El Rey’s days may be numbered
The rumor mill is running rampant—what is the fate of the El Rey Theatre?
For nearly a month, speculation has swirled about the possible sale of the 57-year-old theater and what may or may not move into the space.
Manager Rick Gorman said he could verify that the building, which includes the adjacent businesses Theodore Brandon’s hair salon and art shop Della Mary’s Dreams, is for sale by Regal Entertainment Group. Although he couldn’t confirm it, Gorman said he believes the theater may already be in escrow and that it will likely end up being gutted and replaced with retail or office spaces.
“We’re in a situation where something is on the verge of happening,” said Gorman, as he puffed a cigarette at his familiar post beneath the theater’s marquee.
He said Regal, which has corporate offices in Knoxville, Tenn., and owns thousands of screens throughout the United States, has had the El Rey on its list of possible sales for the past four years.
The El Rey is still generating profit despite being only a single-screen theater, Gorman said, which makes the possibility of a sale difficult for him to accept.
“This theater has been a great success,” Gorman said. “If it was marginally successful or in the red, I’d say, ’C’est la vie.‘”
The building looks likely to be purchased by Eric Hart, who also owns the Senator Theatre as well as buildings on the corners of Third Street and Broadway, including the Ballroom on Broadway, Starbucks Coffee and The Pita Pit.
Kim Seidler, planning director for the City of Chico, said Hart recently contacted the City Manager’s Office regarding the use of the El Rey’s interior for office space. Seidler said Hart also inquired about the issue of parking at the location.
Other sources in the city and within the local business community, who asked not to be identified at this time, confirmed that Hart is the buyer and that the building will likely become a two-story office facility with a partial underground parking structure.
Hart refused to comment at this time.
The El Rey was built in 1948, on a site that had featured theaters dating back to the early part of the century, and boasts the largest screen north of Sacramento. The theater was owned by United Artists Theater Co. for years until Regal Entertainment Group acquired the company in 2000. Gorman said older theaters like The Metro and The Vogue, located in San Francisco, are also looking to be sold by Regal.
Gorman’s affiliation with the El Rey began more than 30 years ago. He started out as an usher in 1971 and became the theater’s assistant manager in 1973. From there, he worked on and off at the theater until he became the full-time manager in 1987.
Gorman, who usually begins booking the popular Midnight Movies around this time, said he’s not going forward with any plans until he finds out the status of the building.
He said things are out of his hands and that all he can do now is play the waiting game. "I feel like a character in a Camus novel. I’m helpless."