A DILAPIDATED THEATER is ready to be annexed into San Jose. How it will be used is up in the air.
The San Jose City Council unanimously voted March 28 to annex nearly an acre of land that’s home to the 74-year-old Burbank Theater at the intersection of South Bascom and Parkmoor avenues. The annexation enables a developer to create a larger footprint due to changes related to required parking, though plans for the building are unclear.
Before annexation is official, the council’s decision needs review and certification by the Local Agency Formation Commission of Santa Clara County (LAFCO). The process will take about three weeks, according to Cheryl Wessling, spokesperson for the city’s planning, building and code enforcement department.
“Upon LAFCO’s approval, the annexation is official and is not contingent upon any development proposal,” Wessling told San José Spotlight.
Ben Leech, executive director of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, supports annexation, but said he wants the city to designate the theater as a historic landmark and revitalize the space without tearing it down. It’s currently listed as part of the Santa Clara County Heritage Resource Inventory.
From the golden age of the silver screen
The Burbank Theater, built in 1949 at 552-560 S. Bascom Ave., was a classic neighborhood movie theater that turned into an eyesore over the years. As movie theaters declined in popularity in the 1970s, the Burbank Theater pivoted to showing adult films. The building became further underutilized after it lost its parking lot to make way for Interstate 280.
The property has become more blighted in recent years due to break ins and damage from rain, Leech said. Residents and policymakers have attempted to revitalize the two-story building—with dance studios and a vision of an Islamic center—to little success.
“Unfortunately, that is the pattern with challenging sites like Burbank Theater,” Leech told San José Spotlight. “Somebody buys the property without a plan and then just sort of waits for them to fall apart or to burn down.”
Tru Investments bought the theater in 2021 for $1.6 million at an auction. Steven Ou, the real estate agent representing the owners of Tru Investments, previously told San José Spotlight they’re looking to sell the property for approximately $3 million to a developer who can transform it into a mixed-use building with storefronts on the first floor and housing above. He said the site has two potential buyers who aren’t interested in preserving the historical aspect of the theater, and not much has changed.
“This has taken a back burner for the investors,” he told San José Spotlight. “But a lot of businesses around the area are interested to see what happens here.”
Lawrence Ames, chair of the District 6 Neighborhood Leaders Group, said he supports development and annexation, but hopes the new plan will immortalize some of the Burbank Theater’s historic elements.
“We hope the city will work with any future potential developers to preserve, restore and incorporate the iconic ‘Burbank Tower,’ along with the marquee, portions of the facade and entrance-way tilework into any new development,” Ames wrote to council.
Councilmember Dev Davis, who will represent the area, said the property owners promised to incorporate the theater’s sign into any future project.
“Investment in our commercial corridors is always welcome,” Davis told San José Spotlight. “Right now, the lot is an eyesore and empty. I’m hopeful that this annexation is a harbinger of a revitalization of the area.”
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