The Los Gatos Theatre has been shuttered since the pandemic began but plans are now underway for it to reopen as a town-owned facility.
The Goetz family, which bought the theater in 2011, has donated the iconic moviehouse to Los Gatos. The donation was unanimously accepted by the town council at its Nov. 16 meeting.
“This is a treasure for Los Gatos,” Mayor Marico Sayoc said.
The theater at 41 N. Santa Cruz Ave. opened in 1915 and has been rebuilt several times: it burned down in 1929 and again in the 1970s and was seriously damaged by the ’89 earthquake.
It was purchased by the Goetz family in 2011 as a philanthropic project.
Family patriarch Jim Goetz is a partner at Sequoia Capital, a venture capital firm. He led Sequoia’s investment in the WhatsApp business messaging service that was bought by Facebook in 2014 for $16 billion. He also sits on Intel’s board of directors.
In 2012, the Los Gatos Theatre went dark as the Goetz family made plans to renovate the space and return it to its Art Deco heyday.
Although the Goetz family would never say how much the two-year renovation cost, it was extensive: the interior was gutted and the old building was seismically retrofitted to meet earthquake standards.
The theater re-opened in April 2014, showing first-run movies and providing a space that community groups could lease for things such as live music, comedy and theater performances.
Opening week activities included a Los Gatos High School fashion show and a screening of “The Farmer & The Chef,” a documentary about Los Gatos restaurateur David Kinch and farmer Cynthia Sandberg.
Both activities reflected the Goetz family’s vision that the theater would be a “historical, community-focused anchor of our town.”
That same vision holds today and is outlined in the donation agreement, Assistant Town Manager Arn Andrews said.
He met recently with the owners of the CineLux theater chain to better understand “what film distribution looks like.”
The town plans to hire a management company to oversee day-to-day operations and programming and manage the two at-market retail spaces that bookend the theater.
“I think there will be a time for community engagement when we can partner with the right management group to make sure there are other opportunities for programming the theater outside of programs for ticket sales,” Andrews said. “That’s when we can work with groups like the Chamber and the school districts.”
Long-time resident John Shepardson said he was “stunned” at the Goetz family’s generosity.
“I attended the theater when I was a little kid,” he said. “I saw two films and a cartoon in between, and y’know candy and all that, so the idea of a children’s theater or films for children resonates with me.”
Councilmember Matthew Hudes wondered if the town should develop a backup plan “should the pre-Covid business model prove unsustainable.”
Andrews replied, “The Goetz family did provide financials for 2018 and 2019 and it is a successful business model…which was not necessarily only as a for-profit business.”
The town did not provide the previous years’ financials, Andrews saying only that the retail income “was not included as theater income” and “the theater also paid fair rent to the (parent) company to illustrate the actual cost of operations.”
He added that the Goetz’s were particularly proud of the fact that most employees were high school students.
The dollar value of the donation has not been quantified, Andrews saying the Goetz’s are performing appraisals and “the town will utilize the figure for financial asset reporting purposes.”
The first step toward reopening happens soon, when the town issues a “Request for Proposals” asking potential operators to submit business plans.
Until that happens, there’s no word on an actual reopening date.
Attempts to reach Alicia Goetz, who managed the theater’s renovation and operations, were unsuccessful.