Visiting the Guild Theatre in Menlo Park, California, in September 2019, it was easy to see why question marks hung over its fate. The marquee letters were faded, paint chipped, and showtime crowds were beginning to dwindle.
The founders of a new non-profit aim to change all of that, transforming the dilapidated building into a state-of-the-art entertainment venue. According to Drew Dunlevie, cofounder of the Peninsula Arts Guild, the organization will turn the theatre into a premier attraction, staging community-driven events as well as top-tier acts, drawing audiences from across Menlo Park and beyond.
Here’s what you need to know about the organization and its efforts:
the guild theatre’s closure was announced in september 2019.
The fixture was the last single-screen movie theatre in the area. It had a 93-year run, and was highly popular in its heyday, but attendance has been dwindling for some considerable time.
Drew Dunlevie, Thomas Layton, and Pete Bridge, all residents of the Peninsula, bought the building, announcing plans to demolish the theatre. They will rebuild a music venue on the site, to be operated by the Peninsula Arts Guild. With a capacity of up to 500, similar to Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall and San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, the venue will host a variety of live music and entertainment shows.
The project is predicted to cost up to $20 million. Drew Dunlevie explained to reporters that the current timeline estimates completion for between 2021 and 2022. The music hall will be called the Guild. It will feature a similar marquee to the old theatre, announcing jazz, country, rock, and comedy acts. These events will be staged up to five nights a week in the venue’s open-floor configuration.
Drew Dunlevie pointed out that the project was all part of a rising impetus throughout Silicon Valley, explaining that the region needs more culture. Dunlevie suggested that the area was long overdue for such a venue. It will provide local residents with a place to watch top-tier acts, negating the need to travel to other cities every time they want to watch a show.
the guild theatre was originally called the menlo.
According to the Menlo Park Historical Association, when the Menlo opened in 1926, it was the Peninsula’s first movie theatre. By the mid-20th century, movie theatres had popped up in every city on the San Mateo County line, including the Hillsdale in San Mateo, and the El Camino in San Bruno.
Menlo Park had two stand-alone screens within blocks of each other: the Guild and the Park. Howard Crittenden, a local investor, purchased both theatres. Developers subsequently bought the Park Theatre, levelling it some time ago, making the Guild the last remaining single-screen theatre in San Mateo County.
The 220-seat Guild Theatre lost its lobby long ago, when El Camino Real was widened. In recent years, it gained a reputation for showing foreign documentaries and films movie enthusiasts could not find anywhere else locally. Theatre staff took pride in decorating the small foyer and introducing each film.
howard crittenden placed the guild on the market in 2016.
It was acquired by the Peninsula Arts Guild in May 2018. The non-profit announced its intention to convert the property into a live music and entertainment venue. As Drew Dunlevie explains, the Peninsula Arts Guild’s aim is to build a world-class, top-flight, multifaceted entertainment venue, breathing new life into the local community.
Over the next two years, demolition and construction of the site will move forward, with work commencing in January 2020 and continuing for at least 18 months, until mid-2021. Since the site is located on El Camino Real, this will involve intermittent road closures at off-peak times, creating significant project challenges. Nevertheless, as part of the deal, the Peninsula Arts Guild has committed to improving nearby crosswalks to make the area safer.
Plans for the new venue include a main viewing area located on the ground floor; a basement, including a “green room” and performer’s area, where artists can shower and relax before shows; and a second-story mezzanine.
retaining the ability to show movies at the venue is a priority.
However, as Dunlevie explained, it remains unclear whether the theatre could continue to show first-run movies. Drew Dunlevie told reporters that the Guild’s hope is that in providing a top-quality venue, they can attract top performers. The venue could also be used to stage community events, such as garage band nights, school plays, or author events, depending on what the public wants.
According to Ray Mueller of Menlo Park City Council, what downtown Menlo Park residents really want is a mixture of entertainment options as a vital component of quality of life. Councilwoman Kirsten Keith pointed out that the venue would bring more customers downtown, creating growth in local restaurants and businesses. As local residents explain, the new project will continue the revitalization of Menlo Park, providing a venue to watch top-tier live music and entertainment, and ultimately bringing new trade and driving prosperity in the area.