Future of San Jose theater unclear amid annexation
San Jose voted to move forward with annexing the land where the 74-year-old Burbank Theater sits at the intersection of South Bascom and Parkmoor avenues. File Photo.

    San Jose is setting the stage to annex the Burbank Theater, but plans for the space are unclear.

    Last week, the San Jose City Council unanimously voted to move forward with annexing nearly an acre of land that’s home to the 74-year-old theater at the intersection of South Bascom and Parkmoor avenues. The plans listed in city documents show the theater will turn into a showroom for faucets and kitchen spaces. But that may not happen because the owners are looking to unload the property, according to Steven Ou, the real estate agent representing the owners of Tru Investments.

    However, the property still needs to be annexed into San Jose for development to proceed. Once completed, the former unincorporated area will no longer receive services from Santa Clara County. The council is expected to vote on March 28 to officially make the area part of San Jose’s District 6.

    “(The benefits) are primarily about increased tax revenue for the city, which of course is used to improve services for residents,” District 6 Councilmember Dev Davis told San José Spotlight. “I think it’s great that there’s a potential use for that site.”

    The annexation into San Jose will enable a developer to create a larger footprint because the required allotment of parking spaces per project has changed. The city council voted last year to remove parking requirements, giving developers more latitude.

    Ben Leech, executive director of the Preservation Action Council of San Jose, said parking has been the “Achilles heel” of the property. For that reason, he supports annexation. But he worries the next owner will have no interest in preserving the iconic Art Deco theater.

    “In a perfect world, it would be repurposed and it would return to some sort of community serving function, like an art studio or performance space,” Leech told San José Spotlight. “I fear that is not what’s happening here.”

    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. Residents and policymakers have attempted to revitalize the two-story building—with dance studios and a vision of an Islamic center—to little success.

    Tru Investments—comprised of Sam Som, Hung Tran and Fred Mayer—bought the dilapidated theater in 2021 for $1.6 million at an auction, sounding the alarm for preservationists and neighborhood leaders in Burbank. Their plan was to transform it into a showroom for home appliances.

    But now it appears the plan might have been to purchase the site, guide it through the annexation process and prime it to sell for a profit. Ou said the owners are 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.

    “As an agent and as someone who lives right there, I do want that building to become something of use at the moment, and so do the rest of my neighbors,” Ou, who lives behind the theater, told San José Spotlight. “But ‘of use’ is vague. There is a difference between keeping it historical, and actually making it functional, versus changing it to a full-blown commercial building.”

    Ou said the site has two potential buyers—both who are not particularly interested in preserving the historical aspect of the site.

    “We have entertained people that did want to preserve it, but those guys aren’t offering as much as other investors,” Ou said.

    Som said the main challenge with the site is the current parking restrictions because that limits potential use. So, until annexation happens, there is no clear path forward.

    Leech said if annexation happens, it will open the door for historical preservation status in San Jose. If granted, this additional protection would make it harder to demolish the site.

    “At the end of the day, our biggest fear is it will just get demolished and be seen as just a development site, so finding an owner who does have a clear plan for the property is really important,” Leech said. “The longer it sits vacant, the more it will be seen less as a potential neighborhood catalyst and more as just an eyesore, and we really don’t want to lose this part of our history.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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