Open house Sunday at Merced Theatre

Downtown centerpiece marks 1 year of new life

mnorth@mercedsunstar.comApril 20, 2013 

— A downtown building that many consider to be the icon of Merced will celebrate its one-year anniversary since being renovated.

The Merced Theatre will have an open house from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, said Adam S. Miller, the theater's managing director. The event is free to the public and members of the foundation board will be on hand to answer questions from visitors.

"It's a self-guided tour throughout the building that lets people experience it at their own speed," he said.

The event is a way to get more exposure for the theater, Miller said.

"It's an amazing milestone to have a year under our belts already, and to have the community support we've had this first year has just been amazing," he said.

Since the theater opened a year ago, the venue has hosted 25 major events and about 18,000 patrons. The facility has been used for two weddings, a high school graduation, five school performances, and has shown dozens of movies.

The 1,187-seat theater has booked dates into next year.

Built in 1931, the Merced Theatre renovation project cost $14.4 million, which included $8.3 million in construction costs. Retired orthopedic surgeon Art Kamangar donated $1 million to the project.

Here are some key dates in the history of the Merced Theatre:

1931: The theater is constructed over a nine-month period at a cost of $380,000. The theater is believed to be the last project designed by San Francisco-based architects James and Merritt Reid, who designed the Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland, the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, and San Francisco's Balboa Theatre, Fairmont Hotel and Cliff House.

Oct. 31, 1931: The Merced Theatre opens with the world première of the film "Local Boy Makes Good," starring actor Joe E. Brown. With 1,645 seats, the theater is the first air-conditioned building in Merced County. Inside, visitors are surrounded by a depiction of a Spanish villa courtyard, with blue sky and a cloud machine. For five decades, the theater serves as host to countless films, concerts, graduation ceremonies, dance performances and weddings.

1978: The theater is purchased by United Artists, which gutted the interior and turned it into a fourplex cinema.

1998: A group of local residents form the Merced Theatre Foundation and begin the effort to restore the building.

2002: The city of Merced's redevelopment agency purchases the Merced Theatre building for $780,000. The theater remains in operation for several years.

2006: The Merced Theatre Foundation spends $350,000 to refurbish the building's 100-foot tower and the neon "MERCED" letters that mark the city's downtown skyline. The city renovates six retail spaces and 10 apartments attached to it.

September 2008: The Merced Theatre Foundation receives its largest contribution: $1 million from retired orthopedic surgeon Art Kamangar. Kamangar was born in Iran and moved to the United States in 1963. A portion of the building is named in his honor.

June 12, 2009: The Merced Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

December 2010: Restoration of the theater's interior begins with Selma-based contractor Lewis C. Nelson and Sons.

April 21, 2012: The Merced Theatre reopens.

Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or mnorth@mercedsunstar.com.

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