On May 22, 2008 the Alameda Theatre reopened after going dark in 1979. It is lovely. But the process leading to its renewal was, at times, a battlefield, as is the case nearly every time there is a plan to change something in Alameda.
Its opponents believed:
– It would be too big, thereby ruining the atmosphere and views of the homey downtown area.
– It would crush the streets with massive traffic.
– It would go broke because this town couldn’t support an eight-screen movie house.
And sometimes, there was a subtext from a handful of opponents, a mostly unspoken fear that it would bring people from other towns to Alameda. In addition to the traffic, the out-of-towners would surely bring crime to the area.
Today, despite vacancies in some commercial sites, downtown looks a lot better than it did five, or even 10 years ago. I don’t worry about crime, or hear about it, nearly as much as I did when the theater building housed a teen nightclub in the late 1980s. I knew some teens who went there and from what they told me, it was far from the wholesome institution its operator touted it to be. Whether the operator knew it or not, the kids told me there were plenty of drugs consumed at the club. He sold the city on a concept to give youth a place to go in town at night, where they would be off the streets, where they could enjoy games and music and dancing. But, judging from the number of police calls from residents from nearby streets, it looks like the teens I knew were speaking the truth when they implied the operation was unlike any other youth center. Eventually, it closed and things settled down again.
The theater has brought us back, in a way, to the past. Downtown has a focal point again, Alamedans have movies again, teens have another place to work in their own hometown and more restaurants have cropped up in the area. Parents and kids see family movies together and go for ice cream afterward. Couples enjoy dinner and a movie. Teens go to movies in groups.
Even in this wracked economy, they’re doing this and the result is revenues, severely needed revenues, for the city. Certainly the theater and the city’s businesses in general cannot repair our budget, but as we’ve all become painfully aware in the past couple of years, every penny really does count.