In the dark
Past lives and future fate of Oxnard’s Teatro
By David Cotner 06/24/2010
The Teatro — that gray, apparently abandoned art moderne theatre on Oxnard Boulevard — may soon approach a new phase of life. It’s a phase that will potentially combine some of the previous aspects that have graced the innards of the aging brick-and-stucco Spanish-language cinema. Open from 1929 to 1993, it later became U2 producer Daniel Lanois’ El Teatro Studios, where he recorded Bob Dylan’s comeback album, Time Out of Mind, and Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris’ 1998 album Teatro, itself documented in director Wim Wenders’ film Willie Nelson at the Teatro.
After Lanois closed up shop and decamped to Silver Lake, it became a rehearsal / soundstage in 2002, a day care center a few years later and — as most old American single-screen neighborhood theaters eventually seem to go — a church, operating as an Iglesia Universal franchise.
Current owner Paul Sangster, who runs a multimedia projection company called Future Lighting, bought the Teatro in 2007. He announced his vision for it when he put out the word in theater preservation circles that he was looking for an old ticket booth to install underneath the marquee at the front, just like the theater had until the early ’80s. “I was trying to lease the space for creative use,” he said. “The previous owner took out all the seats, leveled the floor and converted the projection booth into lofts.” This explains the presence of the bizarre little window peeking out from the theater’s façade, at the left of the marquee. “I was going to do the same type of thing, to serve the local film industry — film shoots, photography shoots.”
Sangster sighs as he strains against the bonds of red tape. “The problem is that the city wants the rear wall to be brought up to current earthquake code. It took a while for the plans to be drawn up, because they wanted it a particular way. Right now, it’s not zoned for general use. Has the city been helpful, ultimately? “The building has been approved for a façade improvement grant — to restore the building on the outside; the neon sign, the paint and the back wall is included in that.
Any surprises during renovation? “We found some old posters from the ’40s, when it was a Spanish-language theater. One of the things I’m really interested to do is an Oxnard film festival. I did get in touch with the people doing the Ventura Film Festival and offered the location.” It’s this kind of community involvement that ultimately fuels a creative community — and it’s all too precious when it comes from the business owners themselves. In looking toward the future, the Teatro may well be a catalyst for cultural change throughout Ventura County, even as it lifts itself from the dust of a dark and neglected past.