Despite all the fond memories and deep emotional ties, ongoing discussions about the future of the Rheem Theatre center not on what the 50’s-era Neon Lady means to the town and its people – but rather whether sufficient funding can be found to keep the theatre around for a new generation of Moragans.
Theatre operators Zemrak Pirkle Productions sent pulses racing and tongues to wagging at the first of this month when they announced – on their marquee and there for all to see – that a recently imposed rent hike would force their closure, effective at the end of the month.
As news spread, Lamorindans – many of them well into their 60s – went on about their first romantic interlude at the theatre, their first movie, and mourned its decline as well as that other great Rheem Valley landmark – the Rheem Valley Bowl.
Peggy Pricco and the bowling alley are no longer part of the greater “Rheem Triangle” (bowling alley, Nation’s, Rheem Theatre) where so many of us spent so many of our developing years, and those still in town say they are committed to ensuring the anchoring theatre which bears the area’s name stays around – and does not go the way of the Rheem Bowl.
Many Moragans, seeing that an increase in rent was behind the imminent closure, blamed landlord Mahesh Puri, who owns the building and who, by all accounts, has been a forgiving landlord who has worked with and helped subsidize the theatre to keep it going.
Actually, other economic factors are in play: declining attendance (despite some healthy recent turnouts for special events and showings after news of their closure began to spread); a string of high-cost upgrades to the theatre’s projectors and infrastructure, and a costly Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuit.
Some stop-gap measures were suggested – including using the movie venue for local youth basketball play – something for which the town was apparently willing to pay the managers a tidy sum. That idea, and others floated (no pun intended) by others on this site have, so far, failed to materialize.
Town officials have said they have hope citizens will rally behind the theatre and, perhaps, make it possible for a separate but interested body like the California Independent Film Festival (CAIFF) to acquire the building. But even with anticipated community support, someone – no one has yet suggested who – would have to personally guarantee a multimillion dollar commitment for that acquisition.
Theatre management meets with interested parties today, June 8, the Town Council meets Wednesday night with a contingent of theatre supporters promising to attend, and a grass roots effort to “Save the Rheem” once again tries to drum up support for the slightly faded movie queen.
In the meantime, the countdown to June 30 – continues. Don’t count the Old Gal out, yet.