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March 19, 2015

A Downtown Classic Lives On!

by Tom Morrow

On Aug. 6, 2000, I wrote the following about a downtown classic. For those interested in history, this may be of interest:
With the purchase of the venerable Star Theatre in downtown Oceanside, a little credit where credit is due: Jim Heiser’s love of movies and a keen ability to see potential saved one of Southern California’s largest movie houses from becoming an indoor swap meet or worse.

In 1996, Jim bought the Star out of foreclosure for $225,000, but quickly sank far more than that amount into rehabilitating it to a state-of-the-art movie house. He restored the original neon marquee, decorating the interior with Italian tile, installing new sound equipment, and erecting one of the largest screens (40′ x 20′) in Southern California.

Jim’s grand re-opening in 1998 was a big celebration with hundreds of moviegoers turning out, but most were there to marvel at the cavernous 900-seat theater.

Built in 1956 by the Fred Siegel family, the Star opened with “Moby Dick,” starring Gregory Peck. The Star was a giant screen marvel among many similar theaters throughout the nation. But the multiplex movie concept introduced in the 1970s quickly put the Star and similar theaters out of business. In the late ’80s, the Star became an X-rated theater before closing. In 1991, it was remodeled and reopened for second-run films, but soon closed again. The old theater’s future remained uncertain until Jim came along in 1996 with his money and vision.

For his massive restoration work, both inside and out, the Star won two coveted “Orchid” awards by the San Diego Architects Association: one for historic preservation and one for interior design.
“This stellar job of refurbishing a neighborhood theater revives the glamour of classic movie houses,” Orchid jurors wrote. “The theater has been restored to its former 1950s magnificence with over 900 plush seats, including a loge, a state-of-the-art sound system, and a revitalized splendid neon sign. The county’s only remaining big screen theater has us excited about seeing movies again.”

Jim has struggled to keep the doors open for more than two years while clutching a ledger book filled with red ink.

This past week the Poinsettia Theater Group of Encinitas led by Ann and Kris Schulz began negotiations to purchase the Star and transform it into a 21st century performing arts center that any city would envy.

But, if it hadn’t been for Jim’s money and vision nearly 20 (now 35) years ago, today we could well be looking at a parking lot on that prime downtown corner.
Thanks, Jim, and thanks as well to Ann and Kris.


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