the Retro Dome. Since that closed, Guggenheim has continued to produce shows, and it hopes to move permanently into one of the Century 21 domes.

The modern architecture preservationist group DocoMomo/NoCa also wants to see the dome saved, and they’re organizing a retro night out to the movies to tout the cause. On Saturday, June 29, the group plans a 5 p.m. dinner at Flames restaurant, near the theater, then a 7 p.m. show, with participants wearing 60s outfits. More information and an RSVP line can be found at DocoMomo’s site.